Saturday, December 24, 2011

Fool's Views (12/12 – 12/18)

My friends,

It was a great week for movie watching, although the circumstances were less than ideal (monster head cold accompanied by a wicked 3-day migraine). As a result, I was pretty much immobilized and remaindered to the couch, but the Netflix and public library gods were there to comfort me with their celluloid balm. As you can see, my TV-remote fingers transported me across continents to experience a multitude of worthy foreign nightmares, as well as a dip into the De Palma Pool.

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday weekend – may your gatherings of family and friends be rich and plentiful. The greatest gifts are still the ones that come for free/cheap: a friendly word, a warm embrace, a surprise phone call, a random act of kindness… I feel incredibly blessed to be allowed to live this life, surrounded by friends and fiends both corporeal and virtual. Thank you for sharing your time and comments with me over yet another blogging year – it’s a pleasure to know that someone’s actually out there reading these blithering and blithe missives.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll be sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

HORROR (INTERNATIONAL WEEK):

Dream Home (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Pang, Ho-Cheung (Hong Kong)
Awesome Hong Kong body count flick revolving around a young lady bent on acquiring a ocean-view apartment, even if it means taking out half of the complex’s residents. This midnight-black comedy delivers the goods for slasher fans, in that there are nearly a dozen applause-worthy kill gags. Well executed and worth your time.



Eclipse, The (2009) (1st viewing) d. McPherson, Conor (Ireland)
Grieving widower Ciarin Hinds begins seeing creepy visions in his house the same weekend as the local literary festival where he has been tasked with driving visiting authors Iben Hjejle and Adian Quinn (wonderfully smarmy & narcissistic). While more a “drama with occasional ghosting,” the lived-in performances and attention to character/situation allow the scares to sing all the more when they do arrive. Patient viewers will be handsomely rewarded.



Last Circus, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. de la Iglesia, Alex (Spain)
A transient circus during the Spanish Civil War (lorded over by sadistic clown Antonio de la Torre) is the setting for the latest from Spanish wunderkind de la Igesia. Returning to his unfettered horror days (Day of the Beast), the visionary writer/director delivers naïve “sad clown” Carlos Areces into the mix, and when smokin’ aerial artist Carolina Bang takes a liking to him, the stage is set for set-pieces muchas violentas. Safe to say that viewers will encounter scenarios and sights that they’ve never seen before, all delivered with de la Iglesias’ reliably gymnastic cinematography and unhinged energy.



Mutants (2009) (1st viewing) d. Morlet, David (France)
Despite the reductiveness of the comparison, this smaller scaled version of 28 Days Later set in the wintry French wilderness will not disappoint fans of Danny Boyle’s apocalyptic smash. Holding up in a deserted hospital, a couple (Hélène de Fougerolles, Francis Renaud) must do battle with carnivorous infected as well as marauding bands of fellow survivors in the wake of a mysterious viral plague. (For my money, the excellent makeup effects, intelligent script and superb performances make this a superior companion piece to 28DL than its official, dumbed-down sequel.)



Nude for Satan (1974) (1st viewing) d. Batzella, Luigi (Italy)
Seriously one of the more bizarre ghost stories I’ve ever run across. While there is definitely truth in advertising (nudity and Satanists abound), trying to piece together a coherent narrative is an exercise in insanity. As near as I can figure, two strangers who get into a car accident meet in an afterlife set in a haunted mansion where they alternately know who each other are and/or don’t, while cackling caped figures wander about seducing and bargaining for souls. Strangely compelling within its cheap production values and overwrought dubbed thesping. Gotta love those Italians!




CIVILIAN:



Facing Ali (2009)
(1st viewing) d. McCormack, Pete
10 of Muhummad Ali’s opponents tell stories of The Greatest and their respective bouts, providing great insight into the legendary fighter, themselves and the mystique of the sport of boxing. Fascinating stuff.

Fall, The (2006) (1st viewing) d. Singh, Tarsem
Though I missed Immortals in the cinema due to bad planning, I was lucky enough to pick up Singh’s previous visual splendorfest, shamefully ignored by mainstream viewers. Not puzzling that it failed to register at the box office, considering the challenges of marketing a fantasy pick with decidedly adult themes, but the story is told with clear lines and the eye-popping optical tapestry weaved for viewers’ benefit is stunning. Highly recommended, and deserving of a much wider awareness.

