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.
A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
Though ostensibly successful 2009’s The Final Destination represented to many a horror franchise on its last hackneyed legs. Rote uninspired and humorless it scored a (modest) hit only by virtue of the novelty -- and added ticket price -- of its 3D transfer. Two years later Final Destination 5 arrives with a slightly tweaked formula a beefed-up storyline actors you might actually recognize and genuine honest-to-goodness 3D. It’s still schlock mind you -- but artful schlock and a marked improvement over the preceding entry.
The story begins in familiar fashion with a cursory introduction to the characters followed by a grisly premonition that sees them perish wholesale. An assortment of cubicle-dwellers at a paper factory are being bused to a corporate retreat when one of them Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto perpetually bug-eyed) dreams of a massive bridge collapse in which he and his co-workers are impaled beheaded bisected crushed by cars singed by tar -- however many ways a suspension bridge can kill a person the film’s opening set-piece explores it gruesome detail. Sam awakens duly horrified and demands the bus be evacuated. Seconds later the employees watch in horror from the sidelines as Sam’s vision comes to fruition.
You know what happens next. One-by-one death stalks the survivors who meet their fate in a series of elaborately-staged incidents. Some are relatively straightforward; others involve fiendish head-fakes and red herrings. The range of victims is older and more colorful than in previous Final Destination films in which death preyed exclusively on attractive nubile teenagers but the end result is invariably the same. (Not to give anything away but those considering acupuncture or laser eye surgery would be wise to avoid the film entirely.) As death’s scheme becomes achingly evident Sam his lachrymose girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) and his increasingly unhinged buddy Peter (Miles Fisher) become increasingly desperate. Enter the ever-ominous Tony Todd returning to the franchise after (wisely) taking the previous film off offering a potential way out. But is it genuine or just another of death’s cruel tricks?
Director Steven Quale a James Cameron protege hired principally for his 3D expertise takes full advantage of the added dimension delivering some of the most vivid and immersive 3D sequences in recent memory. Unlike The Final Destination which seemed little more than a amalgam of crude one-liners Final Destination 5 feels like a real movie one with a discernible plot an element of suspense and a handful characters who are more than just punchlines. Most of the actors are surprisingly competent save for Fisher a credible doppelganger for Tom Cruise (he parodied him 2008’s Superhero Movie) who imbues every line with couch-jumping intensity.
Final Destination 5 ends with a twist that while genuinely unexpected feels like a Hail Mary for a franchise that can’t forestall its inexorable descent into stale irrelevance despite the best of efforts from Quale. Its trademark formula has simply lost its potency -- a problem no amount of cosmetic upgrades however welcome can fix. That the film is bracketed by two pointless and time-consuming montages -- the first an animated sequence that hurtles various hazardous objects at the audience the second a greatest hits compilation of memorable kills from previous Final Destination films -- is a telltale sign that the saga’s creativity is on life support. Perhaps it’s time to pull the plug.
Forget Black Swan – Natalie Portman’s real crowning performance is to be found in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached in which director Ivan Reitman asks her to convey sincere unqualified affection for Ashton Kutcher. Portman much to her credit gamely complies and though she may not have the emaciated figure bloody nails and bandaged ankles to tell of her labors the psychic scars must no doubt be just as severe.
Exhibiting strong chick-flick leanings and a rambunctious soft-R comic tone (i.e. lots of F-bombs some menstrual humor and a few shots of Kutcher’s naked ass) No Strings Attached is built around a basic relationship role-reversal: The dude Adam (Kutcher) longs for a deeper lasting commitment; the chick Emma (Portman) insists on keeping matters purely physical. Emma’s motive is a practical one: As a doctor-to-be her busy residency schedule with its 80-hour work weeks and intensive exam preparations precludes a serious relationship. But alas a woman has certain needs (foreplay apparently not being among them) and who better to fulfill them than Kutcher’s non-threatening boy-toy?
Thus a “friends with benefits” arrangement is cemented whereupon the ripcord is to be pulled on the occasion that either of them develops stronger feelings. This does not last long for soon Adam is cloyingly lobbying for escalation. Emma demurs – not out of disinterest we are told but because she’s intimacy-averse and afraid of a broken heart. Why else would she resist a more permanent attachment to someone like Adam?
Perhaps it’s because Adam as played by Kutcher is about as interesting as cabbage. And yet No Strings Attached would have us believe he’s some kind of floppy-haired Albert Schweitzer. This despite the fact that his greatest aspiration in life is to join the writing staff of a High School Musical-esque television series the shallow inanity of which is one of the film’s recurring jokes. In vain support of his cause the filmmakers decorate Adam’s apartment with various props – vintage posters books about 1920s movies a guitar that is occasionally picked up but never actually played – that hint at a depth that Kutcher himself never manifests.
