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May. 29 2010 — 12:22 am | 1,205 views | 0 recommendations | 6 comments

George Romero’s 10 best zombie kills

Survival of the Dead

Image via Wikipedi

Survival of the Dead opened this weekend, marking filmmaker George A. Romero’s sixth turn at the troft of the almost unstoppable undead (from a box office standpoint, they are unstoppable). From the original Night to Survival, a film that finds secondary characters from Diary and Land front-and-center, Romero has given film-goers a hell of a lot to chew on.

And if you take all six films as pieces of a larger puzzle, he’s also given us a recurring theme (zombies might bite, but people suck!) and a big arc for the whole series: zombies, like primates, can learn.

This was hinted at it his Dawn, and in Day became the driving narrative. He revisited it in Land, with a roving mob of zombies riled into a frenzied cooperation by a mean-ass Mike Tyson-looking zombie king, and featuring another instance of a zombie learning to use a tool. The tool in Day was a handgun (who needs to eat somebody’s face off when you can just pull a trigger?). The tool in Land was a meat clever wielded by a zombie fresh from the butcher’s shop. We also saw an evolution of Romero’s sly often visual humor (making one of Land’s main characters look like, but not actually be, a zombie, for instance). And  we got an evolution of gore too, with the third film, Day, in my opinion, reaching a gruesome high. Romero has yet to top the zombie make-up and general bloody disgustingness of that film.  continue »

May. 21 2010 — 7:59 pm | 296 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

‘Jonah Hex’ posters embrace the cliché

I know, I know… you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. Or a movie by its poster. After all, movie posters are not made in the garage behind the filmmaker’s house, with a camera, a number two pencil, an Exacto-Knife and some gumption. They’re not an expression of the artistic vision behind the film in question. They’re an expression of the fears of a marketing department, and they’re made in gray-carpeted cubicles.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that they’re made by artists. But I hear that more often than not these artists end each job by offing themselves. Good thing we’ve got art schools! You’d off yourself too if it was your hand moving the pixels but a “global brand strategist” standing over your shoulder.

Which results in this:


And this:


continue »

May. 18 2010 — 3:51 pm | 530 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

David Duchovny’s pet tarantula, part 2

We ended our last segment with David Duchovny blowing his first shot in front of a camera, when he clung to his pretzel trick like we Americans cling to our babies and guns. After his first real film role in New Year’s Day, from the notoriously mean Henry Jaglom, Duchovny, like so many before him and countless others since, went to LA to audition.

Fox Mulder

Image via Wikipedia

Out in the great salt lick, he read for everything and got nothing. The makers of Full House spent a whole day shoving him into every one of the main roles like so much Playdo. None stuck, thank God.

Imagining David Duchovny doing anything in Full House is as painful as picturing Bob Saget playing Hank Moody in Californication. The truth here, the deeply buried lead, is that Duchovny has always been funny, just not in an obvious way. Even Fox Mulder had his moments; his sly wit was often the only hint of sunshine in an otherwise somber affair. The key to Duchovny’s funny bone is his melancholy. It’s the foundation that Hank Moody was built from. When I point out that he seems to carry sadness around with him like a soldier’s pack, Duchovny laughs first, and nods second. “And there wasn’t room for that in Full House,” he agrees, finishing his milky coffee. Unlike Special Agent Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks, he does not take his cup as ‘black as the sky on a moonless night.’ “It was probably lucky for me that I didn’t get the television shows I auditioned for. I could never book a guest-starring role on a television show, except for Twin Peaks. People would say, ‘Oh you’re a film actor,’ and I’d say, ‘But I don’t have any money.’ That was always my reply. Thank you for the compliment, but loan me fifty.” continue »

May. 14 2010 — 5:10 pm | 302 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

What George Romero’s zombies have in common: personality! (a slideshow)

The maestro of mahem.

When George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead comes out later this month, in theaters and simultaneously via On-Demand (a first for Romero), it will mark the horror master’s sixth return to the ripe troft of the undead.

