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.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Peter O'Toole's portrayal of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean epic Lawrence of Arabia has topped a new list of the greatest movie performances.
The iconic actor sprained both his ankles, dislocated his spine and knocked himself out twice while making the 1962 movie, and admits he became "obsessed" with adventurer Lawrence.
But it seems it was all worth it--the portrayal beat Marlon Brando's role as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront and Meryl Streep's acclaimed part (Sophie Zawistowska) in Sophie's Choice in the 100 Greatest Performances of All Time list in movie magazine Premiere.
In a related poll, Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Herring (Mulholland Drive), Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine (Sleuth), and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) were named among the Dynamic Duos of movie history.
The top 10 greatest performances are:
1. Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia)
2. Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy (On the Waterfront)
3. Meryl Streep as Sophie Zawistowska (Sophie's Choice)
4. Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik (Dog Day Afternoon)
5. Bette Davis as Margo Channing (All About Eve)
6. James Cagney as George M. Cohan (Yankee Doodle Dandy)
7. Dustin Hoffman as Ratso Rizzo (Midnight Cowboy)
8. James Stewart as George Bailey (It's a Wonderful Life)
9. Gene Wilder as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Young Frankenstein)
10. Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta (Raging Bull)
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Well, the February sweeps are finally over.
Once the remainder of NBC's "10th Kingdom" is flushed from the system, it will all be just a distant memory. Regis Philbin won, if you were scoring along at home. If the February sweeps were like network TV's playoffs, Regis was Michael Jordan -- only shorter and dressed like a bootlegger from the 1920s.
The good news? Now that the quarter-hour numbers don't mean as much to the bean counters, you might find a few higher-quality shows on the air -- not that Fox's "Robbie Knievel: Head On Train Jump" wasn't "high quality" as head on train jumps go. ... But, um ... Hey, everybody, let's get ready for those mid-season replacements!
-- Right after HBO's "The Sopranos" airs today at 8 p.m. (this is old news, but yes, the series really is as good as everybody says it is), stay tuned for "If These Walls Could Talk 2" (9 p.m. EST/PST). It's a long overdue look at changing lesbian lifestyles from the 1960s through 1990s. Vanessa Redgrave, Sharon Stone, Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle Williams ("Dawson's Creek") and Oscar-nominee Chloe Sevigny ("Boys Don't Cry") star in the kind of film that portrays lesbianism in a more positive light than we are used to seeing on TV -- you know, minus the laugh track and drooling men. It's sort of "lesbianism for women," if that makes any sense. Howard Stern spoke the truth when he said "lesbians equal ratings." But we're not sure this is what he had in mind.
-- No longer afraid of losing good shows in the crush of all those February network "specials," cable's USA network premieres two pretty good "based on actual events" originals this week. Producer Shaun Cassidy, a former teen "heartthrob" who will never live down his past if we have anything to say about it and the creator of the intensely spooky but short-lived "American Gothic," is the scribe behind the first episode of "Cover Me" (8 p.m. EST/PST today). It's an hour-long drama about an FBI agent who feels that the best way to keep his family safe from the bad guys is to put the wife and kiddies to work on his cases -- so, um, they can be more directly in the line of fire. You know, that doesn't sound like the greatest plan in the world, but it might make a good TV show. ... Hey wait a minute! Oh, nevermind.
-- And Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST/PST, USA offers the made-for-cable movie "The Huntress." If the title alone hasn't sold you, it also stars Annette O'Toole! And if, like us, you're not sure who that is (actually she's very famous and was in "Nash Bridges"), it's also based on the true story of Dottie Thorson! And if, again, you're not sure who that is, either, you'll just have to take our word that this movie is pretty cool. When a (based-on-a-real-person) professional bounty hunter (Craig T. Nelson) explodes in his driveway, his (based-on-real-people) wife (O'Toole) and daughter (Aleksa Palladino) decide to press on with the family business. It's smart and funny in a seedy Quentin Tarantino kind of way ... the good Tarantino, before "Destiny Turns on the Radio" and that vampire movie.
-- Kevin Spacey takes the chair on Bravo's always interesting interview show "Inside the Actor's Studio" (8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST today). Count on the intrepidly probing host, James Lipton, to get a lot out of the Best Actor Oscar nominee (for "American Beauty") in this hour.
-- And an hour later (at 9 p.m. EST/PST), E! premieres another installment of its stately "True Hollywood Story" doc series. This time the subject is Burt Reynolds. From his days as a No. 1 box-office attraction (long before "Stroker Ace," and "Cop and a Half," if you're trying to remember) to Loni Anderson to Dinah Shore to ... You know, if Burt Reynolds hasn't actually done it all, he's certainly done most of it. This should be pretty good.
-- Fox reanimates "Family Guy" for another run Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. EST/PST. It's a funny toon and certainly deserves a regular spot in its struggling line-up (not that worth ever stopped a network from canceling anything before). Meanwhile, NBC finally moves into the 1990s (in the year 2000, no less) and joins the animation revolution by giving a prime spot (right behind "Friends") to the mid-season replacement "God, the Devil and Bob" (8:30 p.m. EST/PST Thursday). When all creation seems to have lost its luster, God (voiced by James Garner) gambles with the devil (Tony-winner Alan Cumming) that a guy named Bob ("3rd Rock from the Sun" co-star French Stewart) can restore his faith in humanity. If Bob isn't up to the task, then basically the universe becomes a "do-over." Don't knock "Bob," yet. It's got to be better than "Jesse."
-- Hoping to capitalize on the ratings success CBS had with the Grammys last month, VH-1 will televise the "Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony" (9 p.m. EST/PST Wednesday). Inductees include Eric Clapton, the Lovin' Spoonful, and Earth, Wind and Fire. Unfortunately, Jennifer Lopez is busy (picking up boyfriend Puff Daddy at court is like a full-time job now), so Clapton has volunteered to "take one for the team" and wear the thin-strips-of-delicate-fabric-taped-to-the-breasts outfit.
-- And finally, the Sci-Fi Channel will be running the entire "Indiana Jones" trilogy on consecutive nights this week. If you don't know what we're talking about, the "Indiana Jones" movies are about an archeologist who travels around and digs for ancient artifacts. (They're a lot better than they sound). Anyway, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. (EST/PST), followed by "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (8 p.m. EST/PST Wednesday) and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (8 p.m. EST/PST Thursday). As an extra-special treat, Sci-Fi is presenting the flicks in extra-special widescreen format. Sounds like hunkering down time in front of the television.