Hustle & Flow (2005) (1st viewing) d. Brewer, Craig
A drama about a pimp with a midlife crisis? Yes, and with an electrifying central performance by Terrence Howard as a flesh pusher who harbors an adolescent dream of being a hip-hop superstar, it works like a charm. I’m not a big enough fan to say how worthwhile the original rap songs created in Howard’s basement studio are, but the fact that “Whoop that Trick” and “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” were on my lips the next day must say something.

I Love You, Man (2009) (1st viewing) d. Hamburg, John
Groom-to-be Paul Rudd discovers he has no male friends; in setting out to recruit himself a wedding party, he falls into a “bro-mance” with goofy single guy Jason Segel. Realistic not in the least, but still breezily likeable and entertaining. I’ll confess I don’t understand all the love for Rudd, who's as lightweight as they come, but Segel’s lunky good guy charm picks up the slack.

Murder by Death (1976) (2nd viewing) d. Moore, Robert
“All right, we'll take turns. You look over the first dead, naked body that we find and I'll look over the second.” All-star comedy cast (Peter Falk, David Niven, Elsa Lanchester, James Coco, Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Eileen Brennan, Maggie Smith, Truman Capote, Nancy Walker…and a very young James Cromwell) shines in Neil Simon’s homage/send-up of the great murder mysteries of stage and page.

Troy (2004) (1st viewing) d. Peterson, Wolfgang
Gorgeous but empty, this epic scale version of the classic Greek tale wants to be another Gladiator so badly it hurts. Peterson, who usually excels in grounding his performers, seems to have gotten caught up in the production design CGI bells and whistles, leaving his posturing Hollywood cast (Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Brian Cox, Orlando Bloom and Peter O’Toole) to strut, sneer and smite without an ounce of integrity.





DE PALMA HAT TRICK:
Fury, The (1978)
(3rd viewing)d. De Palma, Brian
Kirk Douglas glowers magnificently as telekinetic Andrew Stevens’ dad, endeavoring to save his offspring from the clutches of evil John Cassavetes. With Amy Irving playing another “sensitive” that Douglas recruits to assist him in his quest, it’s puzzling that De Palma would choose to revisit the Carrie playbook so soon, but with Rick Baker’s splattery effects enlivening the proceedings, I’m not complaining.

Blow Out (1981) (2nd viewing) d. De Palma, Brian
Speaking of Carrie, the writer/director reunites two more of his earlier success’ cast members for this riff on Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, with John Travolta’s movie sound man believing he may have captured an incriminating piece of aural evidence in a politician’s murder, and Nancy Allen’s childlike prostitute a pawn in the conspiracy. Superbly accomplished melodrama met with mixed reviews in its initial release, but has come to be considered one of De Palma’s finest efforts.

Carlito's Way (1993) (2nd viewing) d. De Palma, Brian
Al Pacino followed up his bombastic Oscar-winning hoo-ah performance from Scent of a Woman with more of the same, not quite reaching the explosive heights of the last teaming with his Scarface director. De Palma resurrected his scrapped Untouchables train sequence (which became the superior Odessa Steps-inspired finale) here – unfortunately, we weren’t missing much.

2011 totals to date: 605 films, 378 1st time views, 346 horror, 50 cinema

BOOKS:

Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence & Robert E. Lee
Reel Terror, edited by Sebastian Wolfe

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fool's Views (12/5 – 12/11)


Hey kids,

Huge week for movies as we head into the final stretch. This is when I start looking at the calendar and think to myself, “You know those movie projects you’ve been meaning to knock out before the end of the year? Yeah, need to get on that.” Of course, this is also just as Hollywood starts turning out its awards bait, and also when it occurs to me that I need to get in another Share the Scare or two before the end of the year… Bottom line, it means the Views start coming fast and furious - no rest for the wicked wickeds out there.

The good news is that I was able to further indulge in my Peter Jackson 2011 lovefest as well as making a sizable dent in Bob Clark’s filmography, as well as picking up three recent mainstream releases topped by a five-flick StS involving great friends, great chow and a variety of first time views seen in the company of fellow adventurous souls. Talking about you, David Schmidt, Adam Meredith, Sharon Gissy, Jason Coffman, Tery Gallagher, Dan Kiggins and Brian Kirst. Thanks for, well, Sharing the Scare – screaming is always better with company.