Still Portman sells us on Adam and Emma’s inevitable union with every ounce of her not inconsiderable talent. (And her comic chops are legit – as those who’ve glimpsed her appearances on SNL and Funny or Die can attest.) But she asks too much. And Elizabeth Meriweather’s script while witty and stocked with some keen observations on the evolving nature of relationships in the modern age becomes weighed down by sentiment unbecoming an R-rated comedy not directed by Judd Apatow. In the end Kutcher seals the increasingly contrived deal with the climactic line “I’m warning you: Come one step closer and I’m never letting you go ” (I’m paraphrasing but not loosely) by which time the film's already lost its grip.
So much for TV's same old, same old.
The nominations for the 54th Annual Primetime Emmys signaled a significant shift in the landscape of television's most honored series and performers, with perennial favorites like ER, The Practice, The X-Files and NYPD Blue (the latter ineligible due to a lack of new episodes) losing steam among Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voters in favor of up-and-coming shows like Six Feet Under, Alias, 24 and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
Nobody better signified the Emmy voters' changing tastes than Will & Grace star and this morning's nomination announcer Eric McCormack. After ER actress Laura Innes read off a list of names in the lead actor in a comedy category that did not include his own, he executed a perfectly timed, Jack Benny-esque slow look over his shoulder to assure he had heard correctly.
"It's just as well," the Emmy winner--and impending father-to-be--sighed. "You know how hard it is to get a sitter." The nonplussed star nevertheless beamed when his show and co-stars Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally each received nominations.
McCormack played his shut-out for laughs, but a dramatic shift in preferences marked this year's nominations. Still, despite having no new episodes of The Sopranos to submit, HBO again emerged as the network with the most nominations, an astounding 93 nods. Six Feet Under delivered the most of any series this year with 23, and the pay cable net also scored nods for its enduring Sex and the City (ten), newcomer Curb Your Enthusiasm, miniseries Band of Brothers and several of its pay cable movies.
The new crop of freshman faves include Alias (nine noms, including acting accolades for Jennifer Garner and Victor Garber), 24 (ten, including nods for best drama and lead actor Kiefer Sutherland) and comedian Bernie Mac, who got his first nomination in the lead actor in a comedy series for the initial season of his eponymous Fox sitcom. Michael Chiklis, star of the scathing new F/X crime drama The Shield, also earned his first kudo as lead actor in drama.
But in spite of near shut-outs in major categories for former Emmy shoo-ins like ER, The Practice, Ally McBeal and Law & Order, at least one principal network had plenty of reasons to be as proud as a peacock. NBC nabbed 89 nominations, bolstered by the still-powerhouse The West Wing (21 nods), Will & Grace (13) and a resurgently popular Friends (11). Indeed, this year marked the strongest showing yet by the latter show's cast members, who for the first time decided to submit themselves in the comedy lead categories rather than the supporting slots.
The gambit paid off: buoyed by this season's Rachel-Joey-Ross triangle, Jennifer Aniston and Matt LeBlanc scored nods, though David Schwimmer was edged out by Matthew Perry. Aniston's real-life hubby Brad Pitt even earned a nomination for his guest appearance on the series.
The network's graying show Frasier still snared a very respectable nine nominations, including acting nods for lead Kelsey Grammer and supporting actor David Hyde Pierce, along with guest actors Brian Cox, Adam Arkin and Anthony LaPaglia. The series is only two Emmy wins away from tying the all-time win mark set by The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
It seems that actors looking to make a bid for the winged trophies need only get their agents to wrangle them a role on The West Wing. Not only did previous Emmy winners Martin Sheen and Allison Janney (bumped up this year to the lead actress category) score approval, the Oval Office drama earned supporting nominations for regular cast members Dule Hill, John Spencer, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, Janel Moloney, Stockard Channing and Mary-Louise Parker, as well as for guest actors Ron Silver, Tim Matheson and Mark Harmon.
Whitford and Jane Kaczmarek continue to be the favorite real-life husband-and-wife choice among Emmy voters, with Kaczmarek getting a lead comedy actress nod for her role on Fox's , while her TV hubby Bryan Cranston got his first-ever lead comedy actor nod for the series.
CBS must love Everybody Loves Raymond for turning out one of its strongest performances yet with 11 nominations, and each of the sitcom's lead actors earned a berth in their respective categories, as did guest actress Katherine Helmond. The eye net's sophomore series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, one of the most-watched shows on TV, garnered six nods, including one for outstanding drama series, yet none of the show's actors were singled out.