That’s because zombies have been very good to him. He didn’t create the undead genre, but most people think he did. And the truth is he deserves most of the credit he gets. His first foray into flesh eaters and the people who shoot them was 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, a classic in any genre. Most people forget that ten years passed, an entire decade free of dead, before Romero made Dawn of the Dead, the second film in his series. continue »

May. 11 2010 — 1:22 pm | 492 views | 1 recommendations | 0 comments

Big dumb glasses and other important lessons we can learn from the 80s

The other night I watched Heathers again. In some ways it holds up. Wynona and Christian are still pretty great, Christian’s Nicholson thing is spot-on (“Greetings and salutations” sounds like a line stolen from The Shining) and the superblack tone is still, even now, thirty years on, pretty damned edgy.

Christian Slater, a troubled teen in a trench coat, after murdering (or co-murdering) a few of the most popular kids in his class, rigs the high school, and himself, with explosives? After those losers went on the rampage at Columbine High, there was a hell of a lot of talk about The Matrix, but I don’t remember a single mention of Heathers.

But it was something else about Heathers that surprised me even more than the black humor and the suicide bombs. The glasses. Anyone who’s hung around Williamsburg or the Lower East Side, or thumbed through the latest issue of Nylon, will tell you that big dumb glasses on pretty girls is all the rage right now.

Big dumb glasses on pretty girls ®.

And for this fad too we can thank the 80s. It figures! The damned 80s. Of course I knew the 80s “were back.” I’ve known they’ve been on the way back for a couple years now. I just didn’t realize to what extent they were, officially, here. I grew up in those 80s and somehow (probably because my home was in the Midwest and trends, like people, mostly flew over), I missed this when the big glasses thing happened the first time around.

But thankfully we have historical records like Heathers to remind us of the rock solid foundations behind our silly modern trends.

Renée Estevez, so ahead of her time.

continue »

May. 7 2010 — 11:13 am | 897 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

David Duchovny’s pet tarantula, part 1

On his sleeper cable hit, Californication, David Duchovny plays the somewhat failed writer and soulful horndog Hank Moody. When Moody finds his potential comeback book stolen right out from under his nose, by one of the women – girls, really – he has come to know in the Biblical sense, he turned to Academia to earn a living. Which is funny, since he himself came this close to being a professor.

HOLLYWOOD - JULY 23:  (FILE PHOTO) Actor David...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

When I ask him why he abandoned the PhD he’d worked for some years on, he laughs. “Have you ever pursued a PhD?” he says. “I think the most honest answer is that I always felt like an outright impostor. I was interested in writing, and I was trying to find some way that I could live where I could make a living. I thought if I was a professor, I’d have three months off a year where I could write.”

And this was at Yale. After getting a Masters of English at Princeton. In other words, this actor’s no dummy.

I’m sitting with Duchovny at the Lexington Candy Shop, a relic on New York’s Upper East Side. The actor moved to this neighborhood in late 2008 with his wife, Tea Leoni, and their two children, Miller and West. It was her decision. They’d been living in sunny Malibu since Duchovny had the whole X-Files production moved from Vancouver to L.A. near the end of its run. That too was Tea’s decision. “It’s a pattern,” he laughs. “She wanted to raise the kids here. She wanted whatever it is that New York has to offer.” Such ambivalence could be forgiven coming from a man who spent the first three decades of his life here, growing up in what many think of as the real New York, not the playground it’s become, its citizens lugging Whole Foods bags through Central Park in the dead of night without a care in the world. “Not that I don’t love New York,” he says. “But I’m of the opinion that parents raise their kids, not so much cities.”

continue »

May. 2 2010 — 1:10 pm | 57 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Forty fantastic Actor/Director pairings

The UK’s Empire Magazine has done it again, assembling an exhaustive slideshow featuring a whopping 40 Actor/Director pairings, most of which have resulted in some of the most treasured films of the last, well, hundred years. From Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune (16 films!) to Wes Anderson and Bill Murray to Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, it’s a fun and surprising read.

Martin Scorsese & Robert De Niro - 9 films.

As I read on, I kept waiting for Empire to drop the ball, to forget one of my faves. But they didn’t, not really. In the back of my mind was “What about the Coen Brothers?” They work with the same people all the time, notably Francis McDormand, Joel’s wife, and Steve Buscemi, Ethan’s life partner (just kidding), and they’re both represented here.

And while I do think that the Coens’ pairing with Buscemi (in 6 films so far) has resulted in fantastic material, I might have gone with the less obvious choice of Jon Polito, who as Johnny Caspar, was front-and-center in Miller’s Crossing and feels to me almost as integral to the Coens’ vision as McDormand.