There’s plenty more to come, with an array of international horror on the horizon, so let’s get to the week that was. As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

HORROR:

Blood Junkie (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Rosas, Drew
Much like last month’s The Sleeper, this awesome homage to 80s slashers perfectly emulates that subgenre’s loose grip on filmmaking, but in perfectly knowing fashion. Wisconsin native Rosas heightens everything just enough to let us in on the joke as well, with terrible jokes, hilarious wardrobe choices and transparent use of body doubles. Funny, goofy and bloody in equal measures… and available from the filmmakers at http://www.bloodjunkie.com/store.php




Little Deaths (2011) (1st viewing) d. Hogan, Sean/Parkinson, Andrew/Rumley, Simon
A wicked if uneven UK triptych that takes itself fairly seriously throughout, perhaps to its own detriment. Hogan’s “House and Home” presents a twisted “charitable” couple that takes in the homeless for their own nefarious purposes, while Parkinson’s “Mutant Tool” (the weakest of the bunch) focuses on the mystical powers of the titular non-human’s nether regions. However, it’s Rumley, who’s dazzled us so far with his features The Living and the Dead and Red, White and Blue, that I was the most interested to check out, and his dark tale of a dysfunctional S&M couple is certainly a troubling one, though in the end I had to wonder if the punishment fit the alleged crime.




Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, The (2001) (1st viewing) d. Blamire, Larry
A spirited and enthusiastic love letter to those goofy no budget 50s-60s sci-fi flicks assayed with charm and guile by writer/director Blamire and his intrepid troupe of players (with dingy scientist’s wife Fay Masterson leading the blithering charge). The “plot” concerns a three-way quest for the mysterious element “atmospherium” between Blamire’s square-jawed brainiac, two confused off-course aliens (with requisite rubber-suited mutant friend) and an “evil” scientist looking to revive the boney eponymous protagonist, whose hilarious “I sleep now!” declarations represent the apex of the endlessly quotable dialogue.




Ratline (2011) (1st viewing) d. Stanze, Eric
Poor Eric Stanze. The ambitious microbudget auteur of our times has crafted yet another DIY feature which shows incredible promise and fails to gel as an actual film. Uneven scripting, performances, cinematography and a stubborn inability to self-edit all contribute to wearing this viewer down…just as he has with his previous features Scrapbook and Deadwood Park. Which is really too bad, because as always, writer Stanze has some interesting ideas to impart (it’s director Stanze that needs help); his crosscutting between a former Third Reich parapsychologist’s pursuit of a mystical Nazi blood flag and a female Butch Cassidy/Sundance Kid pair on the run from a drug heist gone wrong has tons of potential. It just needed to be in surer hands. Stanze keeps getting better, but for my money, he has yet to get to “good.”




Satan Hates You (2010) (1st viewing) d. McKenney, James Felix
An absurdly earnest and exaggerated morality tale that may baffle viewers who aren’t familiar with the work of “graphic evangelist” Jack Chick. (I wasn’t, and it did…until fellow fiend Jason Coffman clued me in.) Presenting two intertwined tales of sinners engaging in prurient acts of immoral behavior, McKenney has no qualms about spilling the splatter, but when the subjects actually find Jesus (in one case, via the kind ramblings of television bible bumper Angus Scrimm), we keep waiting for a punchline that never comes – they actually convert and their souls are SAVED. Again, it wouldn’t have worked had they not played the Chick tribute straight, but in playing it straight, JESUS WINS, which may rattle your average horrorphile.




