About as sunny as it sounds, Christopher Smith's grim fairy tale Black Death finds a 14th-century knight (Sean Bean, of HBO's Game of Thrones) and his band of mirthless mercenaries traveling the European countryside in search of a rumored necromancer. Reluctantly joining them for the journey is Osmund, a young monk played by The Other Boleyn Girl's Eddie Redmayne, who finds their violent brand of piety less than Christian. Surrounded by the devastation wrought by the onset of the bubonic plague, in a world seemingly forsaken by God, will Osmund allow himself to be seduced by pagans – led by Carice von Houten's alluring high priestess – whose village remains curiously unaffected by pestilence?
Having joined the ranks of today’s most promising young directors after first crafting music videos for Morrissey and Dionne Farris, Zack Snyder has skillfully married his passion for song with his inclination to grandiose cinema.
Whether thrusting us into a world on the brink of apocalypse against the haunting strains of Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” in Dawn of the Dead (2004), or opening his adaptation of Alan Moore’s Watchmen (2009) with a condensed century of superhero history backed by Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” Snyder has a Midas touch in the soundtrack department.
When Emily Browning, the Australian-born fashion model and star of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), auditioned for Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder’s hard-hitting tribute to girl power, the director made her an offer she could have refused. But she didn’t.
“Zack asked me to put myself on tape, singing, which I’d never done before,” says Browning, 22. “I was terrified, of course. But he liked it. I have no idea why, but he thought me capable of carrying a tune on screen.”
Inspired by the demise of the Roman Empire’s Ninth Legion, a legendary unit founded by Julius Caesar and thought to have met a bitter end nearly two centuries later in what is now Scotland, Centurion is less grandiose than Zack Snyder’s 300 but every bit as brutal. If the sight of severed limbs leaves you squeamish, you’ve been warned.
Those seeking a history lesson would be foolish to consult the latest, bloodiest offering from director Neil Marshall, whose past credits include the crudely effective Dog Soldiers (2002) and The Descent (2005), his claustrophobic venture into a subterranean abyss populated by flesh-hungry humanoids.
Let’s get one thing straight: George Romero, the legendary director of Night of the Living Dead whose nightmarish vision of zombies rising from the grave to prey upon the living has spawned countless imitations and remakes, never wanted to take a break from the franchise that has become his most celebrated legacy.
“After I made Monkey Shines in 1988, I started developing a bunch of big movies for Hollywood studios, projects like Goosebumps and The Mummy, and I made more money then than I ever have before or since,” says Romero, 70. “We were rewriting movies for big stars – you know, let’s make this for Sharon Stone or Alec Baldwin. Then the next week, we’d be rewriting the same movie again for Eddie Murphy.
This has been heralded as the year of the animated movie, and with good reason: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline and Up, among others, proved as engaging for adults as for children, validating a genre unfairly dismissed as kiddie fare by some critics and too many Oscar voters.
To me, 2009 was most memorable for its documentaries. Tyson, Capitalism: A Love Story, The Beaches of Agnes and The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers entertained as well as informed, and all remain worthy candidates for end-of-the-year accolades. Consider them (as well as Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are) runners-up to my list of the year’s best films.
Adapted from a dark children’s novella by British author Neil Gaiman and directed by Henry Selick, who played a pivotal role in crafting the look of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline is a visual achievement of the highest order, an endlessly inventive spectacle that represents the first stop-motion animation feature ever filmed in 3-D. Judging by the results, it will not be the last.
SF Indie's Another Hole in the Head festival is entering its second week. Frameline 33, San Francisco's International LGBT Film Festival, kicks off Thursday with Richard Laxton's An Englishman in New York. Put simply, it's a great time to be a Bay Area movie buff. As always, here's a list of some of the films currently in rotation at an indie theater near you.
The year is 1985. Nixon is entering his fifth term as president after leading the U.S. to victory in Vietnam, the Cold War has led us to the brink of nuclear destruction, and the masked superheroes of the world have been forced into early retirement by order of the government. So goes the premise of Watchmen, director Zack Snyder’s messy but often fascinating take on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ celebrated graphic novel.
Even as rabid fans and Warner Bros. executives are at long last celebrating the arrival of the Watchmen movie, one of the men most responsible for the Hugo Award-winning tale of fallen superheroes living in an age of impending nuclear war – author Alan Moore – couldn’t care less.
Just ask his partner in creation, artist Dave Gibbons.