Studios and renegade teams of independent filmmakers alike are chasing each other into theaters this weekend, scrambling to get a head start on the potentially lucrative Halloween business - though, of course, these days, "lucrative" is a relative term at best. Variety's Pamela McClintock sees this as a race between two frontrunners: Saw VI, seeing a traditional blanket release (3000 theaters) and Paranormal Activity, which has been worming around forever and now expands to nearly 2000 theaters.
That little indie wonder saw a roundup a couple of weeks ago. As for its rival: "Though critics tend to think Saw lost its teeth long ago," writes Franz Lidz in the New York Times, "moviegoers - half of them female; two-thirds of them under 25 - have made it one of the highest-grossing fright franchises ever. The enduring charm - if that's the word - of the Saw cycle can't be chalked up merely to the films' carnage and elaborate instruments of torture. To their creators and biggest fans, the attraction is the movies' puzzle-box plots and, as crazy as it sounds, vision of justice."
Mark Graham talks with Tobin Bell for Vulture; Todd Gilchrist not only interviews screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan for Cinematical, he also turns in an early review. He's no fan of the series, and this sixth installment hasn't won him over. More from Nigel Floyd (Time Out London), Mike Hale (New York Times), Drew McWeeney (Hitfix) and Scott Tobias (AV Club). But when all's said and done, Pamela Rolfe may have the most interesting story on this one in the Hollywood Reporter: "Citing extreme violence, the Spanish Culture Ministry's Film Institute gave Saw VI an X rating this week, relegating it to the limited circuit of theaters dedicated to pornographic films."
"So many vampires are crawling around movies and TV at the moment that any new kid on the block is forced to segment by age, gender, genre, and possibly political affiliation," writes Ty Burr in the Boston Globe. "If the Twilight series is aimed at adolescent girls whose hearts go arrhythmic at the thought of being ravaged by Edward Cullen, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is what a teenage boy might crave in a bloodsucker movie. Which is, basically, Bill and Ted's Night of the Living Undead."
More from Sean Axmaker, Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Peter Hartlaub (San Francisco Chronicle), Jesse Hassenger (L), Aaron Hillis (Voice), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Nick Schager (Time Out New York), Andrew Schenker (Slant), AO Scott (NYT), Toby Young (London Times) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
"Attempting a marriage of gay porn and operatic B-horror, [Eulogy for a Vampire] abounds in scarred flesh, ripped bloodlines, and vampire rituals - or at least its last 15 minutes do." Andrew Schenker in the Voice: "Until then, this tale of guilt, lust, and vengeance in a rural monastery is a frustratingly tame affair, more notable for its sloppy construction and slipshod plotting than any of the hot-blooded thrills we'd expect from either side of the genre mash-up." More from Neil Genzinger in the NYT, where Jeannette Catsoulis has the misfortune of covering the "Scary Movie rip-off" and overall "shockingly bad movie," Stan Helsing.
Colin, "a micro-budget zombie thriller," opens in the UK and the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw fears that "if there ever was a zombie calamity on Britain's streets, I have a sinking feeling that it would look exactly like the cheap absurdist nightmare shown here." Meantime, he'd like to warn you away from Coffin Rock.
And then, of course, there's Lars von Trier's Antichrist. Could've just updated the New York Film Festival entry, but hey, it's Halloween. Almost. "The scandal of Antichrist is not that it is grisly or upsetting but that it is so ponderous, so conceptually thin and so dull," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. But that hasn't kept it off everyone's virtual lips since its premiere in Cannes.
"You win, Lars," declares Dana Stevens, "if I'm the bourgeoisie, consider me épatée." Also in Slate: "So what is Lars Von Trier's problem, anyway?" asks Jessica Winter. "Glancing over the evidence, it's easy to dismiss him as a sexist purveyor of art-house torture porn, as an 'emotional pornographer' (to paraphrase his disgruntled one-time star Björk) who revels messily in women's agony and debasement.... Yet a strong case can be made that von Trier's patented brand of female trouble is more richly complicated - or, at least, more compelling in its pathologies - than his detractors might admit."
More from Nick Antosca (Interview), Joe Bowman, Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), Mark Fisher (frieze), Bryant Frazer, Dennis Harvey (San Francisco Bay Guardian), J Hoberman (Voice), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Mark Jenkins (NPR), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle), Karina Longworth (SpoutBlog), Noel Murray (AV Club), Rob Nelson (IFC), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Nathaniel R, Joshua Rothkopf (TONY), Michael Joshua Rowin (L), Lena Valencia (Bomb) and Armond White (New York Press).
At Vulture, Bilge Ebiri has von Trier respond to specific reviews, while Lane Brown presents a "Squeamish Person's Guide to Seeing Antichrist in the Theater." More interviews with von Trier: Aaron Hills (IFC), Dave Itzkoff (NYT), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix) and Scott Macaulay (Filmmaker). Interviews with Willem Dafoe: Capone (AICN), Roger Ebert and, once again, Dave Itzkoff (NYT).