YellowBrickRoad (2010) (1st viewing) d. Holland, Jesse/Mitton, Andy
The writing/directing team of Holland & Mitton conjure an incredibly rich scenario, then people it with an exemplary array of characters such that the first 45 minutes of this well-crafted yarn were literally spent on the edge of my seat. The wonderfully simple premise – a group of researchers seeking to unravel the mystery of a New Hampshire village’s population, who one day in 1940, simply wandered out of town and disappeared forever – is so well cultivated, with creepy, organic atmosphere to spare, one feels like applauding each passing scene for its chutzpah and execution. (The high point is a mid-film, “Holy crap, ain’t never seen that before” sequence that you’ll be thinking about for days afterwards.) However, after maintaining “modern classic” strides for its first half, YBR stumbles badly, meanders, limps and finally drops exhausted on the side of the road like a marathon runner that’s blown himself out. The duo’s failure to deliver a satisfying resolution to what started out so strong is probably the greatest disappointment of my viewing year. Worth seeing, but wildly frustrating.





CIVILIAN:




Descendants, The (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Payne, Alexander
Being that this seems to be ending up on a lot of critics’ top 10 lists, I’m not going spill much cyber-ink on Payne’s deeply mature, complex and human film, except to say that it’s not nearly the comedy that the trailers make it out to be. Go to be moved, not to bust a gut.

Hugo (2011) (1st viewing)d. Scorsese, Martin
Uncle Marty is a kid turned loose in a candy store with his first 3D venture and very nearly surpasses the visual splendor of Avatar or Pixar’s Up, leading viewers on a merry chase through the rafters and parapets of the Paris train station. Light as a feather, Scorsese imbues his many characters with incredible heart, and his cast (featuring newcomer Asa Butterfield alongside veterans Sacha Baron Cohen, Helen McCrory, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer, Michael Stuhlbarg and Ben Kingsley as silent film genius Georges Melies) are more than up for the task. Scripted by John Logan, based on Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Husbands (1970) (1st viewing) d. Cassavetes, John
Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Cassavetes are a trio of shallow, callow companions thrown into midlife crises by the death of a friend. Plot is secondary to performance, with seemingly improvised scenarios that careen from the shockingly honest to the uncomfortably aggrandized. It’s a bit of a car crash – one that clocks in at well over two hours – but fascinating throughout.

Jackass 3D (2010) (1st viewing) d. Tremaine, Jeff
I’ve given up trying to feel superior to these cavalcades of crass chicanery – this shinola’s hilarious. The best superfluous use of 3D yet.

Muppets, The (2011) (1st viewing)d. Bobin, James
Can't drink the Kool-Aid on the new Muppets movie. Needed twice the madcap, half the sentimental mo-mos, and 100% less non-muppet musical numbers. I’ve rarely felt so out of synch with popular opinion, but any expectations I might have brought into the multiplex were earned by years of adoration of these felt fleet-feeted funnybeasts – damn straight I wanted it to live up to my idea of what a Muppet movie should be, and well, it didn’t. Weak songs, weak cameos, weak script…and vocal characterizations that flicker in and out like a road trip radio station. Sigh.

Other Guys, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. MacKay, Adam
No Will Ferrell fanboy, me. That said, with a game Mark Wahlberg as his anger-management challenged partner and co-writer/director MacKay expertly balancing huge action set-pieces and absurdist comedy riffing, the megastar delivers his most satisfying performance to date as a nebbish police officer coaxed into pursuit of billionaire shyster Steve Coogan. Eva Mendes is delightful as Ferrell’s “dumpy” wife.

Speed Racer (2008) (1st viewing) d. Wachowski Brothers, The
Lose the annoying little brother and his (can’t believe I’m writing this) unfunny chimp buddy, and the Wachowskis' exercise in insanely colorful eye candy and dazzling visual acrobatics might have landed on its four wheels at the box office. If ever a film cried out for a retroactive 3D retrofit with reissue, it’s this one.




ONE RING TO BIND THEM ALL:


Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
(2nd viewing) d. Jackson, Peter
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) (2nd viewing) d. Jackson, Peter
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) (2nd viewing) d. Jackson, Peter
Being that I had never revisited the epic trilogy of our generation since their original separate runs in the cinema a decade ago, and since I’ve been on a Jackson kick this year, it seemed an appropriate opportunity to head back to Middle Earth. For the record, on the first go-round, I was incredibly enthused by Fellowship, less so with Towers, and was thoroughly disenchanted with Return’s defiant refusal to just…freaking…end. The latter closes with its infinite number of melodramatic denouements accompanied by its infinite number of close-ups, the credits finally roll… and we’re treated to illustrated close-ups of our primary cast members. Gah. Knowing what I was in for, things went down better this time around, plus it was much easier to retain character relationships and plot points watching back-to-back-to-back without a year’s wait in between. Note: these were the theatrical DVD versions of the films – I wanted to watch them again first before taking in the “extended” versions next year, in order to be conscious of what was new. I will admit, I find it hard to believe that “more” of anything is really called for here, but I’m willing to approach the 12-hour challenge with an open mind. Stay tuned.