"Singled out" sounds like a term the Sex and the City gals would never want to hear, but while Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and even veteran character actress Frances Sternhagen (who plays Charlotte's blue-blood mother-in-law Bunny) woke up to Emmy nominations, Kristin Davis somehow slipped through the cracks again despite an emotionally weighty season.
Finally, it apparently helps you get an Emmy nomination if you already have an Academy Award, or at least a nomination, on your mantel. Among the performers previously tapped for film's Golden Guy who earned Emmy nods in various categories this year: Albert Finney, Angela Bassett, Sissy Spacek, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon, Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave, Laura Linney, Kenneth Branagh, Joan Allen, Michael Douglas, Anjelica Huston, Glenn Close and Cloris Leachman. Even Tom Hanks and directors Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott got acknowledged in the producer categories.
ATAS will hand out the Emmy trophies on Sunday, Sept. 22, at a black-tie ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
Highlights of the 2001-2002 Primetime Emmy Award Nominations:
Outstanding Drama Series
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS)
Law & Order (NBC)
Six Feet Under (HBO)
The West Wing (NBC)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Michael Chiklis, The Shield
Michael C. Hall, Six Feet Under
Peter Krause, Six Feet Under
Kiefer Sutherland, 24
Martin Sheen, The West Wing
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Jennifer Garner, Alias
Amy Brenneman, Judging Amy
Rachel Griffiths, Six Feet Under
Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under
Allison Janney, The West Wing
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Victor Garber, Alias
Freddy Rodriguez, Six Feet Under
Dulé Hill, The West Wing
John Spencer, The West Wing
Bradley Whitford, The West Wing
Richard Schiff, The West Wing
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Tyne Daly, Judging Amy
Lauren Ambrose, Six Feet Under
Mary-Louise Parker, The West Wing
Stockard Channing, The West Wing
Janel Moloney, The West Wing
Outstanding Comedy Series
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS)
Sex and the City (HBO)
Will & Grace (NBC)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Bernie Mac, The Bernie Mac Show
Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond
Kelsey Grammer, Frasier
Matt LeBlanc, Friends
Matthew Perry, Friends
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond
Jennifer Aniston, Friends
Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle
Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City
Debra Messing, Will & Grace
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Peter Boyle, Everybody Loves Raymond
Brad Garrett, Everybody Loves Raymond
David Hyde Pierce, Frasier
Bryan Cranston, Malcolm in the Middle
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Doris Roberts, Everybody Loves Raymond
Wendie Malick, Just Shoot Me
Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City
Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace
MINISERIES AND MOVIES
Band of Brothers (HBO)
The Mists of Avalon (TNT)
Outstanding Made for Television Movie
Dinner With Friends (HBO)
The Gathering Storm (HBO)
James Dean (TNT)
The Laramie Project (HBO)
Path To War (HBO)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Albert Finney, The Gathering Storm
James Franco, James Dean
Sir Michael Gambon, Path To War
Kenneth Branagh, Shackleton
Beau Bridges, We Were the Mulvaneys
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Vanessa Redgrave, The Gathering Storm
Angela Bassett, The Rosa Parks Story
Blythe Danner, We Were the Mulvaneys
Laura Linney, Wild Iris
Gena Rowlands, Wild Iris
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Jim Broadbent, The Gathering Storm
Michael Moriarty, James Dean
Alec Baldwin, Path To War
Don Cheadle, Things Behind the Sun
Jon Voight, Uprising
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Sissy Spacek, Last Call
Stockard Channing, The Matthew Shepard Story
Joan Allen, The Mists of Avalon
Anjelica Huston, The Mists of Avalon
Dame Diana Rigg, Victoria and Albert
Outstanding Guest Actor in aDrama Series
John Larroquette, The Practice
Charles S. Dutton, The Practice
Ron Silver, The West Wing
Tim Matheson, The West Wing
Mark Harmon, The West Wing
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
Mary McDonnell, ER
Martha Plimpton, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Patricia Clarkson, Six Feet Under
Lili Taylor, Six Feet Under
Illeana Douglas, Six Feet Under
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
Adam Arkin, Frasier
Anthony LaPaglia, Frasier
Brian Cox, Frasier
Brad Pitt, Friends
Michael Douglas, Will & Grace
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Katherine Helmond, Everybody Loves Raymond
Susan Sarandon, Malcolm in the Middle
Cloris Leachman, Malcolm in the Middle
Frances Sternhagen, Sex and the City
Glenn Close, Will & Grace