Jeannette Catsoulis got luckier on the non-horror front: "The Wedding Song, a seductively fluid and tactile drama from the writer and director Karin Albou, explores love and identity through the prism of the female body and the rights of its owner." More from Stephen Garrett (TONY), Liz Kilduff (L), Andrew Schenker (Slant), Ella Taylor (Voice) and James van Maanen.
"Most documentaries regarding the Holocaust are thick with moral inquiry, but the ethical fulcrum typically supports puzzlement over the proliferation of the Final Solution and the aesthetics of Nazi brutality," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. "The nonfiction film Killing Kasztner is thus notable for, if nothing else, introducing a Jewish character endowed with much of the same historical controversy as his German counterparts, despite his relative obscurity even in Europe and Israel." More from Stephen Holden (NYT) and Ella Taylor (Voice).
"(Untitled)'s onslaught of self-indulgent bohos and art-vs.-commerce clichés are as ersatz as their objects of scorn," writes Kevin B Lee in TONY. More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Melissa Anderson (Voice), Ian Buckwalter (NPR), Stephen Holden (NYT), Michael Joshua Rowin (Reverse Shot), Benjamin Sutton (L) and Scott Tobias (AV Club).
"Romance is in the air in Amelia, or at least in the score, which works hard to inject some emotional coloring into the proceedings," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. "The music screams (sobs) 1940s big-screen melodramatic excess and beautiful suffering. Alas, excesses of any pleasurable kind are absent from this exasperatingly dull production." More from Sam Adams (AV Club), Ty Burr (Globe), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Jette Kernion (Cinematical), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Eric Kohn (Moving Pictures Magazine), Mick LaSalle (Chronicle), Michael Koresky (indieWIRE), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Michael O'Sullivan (Washington Post), Mary Pols (Time), Nathaniel R, Nick Schager (Slant), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Mike Ryan talks with director Mira Nair for Vanity Fair.
"Spanning one frantic day in the life of a Manhattan mom, Motherhood winds up being a paean to first-world dilemmas like misspelled birthday cakes, film crews taking all the parking spaces and not being able to find enough 'me time' for artistic fulfillment," sighs Alonso Duralde at MSNBC. More from Wesley Morris (Boston Globe), Michelle Orange (Voice), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Mary Pols (Time), Jeff Reichert (indieWIRE), Nick Schager (TONY), AO Scott (NYT), Ella Taylor (NPR), Bill Weber (Slant), Armond White (NYP) and James van Maanen.
"Osamu Tezuka's groundbreaking Astro Boy comics paved the way for modern manga," writes Paul Constant in the Stranger. "They were gorgeously illustrated adventure stories that paid homage to both the Superman mythos and the Pinocchio story. While the inevitable anime series didn't retain Tezuka's Walt Disney-style artwork, complete with intricate whorls and addictive curlicues, it still had an oddness to it that American cartoons couldn't quite match. The plasticized American abomination that is the new Astro Boy film can't kill the weirdness of Astro Boy's origins - a young boy dies in a scientific accident and his father single-mindedly builds a robotic replica that can never be injured - but it does sap the concept of its joy, its cleverness, and its heart."
More from Josef Braun, Ty Burr (Globe), Richard Corliss (Time), Manohla Dargis (NYT), Alonso Duralde (MSNBC), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), William Goss (Cinematical), Adam Keleman (Slant), Tasha Robinson (AV Club), James Rocchi (MSN Movies) and Nick Schager (TONY). Chris Wiltz talks with director David Bowers for Moving Pictures Magazine.
"Following the grand Asian-cinema tradition of sequels that have squat to do with the originals, here comes Ong Bak 2: The Beginning, which takes place hundreds of years before its predecessor, and which swaps out Ong Bak's simple story of a rural youngster beating up urban slicksters, in favor of an epic tale of an ancient warrior learning his craft from a nomadic tribe of jungle bandits." At the AV Club, Noel Murray gives it a B.
At Slate, though, Grady Hendrix is a little more excited: "Nourished on anemic action sequences full of shaky-cams, rapid-fire editing, and quick cutaways, American audiences are not prepared for [Tony] Jaa's 20-minute essays on human bodies causing massive trauma, filmed in long shots and long takes that rule out camera trickery. The final, epic action scene uses a few wires and a little bit of undercranked camera work to speed up a movement here and there, but otherwise it's a lesson in disbelief: No one can move this fast; no one can jump this high; it's impossible. But the impossible is what Jaa has for breakfast."
More from Annlee Ellingson (Moving Pictures), Mike Hale (NYT), Nicolas Rapold (Voice), Joshua Rothkopf (TONY) and Andrew Wright (Stranger).
Now then, if you're in New York, check back here before finalizing your weekend plans, and if you're in the UK, the entry for Fantastic Mr Fox has been updated as well.
Images: Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, The Wedding Song and Ong Bak 2.