BOB CLARK, WE MISS YOU:


Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1973)
(2nd viewing) d. Clark, Bob
Co-writer/makeup man/lead actor Alan Ormsby proves effectively grating as a pompous leader of a theatre troupe whose idea of a good time is to head out to an island cemetery, unearth a few corpses, chant a few Satanic spells, and demean any and all within earshot. The amateur performances make for a rough opening hour, but when the dead finally start walking and stalking, things pick up markedly in Clark’s feature debut.

Murder by Decree (1979) (2nd viewing) d. Clark, Bob
A long way from the swamps of Children, Clark finds himself directing a stellar cast of thespians in John Hopkins’ superb appropriation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer, with an equally wonderful James Mason as Dr. Watson) as he matches wits against Jack the Ripper and uncovers a conspiracy that could reach all the way to the Crown of the Realm. John Gielgud, David Hemmings, Frank Finlay, Donald Sutherland, and Genevieve Bujold co-star.

Porky's (1982) (5th viewing) d. Clark, Bob
Clark was pilloried by critics for having “sold out,” but his raunchy 50s comedy not only earns its many laughs (the shower sequence is an undeniable minor classic, although it’s Kim Cattrall’s “Lassie” that still has me laughing out loud 30 years later), but has a good natured heart beating throughout, with lessons about friendship, racism and the mysticism of the female form. One of my personal faves.

Christmas Story, A (1983) (4th viewing) d. Clark, Bob
“In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” Kidding me? Every moment is sublime perfection. Every… single… moment. Fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra rahhhh…

2011 totals to date: 591 films, 368 1st time views, 340 horror, 50 cinema

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fool's Views (11/28 – 12-4)...with MORE Turkey!


Welcome back, peeps and peepettes,

As promised, following the spirit and excess of a certain Thanksgiving holiday, the feasting that began at Chateau de Kitley spilled into the next week as I continued to gobble the cinematic gobblers. Most of said beasties were provided courtesy of Netflix’s streaming service, although I was not above digging into my own private stash to round out the dishes. (In the spirit of full disclosure, IMDb’s Turkey Challenge earns an additional 5 points for “trifectas” featuring the same director or turkeys from a franchise, hence the comedy team of Uwe, Larry and Noriaki.) But, after the calendar page finally flipped, we also indulged in some “legit” horrors, all of which delivered the goods in their own individual fashion – not a stinker in the bunch…although according to some of my fellow blood brethren, that assessment might not be universal. Check ‘em out, see what you think.

As always feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll be sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fool's Views (11/21 – 11/27)...with Turkey!


Hey there, freaky freaks,

Hope everyone had an amazing holiday. Sorry for the delay in serving up the goodies; I had my hands full with celluloid turkeys, (although I managed to take a few breaks from drowning in cinematic tryptophan to catch up with a certain Boy Wizard and some old school Muppet action). But mostly, it was all about the gobblers, and the eight consumed here - all but one consumed in the presence of the good Jon Kitley & Co. of KITLEY'S KRYPT fame - composed only the first course as you’ll see in next week’s installment.

Much like the October Challenge, the IMDb horror boards host their annual Turkey Challenge, where contestants are invited to indulge in as much of the lowest of the low as they can stand. The “winner” came away having viddied a whopping 142 films (all ranked 5.0 or lower on IMDb) over the course of November’s 30 days. I’ll let you do the math on that one, but suffice to say – that’s a lot of dreck. (I settled for a mere 15 and was more than full.) I’ve revived the Fool’s Views Haikus format for the occasion because hey, seriously critiquing Turkeys seems akin to counting calories on Thanksgiving – contrary to the point, yes?

