Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Archive for June 22, 2011

Billy Wilder

Born 105 years ago today, one of the all time greatest Hollywood writer/directors, Billy Wilder. Originally planning to become a lawyer, Billy Wilder abandoned that career in favor of working as a reporter for a Viennese newspaper, using this experience to move to Berlin, where he worked for the city’s largest tabloid. He broke into films as a screenwriter in 1929, and wrote scripts for many German films until Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. Wilder immediately realized his Jewish ancestry would cause problems, so he emigrated to Paris, then the US. Although he spoke no English when he arrived in Hollywood, Wilder was a fast learner, and thanks to contacts such as Peter Lorre (with whom he shared an apartment), he was able to break into American films.

His partnership with Charles Brackett started in 1938 and the team was responsible for writing some of Hollywood’s classic comedies, including ‘Ninotchka’ (1939) and ‘Ball of Fire’ (1941). The partnership expanded into a producer-director one in 1942, with Brackett producing, and the two turned out such classics as ‘Five Graves to Cairo’ (1943), ‘The lost Weekend’ (1945) (Oscars for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay) and ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950) (Oscars for Best Screenplay), after which the partnership dissolved. (Wilder had already made one film, ‘Double Indemnity’ (1944) without Brackett, as the latter had refused to work on a film he felt dealt with such disreputable characters.) Wilder’s subsequent self-produced films would become more caustic and cynical, notably ‘Ace in the Hole’ (1951), though he also produced such sublime comedies such as his most well known movie ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959) and ‘The Apartment’ (1960) (which won him Best Picture and Director Oscars). He retired in 1981.

Meryl Streep

Considered by many movie reviewers to be the greatest living film actress, Meryl Streep has been nominated for the Academy Award an astonishing 16 times, and has won it twice. Born Mary Louise Streep 62 years ago in 1949 in Summit, New Jersey, Meryl’s early performing ambitions leaned toward the opera. She became interested in acting while a student at Vassar and upon graduation she enrolled in the Yale School of Drama. She gave an outstanding performance in her first film role, ‘Julia’ (1977), and the next year she was nominated for her first Oscar for her role in ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978). She went on to win the Academy Award for her performances in ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (1979) and ‘Sophie’s Choice’ (1982), in which she gave a heart-wrenching portrayal of an inmate mother in a Nazi death camp.

A perfectionist in her craft and meticulous and painstaking in her preparation for her roles, Meryl turned out a string of highly acclaimed performances over the next 10 years in great films like ‘Silkwood’ (1983); ‘Out of Africa’ (1985); ‘Ironweed’ (1987); and ‘Evil Angels’ (1988). Her career declined slightly in the early 1990s as a result of her inability to find suitable parts, but she shot back to the top in 1995 with her performance as Clint Eastwood’s married lover in ‘The Bridges of madison County’ (1995) and as the prodigal daughter in ‘Marvins Room’ (1996). In 1998 she made her first venture into the area of producing, and was the executive producer for ‘…First Do No Harm’ (1997) (TV). Awesome in ‘The Hours’ (2002), ‘Angels in America’ (2003) (TV) and ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (2006).

Talented, humble, beautiful and a realist, when she talks about her future years in film, she remarked that “…no matter what happens, my work will stand…”

The Last Exorcism ***

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, second generation evangelical Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) has had a crisis of faith. He has invited documentary camera crew, Iris Reisen (Iris Bahr) and Daniel Moskowitz (Adam Grimes) to record his last days as a minister. Cotton explains that the exorcisms he and his father before him have performed are all fraudulent and he will expose his secrets for the cameras. He takes the crew on his final exorcism, to a farm in rural Louisiana where Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum) has requested help for his possessed daughter Nell (Ashley Bell).

They meet with resistance in the form Nell’s brother Caleb (Caleb Landry Jones) who clearly doesn’t want them there. Nevertheless, Cotton performs the fake exorcism and ‘cures’ Nell. He takes his fee from Louis and leaves the farm, however things are worse than anyone could have imagined…

Produced by Eli Roth and well directed by Daniel Stamm who focuses the film on the characters and mood rather than cheap shocks or gore. The mockumentary style has been used with increasing regularity in the horror genre since the breakout success of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ in 1999. This is better than the ‘Diary of the Dead’, ‘Cloverfield’ and ‘Paranormal Activity’ and its sequel, but is nowhere near as good as ‘Rec’. That’s not a huge criticism as ‘Rec’ is an outstanding addition to the genre.

The main reason the movie works, at least for the most part, is that the actors are all excellent, individually and as a collective they are really believable and manage to sell the documentary feel of the movie. Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell are real standouts, they both show incredible range. Ashley Bell is a star in the making; there is one particular moment where Cotton opens Nell’s bedroom door and asks who she’s talking too, deadpan she answers “No one”, as Cotton closes the door, Nell gives a disturbingly sweet smile straight to camera.

The Last Exorcism is a good suspenseful drama with a different and original take on the possession/exorcism sub-genre. That’s what it is, what it isn’t, is a good horror film. There aren’t any real scares, it’s a refreshingly realistic approach to exorcism and if you buy into the characters on concept is genuinely disturbing in parts.

There has been a fair bit of criticism of the ending and fair enough as it takes a huge turn from the preceding 80 minutes; it’s a clear homage to ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and feels added-on. If the movie had ended 10 minutes earlier I would have been much happier; however as with most of these things if you choose to go with it you’ll enjoy the movie.

Quality: 3 out of 5 stars (4 without that ending)

Any good: 3 out of 5 stars (4 without that ending)