Friday, September 22, 2006


Documentary ‘Deliver Us From Evil’ faces ratings controversy

Amy Berg’s years of experience producing news segments for CBS, ABC and CNN help explain the matter-of-fact style, precise, face-the-camera interviews and well-informed backdrop of her feature documentary debut “Deliver Us From Evil.” What separates Berg’s first film from her broadcast work is its controversial subject, Father Oliver O’Grady (pictured above), a Catholic priest guilty of raping and abusing numerous children throughout Northern California. Actually, O’Grady’s story is one Berg might have covered for one of the network news divisions. But she never would have been given the room to tell the stories of the families devastated by O’Grady’s crimes. More importantly, the network news outlets would have forced Berg to sensationalize the story. Instead, with “Deliver Us From Evil,” she recounts O’Grady’s horrors with an even hand and a steady recounting of how this abusive priest was left alone by his church superiors.
There are moments in the film’s first half when it feels like Berg might be retelling events with too much restraint, although the pace quickens late into the movie as O’Grady’s victims attempt to take their tale to the Vatican.
Still, it’s surprising that a documentary as fair and balanced as “Deliver Us From Evil” received a red band or restrictive rating for its trailer from the Motion Picture Assn. of America (MPAA). Granted, the film’s subject, a pedophile priest left unpunished by the Catholic Church for close to thirty years, is for adult audiences only. But it’s clear the MPAA has not watched the film. If they had, they would be impressed by Berg’s thoughtful, restrained handling of her subjects and the thought of branding the film with a NC-17 rating would never cross their minds.
A red band trailer for "Deliver Us From Evil" means it can only play before Rated R and NC-17 movies; something that severely limits its marketing reach. It’s also fair to say that staffers at Lionsgate, the film’s distributor, acted proactively by deciding to release “Deliver Us From Evil” without a rating. Why take a chance on a NC-17 ruling, although the publicity could only help the film. With the MPAA out of the picture, what remains is convincing theater operators that this compelling documentary deserves a chance to impact audiences with a tough story that won’t go away.

Deliver Us From Evil premiered at film festivals earlier this year including the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Lionsgate Films will release it in theaters across America on Oct. 13.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


‘Feast’ brings back the Midnight Movie – if only for one weekend

Strong memories from the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival include great new discoveries like writer/director Rajnesh Domalpalli’s lush South India coming-of-age drama “Vanaja” and British director Paul Andrew Williams’ gritty gangster thriller “London to Brighton.”
Fantastic new works by established masters such as Patrice Leconte’s “Mon meilleur ami” (“My Best Friend”), a clever adult comedy starring Daniel Auteuil, and Ken Loach’s “The Wind that Shakes the Barley,” an epic period drama about freedom fighters in 1920 Ireland, continue to stay on my mind.
But one of my favorite festival habits continues to be the Midnight Madness series of foreign horror films, adult animation and politically incorrect comedies. In a packed auditorium on the Ryerson College campus, I watched “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane,” “Black Sheep,” “The Host” and thirty minutes of the hilarious Sacha Baron Cohen comedy “Borat” before a broken-down projector stopped the screening (more on that another time).
Masters like Leconte have a hard time getting their foreign-language films into U.S. theaters long enough to generate audiences. Meanwhile, an emerging artist like Rajnesh Domalpalli struggles to get his film bought by a distributor. Weekend classics series have gone by the wayside at many U.S. art houses. The same is true for midnight cult series. But anyone at Toronto’s late-night showing of “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” will tell you about the joy of watching a scary movie in the midnight hour surrounded by a crowd of horror fans.
Midnight madness comes to the U.S. courtesy of “Feast;” the horror feature produced via the reality TV series "Project Greenlight 3." In the nine-part show, director John Gulager and screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan tackled a quick shoot and a $3 million budget to bring to life the tale of flesh-eating beasts attacking the occupants (including Judah Friedlander and Navi Rawat, pictured above) of a working-class tavern.
“Feast” will enjoy its debut on DVD in October but before then, on September 22 and 23, it will play late-night showings at select theaters across the United States. It’s the type of debut every horror filmmaker dreams about having, a midnight showing in front of hungry horror fans.
Let’s hope the cinemas are packed and “Feast” becomes part of an ongoing midnight movie trend.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


John Dahl returns to form with ‘You Kill Me’

John Dahl Image

John Dahl is a veteran director with enough acclaim to generate anticipation for each impending film but little to zero name recognition. His early films, “Kill Me Again” (1989), “Red Rock West” (1992) and “The Last Seduction” (1994) gave rise to the neo-noir movement. More recently, there have been missteps, “Unforgettable” (1996), a mystery starring his “Last Seduction” star Linda Fiorentino, “Rounders” (1998), a poker drama, and the road-trip thriller “Joy Ride” (2001), which Dahl re-shot after test audiences did not react well to the ending. But I have always thought of Dahl as a survivor in a business that makes it hard for independent-minded craftsmen to survive. You just know that he’ll be back with another feature no matter how many setbacks are tossed his way.
The last time I spoke with Dahl he was in Cincinnati to screen his Bataan Death March drama “The Great Raid” to a 2005 convention of World War II veterans. He thanked the elderly men and their spouses for coming to the riverfront multiplex; singled out a few men for special kudos and left them to watch a dramatic version of what many of them experienced sixty-three years prior.
Over coffee at an adjacent restaurant, Dahl and I did not talk much about “The Great Raid.” Like many of his admirers, I tend to focus on his early, no-budget movies. But he hinted at a new film he was considering to direct, the mob comedy “You Kill Me,” just picked up by IFC Films for a nationwide release in 2007.
In the film, Ben Kingley plays Frank, an alcoholic hit man who attempts sobriety by working at a mortuary. Mucking up his get-straight plans is Laurel (Téa Leoni), the type of ballsy woman character found in Dahl’s best films.
Leoni, who spurts rat-tat-tat banter like a modern-day Barbara Stanwyck, has a kindred spirit in Dahl (Leoni must know this since she produced the film). The two of them are capable of making something truly special; not to discount Kingley’s contribution to the mix. “You Kill Me” leads to what I have always thought about Dahl. He consistently makes the opportunity for one more triumph.

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