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fool's View (11/14 – 11/20)

Yep, back again. Needed to get the table cleared before the assault that is the Revenge of the Gobblers aka "Turkey Day 2011" is upon us. (For a look at previous TD butterball gorgings, visit http://www.kitleyskrypt.com/turkeyday.htm)

Well, this week marked the re-emergence of Netflix into AC’s life, having put my subscription on hold during my time in West Virginia. Despite their recent public relations disasters, rising costs and plummeting stock, I’m still a huge fan of the purveyors of the Little Red Envelope and I thank them for making endless cinematic opportunities available to me for a fraction of their retail cost. Over half of the Views this time around are currently streaming on NF and without exception, all are recommended. And yes, we leaned a little heavier in the civilian quarter, but sometimes you just gotta wash the blood outa our eyes, right?

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

HORROR:


Human Centipede (First Sequence), The (2009)
(2nd viewing) d. Six, Tom
Presumably, many out there have already heard the jaw-dropping premise behind this notorious horror flick from the Netherlands. Roger Ebert felt it necessary to reveal the entire plot as a “public service announcement” to his readers in his attention-grabbing “un-starred” review, but I do not feel this is necessary and in fact, if someone could see this film without knowing anything about it, it would deliver the true impact that director Six deserves. Some critics have lazily dusted off the tired old “torture porn” label and slapped it on, but Centipede goes beyond that, and the intellect and skill on display are worthy of more than an easy dismissal or categorization. Six serves up a truly disturbing set piece that would ordinarily act as the crime to which the antagonist aspires, and which he nearly achieves before the heroes make their daring escape. But instead, Six allows the heinous act to occur…as the end of his first act. We, along with the hapless victims, are then forced to live within this nightmarish scenario for another 45 minutes. It is from this that the true nature of horror emerges – this is no easy jump scare nor gross-out tactic. Six is after something far more dangerous, and it’s no wonder that he has people scrambling for adjectives (or the exits). When I saw this last year, the audience sought escape through nervous laughter and catcalls at the screen, but it was clear they were attempting to avoid real contact with the subject matter. Those who are willing to sit and seriously commune with this brave new work will find something special, and though I can’t recommend this film to everyone, I do recommend it.




ADAM N’ BLEED
I first became aware of Adam Wingard’s name earlier this year, during my “seven Tiffany Shepis films in one day” festival (yeah, I know, I gotta work on a better name for that one), being that he was at the helm of her 2007 feature Home Sick. In my review, I called it an “ill-conceived gorefest with little to no plot or motivation,” so I wasn’t really in any big hurry to dive further into AW’s CV. But compadre (and indie filmmaker) David Schmidt gave a recommendation to the young writer/director’s follow-up, Pop Skull (streaming on Netflix), and when like-minded cinephile Jason Coffman dished a screener copy of Wingard’s most recent effort my way the same week that Rue Morgue featured an interview, it seemed the time was right…



Pop Skull (2007) (1st viewing) d. Wingard, Adam
The good news is that Wingard decides to work within rather than against his budgetary constraints, and his meticulous hyper-edited, shaky-cam sequences are intelligently combined with more lyrical passages, perfectly emulating pill-popping protagonist Lane Hughes’ mental state. Reeling from a recent romantic breakup, Hughes escapes into the haze of over-the-counter cold medications and booze, which may or may not account for his recent visitations by spirits from beyond the grave. As the viewer trapped in the junkie gaze, we’re never quite sure what is real, but the white-trash characters are compelling (if exhausting) and Wingard’s dynamic pacing and cinematic kinetics are flashy enough to keep us interested. It’s not surprising that the film picked up a number of grand prize awards on the festival circuit: it’s a show-offy showcase that never feels pretentious or precious.



Horrible Way to Die, A (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Wingard, Adam
What starts out as a fairly straightforward serial killer flick edges into an intriguing character study terrain, then unraveled by its own attempted cleverness. But that’s mostly the handiwork of screenwriter Simon Barrett, who deserves kudos for attempting to humanize A.J. Bowen’s psychopath without necessarily explaining him while at the same time exploring the emotional toll exacted upon Bowen’s unsuspecting girlfriend (Amy Seimetz) after learning what sweetie was up to while she was sleeping. The performances are relatively strong across the board, and it’s unfortunate that Wingard felt the need to distract from his cast and scribe’s clean lines by constantly shifting his lens and focus around to the point of madness (the director also served as camera operator). Presumably his purpose was to keep viewers as off-balance as the characters, but what worked with his previous feature (Pop Skull) achieves the opposite result here – it’s an annoying, attention-pulling stunt that undercuts the scenes’ dramatic power. Wingard’s careening camera smacks of unnecessary compensation – Barrett and the rest of the creative team deserved a little more trust.