And I think John Turturo might have been even more accurate. He was Jesus in The Big Lebowski, for Christ’s sake, the simpering screw on which Miller’s Crossing turned, essential to O’ Brother and mister Barton Fink himself. The Coens have yet to ask Buscemi to shoulder a whole movie by himself. Buscemi brings the quirk, but Turturo brings the soul.

via Empire Magazine online

Apr. 30 2010 — 7:37 pm | 114 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Dirty ‘Harry Brown,’ old age punisher

Movie Review.

Harry Brown (2010).

I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore.

Harry Brown’s London is overrun with drugs and murderers, and Harry’s had enough. After burying his beloved wife, Harry lives a mostly solitary, sad life in a drug-infested South London council estate precariously and constantly on the verge of tipping from dilapidated and depressing into full-fledged war zone. Harry’s flat overlooks a dimly lit passageway that cuts beneath an uncrossable road, the entrance routinely choked with blood thirsty hooligans left over from A Clockwork Orange’s casting call. But Orange, also set in London, was a cautionary tale of a future gone mad. It took its ultra violence and its in-out pretty seriously, even if it was satire. It had more on its mind than a blood bath, and was crafted by an artist. Harry Brown is an altogether different beast.

After Harry’s only mate, another geezer, dies at the hands of these passageway thugs, and the police more or less ignore the case (because they’re ineffectual or powerless or both), he buys himself a gun, the first step in any respectable revenge fantasy. But Harry’s not your average old age pensioner. He’s a former Marine, you see, stationed once-upon-a-time in Northern Ireland. He’s been trained by the Empire. So killing’s a lot like riding a bike (in fact, probably a lot less dangerous; what’s the risk of breaking a hip while popping a cap in some crackhead’s ass?).  Soon Harry’s going on an incarnadine rampages that wouldn’t have been out of place in Taxi Driver, a film whose bloody rebirth had a point. continue »

Apr. 26 2010 — 11:10 am | 397 views | 0 recommendations | 8 comments

Will this save publishing? Movie trailers for books

First edition cover, Pride and Prejudice and Z...

Image via Wikipedia

As a fan of both zombies (see my back page Q&A with George A. Romero in the current issue of Nylon Magazine), and Jane Austen, I’ve been following (if not necessarily reading) the whole trend started by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

And while there’s of course a movie in the works – how could there not be a movie in the works for something called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? – there is not, at least not yet, a movie in the works for its print matter follow-up, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls.

But that didn’t stop the book’s publisher, the suddenly wealthy Quirk Classics, from making a trailer for the book. A trailer for the book. Not the film. Because there is no film. Not yet. continue »

Apr. 23 2010 — 3:19 pm | 11,889 views | 1 recommendations | 11 comments

Is ‘Troll 2′ really the ‘Best Worst Movie’ ever made?

Movie Review.

Best Worst Movie (2010)

Claudio Fragasso - Troll 2 (1990)

Director Michael Stephenson, way back when, in "Troll 2."

The low-budget monster movie Troll 2 spent twenty years ascending the hallowed ranks of “worst movie” polls the world over until finally reaching bottom: it was officially the worst movie ever made.

But, as often happens, it’s the story behind the story that’s the more interesting tale.

Shot in small-town Utah with talent recruited locally, but written and directed by a team of Italians with little to no grasp of the English language (I think “action” and “cut” were about it), Troll 2 is a fantastic example of a movie so bad it’s actually good. Sorta.

“Bad good” is probably the appropriate term (cue Orwell grave rolling). continue »

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    According to my mother, I've quit more jobs than most people have ever had. In addition to "Closely Watched," I contribute film centric writing to Nylon and Nylon Guys magazines and "Inside Movies" over at Moviefone.com. Before the internet existed, I lived in Cali, dabbled in film, and rode tacos trucks. My films have been seen at Cannes, Seattle, Telluride, LA and other festivals, and are available on DVD, iTunes and select airplanes. My fiction has appeared in Zoetrope All-Story Magazine, Mississippi Review, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals. Follow me on Twitter! It's fun!


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    Closely Watched is on hiatus

    Closely Watched will be on hiatus for the summer. Thanks to everyone who’s made this page what it is. While I’m gone, all the posts will remain available and comments will be addressed (though perhaps not in a super timely fashion). See you again soon!