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.
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
Michael Jackson has (finally) solidified his plans for the upcoming American Music Awards and Grammy ceremonies. Jacko's not even appearing at Wednesday night's AMA awards; he's simply sending in a prerecorded performance of his tune "Man in the Mirror." What Jacko's doing for February's Grammy Awards is still up in the air, but this is an obvious ploy in hope that he'll still be invited to perform.
If you're familiar with director Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven, you'll see some familiar faces in his upcoming film Full Frontal. Ocean's star Julia Roberts will star in the Miramax-made movie, as will Jerry Weintraub, who served as producer on the casino-heist film, according to Variety.
Viewers who tuned in to Carson Daly's new NBC late-night talk show on Monday night were probably disappointed: the MTV star's show, Last Call, did not debut. According to PageSix.com, Daly had not yet signed a contract with NBC.
Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, busted on Jan. 2 for resisting arrest following an argument at a Tampa nightclub, phoned MTV on Tuesday, claiming he was "in the wrong place at the wrong time" and stressing his innocence.
The National Board of Review revealed their list of winners for 2001 on Monday night. Monster's Ball's Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton won for best actress and best actor, respectively. Steven Spielberg was honored with the Billy Wilder Excellence in Direction Award.
In other Monster's Ball news, the film's director, Marc Forster, will next helm a film about the creator of Peter Pan, James Barrie. Titled Never Land, the film is based on the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan, written by Allan Knee.
At February 3rd's Super Bowl, Mary J. Blige and Marc Anthony will kick off the festivities by singing America the Beautiful, accompanied by the Boston Pops and a group of firefighters, policemen and military personnel. The NFL made the announcement on Tuesday, adding that Mariah Carey and U2 are still slated for halftime performances.
It may seem unthinkable, but Disney will be releasing several sequels to animated classics in 2002. First will be Cinderella II in February, followed by Peter Pan II in March and Dumbo II and The Jungle Book II coming out later in the year. All of the sequels will be animated in the "classic" Disney style, according to the BBC.
Late singer Aaliyah is on course to snag the number-one spot on the British charts with her single "More Than a Woman." It currently leads the way among singles, as of Wednesday, Reuters reports.
First the drummer goes, now the lead singer. Chris Robinson left the rock group The Black Crowes--after 15 years with the band--in December, Launch.com reports. The group's spokesman said on Tuesday that the band was "taking a hiatus" and that Robinson is pursuing a solo career.
Universal Studios told Variety on Tuesday that 2.9 million of the available 3.4 million copies of The Fast and the Furious DVD have already been sold--just since Jan. 2!
On Tuesday, members of the Screen Actors Guild reinforced the results of its recent election for president of the group, which some members have called into question. A reelection will be held from March 15 to April 10, to determine the result of the dispute, but actress Melissa Gilbert (Little House on the Prarie) is expected to retain her current role as president, according to Variety.
On Friday, Muhammad Ali will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Jan. 17 will also be named "Muhammad Ali Day" in Hollywood, said Hollywood Mayor James K. Hahn.
For the first time in seven years, opera legend Luciano Pavarotti will perform at London's Royal Opera House on Friday, starring in a performance of Tosca.
On March 3, producer Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story) will receive the Producers Guild of America's Milestone Award. Previous winners include Steven Spielberg, Bob Hope and Alfred Hitchcock.