There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
In theory Gold Diggers is another remake of the The Ladykillers in which bumbling crooks are constantly thwarted trying to kill an old lady in order to amass a fortune or in this case two old ladies (Louise Lasser and Renee Taylor two excellent actresses who are simply embarrassed here). Except writer/director Gary Preisler thought it would be funnier if the young crooks were also having sex with the old ladies and that the elders would be impossibly flatulent randy and murderous themselves. The result is the worst treatment of the elderly since Momma was Thrown From the Train. Murder is attempted using poison shotgun and snake. And sex with the elderly is attempted using handcuffs food and the world's oldest condom.
Will Friedle (Boy Meets World) and Chris Owen (American Pie) are the two young hoods who grew up in an orphanage and then turned to crime because apparently everyone who grows up in an orphanage turns to crime. Friedle was OK in the excellent and underrated Trojan War (the best of the John Hughes rip-off comedies) but that was seven years ago and he's done nothing but voiceover work since. It's easy to see why; his total lack of charisma or screen presence makes Chris O'Donnell seem like Humphrey Bogart. Lasser manages at least an accidental chemistry with Owen but she seems to be the only one willing to take this movie where it needed to go which is somewhere very strange and way beyond left field. Taylor tries to inject some life into the material but her repeated stripteases only to serve to point out how sad it is that a woman of her age and talent must stoop this low to get work in Hollywood. Nikki Ziering of Playboy fame turns up near the end looking great in a bikini but her awkward attempts at the meager lines she's given make you wish she just didn't say anything at all.
Director Preisler has no concept of the tone or timing needed to make this work. Gold Diggers is a wannabe raunchy comedy but it's a tame PG-13 that doesn't contain the raunch that drives teen male audiences. No one says Porky's or say The Girl Next Door was a great movie but at least they delivered the R-rated goods. And Gold Diggers is a wannabe black comedy that has a gooey and predictably sappy ending in which characters learn life lessons and live happily ever after. This is what happens when someone takes a set of great influences like The Ladykillers Fargo and American Pie and then mangles them horribly. It's like watching the lamest cover band ever perform some your favorite songs screechingly out of tune. It makes you want to grab a tire iron and some chloroform and throw them in the trunk. In fact the only reason to see this movie would be for the score which cribs so generously from the score for Fargo that if you close your eyes and completely ignore the dialogue you can transport yourself to a better version of this movie. The National Lampoon imprint spawned some of the funniest comedy writers in America the same group that gave us Saturday Night Live Animal House and other definitive '70s comedies. Today it's a signal to run like hell for the exits or better yet ignore it completely.
Sidney Poitier has certainly been pushed back into the limelight after receiving an honorary Oscar Sunday night--and so have his movies. Warner Bros. has optioned the rights to remake the 1970s trio of Poitier/Bill Cosby films (also directed by Poitier): Uptown Saturday Night, Let's Do It Again and A Piece of the Action, with Oscar nominee Will Smith attached to star in at least the first feature, Uptown. The comedy centers on two husbands trying to recover stolen money and a winning lottery ticket before their wives find out they are missing.
Smith and his business partner James Lassiter plan to produce all three films under their Overbrook Entertainment banner. "For eight years, Will and I have been trying to track down the rights to this project because Uptown Saturday Night is one of our favorite movies," Lassiter told The Hollywood Reporter.
Blade scribe David Goyer has a thing for bloodsuckers. He will be directing a new tale about vampires called Darksiders, in which a band of vampires turn into special operatives for the FBI. The film for New Line will start production sometime in the fall.
The cast list for Woody Allen's next film project continues to grow. Glenn Close and Danny DeVito will be coming on board the untitled production, joining the already cast Christina Ricci and Jason Biggs. Typical of Allen's style, the film is being kept closely under wraps, but The Hollywood Reporter reports the story revolves around three young adults. Close is believed to be playing Ricci's mother.
As if anyone in their right mind would care about such a movie, apparently it has been decided to turn Anne Robinson's autobiography, Memoirs of an Unfit Mother, into a feature film. Yes, we are talking about the host of the game show The Weakest Link. The film Anne Robinson: The Movie is going after such actresses as Renee Zellweger and Anna Friel to play Robinson as a young woman. Good luck with that.
ABC News and its coverage of Sept. 11, and Fox's The Bernie Mac Show were two of the Peabody Award winners announced Wednesday, honoring those who have exhibited broadcast excellence. Other winners included HBO's Band of Brothers and ABC's Nightline.
A man was hospitalized while performing a stunt on the new NBC game show Dog Eat Dog, where contestants combine stunts with trivia questions to compete for $25,000. The Associated Press reported the man was suspended by his ankles in water, where he held his breath for two minutes. Paramedics were called when the man appeared unconscious after being pulled out, but Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey told AP when they arrived that the man was "conscious, alert, breathing on his own and talkative." The show has not aired yet.
British actress Jane Seymour, otherwise known as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, has come out with her own line of contemporary clothing, inspired by her floral paintings. The clothes, which range from size 6 to size 22, are intended for all women. "This isn't necessarily runway-friendly clothes; they're real-woman-friendly," Seymour told AP.
Shaolin fighter monks have taken their act on the road. What are Shaolin fighter monks, you may ask? They are ordained Buddhist "soldier monks" of the Shaolin temple, the apparent birthplace of Chinese martial arts or "kung fu"--and 25 monks have put together a spectacular stage show called Shaolin--Wheel of Life. Since it premiered in London two and a half years ago, the fast-paced martial arts show has been playing to packed audiences across the world.
Rock legend David Bowie signed a multirecord deal Wednesday with Columbia Records and will be releasing the album Heathen on June 11, his first album in three years.