Sitges Review: Stake Land

 

At one point in fabulously envisioned Stake Land, the loner-hero takes a brief snatch of down time from kicking up road dust and vampire killing to relax on an outdoor recliner chaise. It is the moment that you realize that the film has far more in common with a classic American Western than the current craze of Vampire movies. But this is only one of the revelatory delights that the film is stacked with chock-a-block to the point where you sit back and smile that genre films can be made so well. In a year where John Carpenter has a new film that is as unsatisfying and generic as oatmeal, it is nice to see that others have taken up the mantle to resurrect the no-nonsense, bad-ass, Snake Plissken type (here named simply “Mister”) and drop him into an interesting and wide open space – a post-Apocalyptic america that has returned to its frontier roots in the wake of a Vampire epidemic. But these are not your Bram Stoker, Anne Rice or Stephenie Meyer Vampires. A stake through the heart will finish them off, assuredly, but there isn’t much going on upstairs beyond the extreme feeding instinct. They are sort of a hybrid of rage-zombies and rabid (foaming) nocturnal pack-animals, not far off the were-rat creatures featured in the director-writer-star combo’s (Jim Mickle and Nick Damici) first film Mulberry Street. Certainly, this peculiar (and quite gross) brand of vampire is something something you do not want to be caught surrounded with on a moon-less prairie night after being robbed and dumped by religious fanatics with a vindictive sense of road-justice. This is, more or less, taken in stride by Mister – one more speed-bump on the road out of a sadly compromised and brutally over-stretched America that has seen the final monster sized Katrina-disaster which has pushed it back to the 19th century.

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Legion Trailer Starring Paul Bettany

Legion Movie Promo

The only selling point required to get me excited about seeing Legion was to tell me the movie stars Paul Bettany. I could watch Bettany sit in a chair for an hour, there’s a magnetism to him that always draws my attention and makes even the worse films bearable (I’m looking at you The Da Vinci Code).

An original story by Peter Schink and director Scott Stewart, Priest is a Christian-themed action thriller which stars Bettany as the Archangel Michael who leads a group of strangers in protecting a woman who is pregnant with Christ for the second coming (I can already see the protesters gearing up for action). Aside from Bettany, the film also stars Dennis Quaid, Kevin Durand, Doug Jones and Lucas Black.

The visuals here, and in part the story, remind me a little of Constantine, a movie which doesn’t get a whole lot of love but which I enjoy, and if this is in the save vein (which it certainly appears to be), it’s all the more reason for my excitement. The trailer is also very long and very much on the spoiler side of things. I recommend turning it off at the halfway mark if you’re worried about spoilers.

This is Stewart’s first full length feature though he has an extended list of visual effects work behind him. Granted that doesn’t say much but I am curious to see how this turns out, especially considering that Stewart is also directing Priest which also happens to star Bettany in the lead.

Legion opens on January 22, 2010.

Thanks to QE for the hookup, you can check out the trailer tucked under the seat!.

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Mikael Håfström Will Exorcise Your Demons

Mikael HåfströmMy first brush wish Swedish director Mikael Håfström came during the film festival a few years ago when I caught a screening of the teen drama Ondskan. I was impressed by the intensity and look of the film and how Håfström managed to make a common story so memorable that it still comes to mind years later.

I was surprised when Håfström made his Hollywood debut with the mostly forgettable thriller Derailed which was, as I remember, a nice looking but ultimately flat film (with the exception of the great Vincent Cassel and admittedly, I didn’t see the twist coming). I saw 1408 in the hopes that it would perhaps be a step into something great but alas, it too was a dud. Now, news that the director has signed on for another thriller, this one religious in scope, puts me one step closer to losing faith in a once promising director.

Titled Last Rite, an adaptation of a non-fiction book, the new project is a thriller about the Vatican’s Exorcism School. I love these religious thrillers (heck, I’m sure I’m one of only a handful of people who bothered to see The Order *cough cough*…maybe even more than once *cough cough*) but this feels like another cheap run at overdone religious thrillers.

My fingers are crossed that Shanghai, Håfström’s re-teaming with John Cusack which is due in theatres in September, is good otherwise, I’m on the brink of writing him off my watch list. And, you know, with all the power I yield, that could be devastating for his career.

A Martin Scorsese Marathon

Basically, you make another movie, and another, and hopefully you feel good about every picture you make. And you say, ‘My name is on that. I did that. It’s OK’. But don’t get me wrong, I still get excited by it all. That, I hope, will never disappear.” – Martin Scorsese

For the better part of the last three decades, I have been a fan of Martin Scorsese. My admiration first took bloom in the summer of 1985, and happened to coincide with what I consider to be the discovery of my young adult life; set off the main drag of the town I grew up in, I found a small video store. Now, this in itself was no great revelation; in the years before Blockbuster came barreling into my area, forcing all the smaller video chains out of business, there were at least half a dozen such stores within a 3-mile radius. But the moment I walked into this particular video palace, I knew it was special. Where most were lining their shelves with numerous copies of the ‘hot new releases’, this one had titles like Midnight Cowboy, 2001: A Space Odyssey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Straw Dogs, A Clockwork Orange, films that the others simply didn’t offer. For me, this store was a treasure trove, and I returned there often, sometimes 3-4 times a week, uncovering classic after classic, films that, to this day, I consider some of the finest ever made.

And it was here that I first found Mean Streets.

Tough and unflinching, Mean Streets was like a punch to the head for a 15-year-old from the suburbs; a marriage of images and rock music, violence and pain the likes of which I had never seen before, offering a glimpse into a lifestyle that I found all too real, and a little bit frightening. I must have rented it at least six times that summer, and as a result, Mean Streets fast became my favorite movie. More than this, it was my jumping-off point into the career of Martin Scorsese. After Mean Streets, I moved on to Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, two more shots to the head. Through these three films, I realized just how deep, just how down-and-dirty, and just how moving the cinema could be. They marked a turning point in my development as a film fan. Movies were no longer limited to the land of make believe; they would also be a window overlooking the real world.

Now, almost 24 years after I first walked into that video store, I’ve decided to take my admiration to the next, perhaps the ultimate, level. Over the course of the last several weeks, I sat down with everything that home video has to offer of Martin Scorsese’s work behind the camera, 26 films in all, and what I uncovered on this love-fest of mine proved to be just as enlightening as that first viewing of Mean Streets all those years ago.

As I sat watching one Scorsese movie after the other, I found myself asking, “What exactly is it that constitutes a Martin Scorsese film”? It was a question I had to pose, because I quickly realized that most of my initial beliefs, the pre-conceptions I had built up about the man and his career, only told part of the story.

For one, there was my presumption that the recurring trait in every Scorsese film was a down-to-earth quality, where the genuine, the realistic, would be favored above all else. Well, this is certainly true in some of Scorsese’s finest films, especially those where actual events served as a foundation (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, The Aviator). However, it was wrong of me to discount the role that fantasy played in Scorsese’s work. The opening scene of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore looks as if it was lifted right out of Gone With the Wind, and the musical numbers of New York, New York were obvious nods to the Hollywood big-budget spectaculars of the 40’s and 50’s. There is the dreamy romance of The Age of Innocence, and the hilarious bad luck of Paul Hackett in After Hours; in short, films that have little or no basis in reality whatsoever, proving that the fantastic plays just as important a role in the great director’s work as reality does.
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