CIVILIAN:

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
(4th viewing) d. Spielberg, Steven
As someone who never had the chance to see this on the big screen as a youngster, it’s nice that the Fates (and the Music Box) finally allowed this 30-years-older kid to experience the wonder of Indy and his cohorts in all its widescreen majesty. That said, my tolerance for John Williams’ particular brand of musical overexertion has certainly diminished over the years – many was the time I thought to myself, “Shhhhhh, shhhhhh, not so much, not so loud.” Ah well.





ROLLIN’ WITH THE NOLAN


















Dark Knight, The (2008)
(2nd viewing) d. Nolan, Christopher


Inception (2010) (2nd viewing) d. Nolan, Christopher







What can I say that hasn’t already been said? I enjoyed both of these mightily the second time around (yes, I had only seen TDK once before, in the theater), and as someone who enjoys less and less of what Hollywood chooses to spew at its so-called public, I’m pleased at Nolan’s propensity towards legitimately engaging and well-executed popcorn blockbusters that are dense, action-packed, skillfully performed, and gorgeous to look at. It’s worth noting that the stylish Brit got his start doing small, character-based films like Following and Memento before exploding into the eye candy and action set pieces. Take note, studio execs: It ain’t all in the CGI Ka-Pow!



YOU GO, GIRL

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The (2009) (1st viewing) d. Oplev, Niels Arden
Girl Who Played with Fire, The (2009) (1st viewing) d. Alfredson, Daniel
Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, The (2009) (1st viewing) d. Alfredson, Daniel
After spending a little over 7 hours in the company of novelist Stiegg Larsson characters, I can understand the excitement in literary and cinematic circles alike. I haven’t done enough backward reading to learn what the alleged “controversies” might have been, but Lisbeth Salander is a fascinating character and in the inspired hands of actress Noomi Rapace, her damaged but resilient nature crackles with danger and pain. It will be interesting to see what David Fincher and Co. do with the same material later this year. I was struck by how conclusively the first film ended, and the effort to resuscitate the characters and plot was temporarily felt, but the story woven was engaging enough that I was happy to follow.


PATTON OSWALT, SERIOUSLY…


Big Fan (2009)
(1st viewing) d. Siegel, Robert
Young Adult (2011) (1st viewing) d. Reitman, Jason
I had been meaning to catch up with Big Fan (the directing debut of The Wrestler screenwriter Siegel) ever since seeing the trailer a couple years back, but opportunity and inspiration had yet to combine to make that happen. Thankfully, I was privy to a sneak preview screening of Young Adult, the new Charlize Theron film which follows an unpleasant, divorced, alcoholic ghost writer of children’s books as she returns to her small Minnesota hometown with machinations to steal her former high school sweetheart Patrick Wilson away from his wife and newborn. While I was less than wowed by the caustic comedy, I fell hard for Oswalt’s sterling turn as a man trapped – within his own body, within his own nerdish desires, within his blinkered burg, within people’s misconceptions – and yet despite the anger and frustration that simmer beneath the surface, he has remained a funny, charming and good person. YA is not a bad film, but were it not for the presence of Oscar-bait Theron and Reitman, there would be no way that this should be receiving the critical attention/anticipation it is – feels to me like a high-falutin’ version of this summer’s Cameron Diaz vehicle Bad Teacher aka “Watch how awful the hottie can be and still (*giggle*), you just gotta love her, right?”

All of which leads me back to Big Fan, writer/director Siegel’s brilliantly personal character piece, featuring Oswalt as a parking garage attendant who, along with knucklehead buddy Kevin Corrigan, live their lives for the Sunday matchup between the New York Giants and their weekly gridiron opponents. With his squat face and body, Oswalt perfectly captures the associative enthusiasm of the social misfit, the idea of belonging to a community even as it rejects him (in spite of their common interests, he fails to click with the parking lot tailgaters). He writes out his “spontaneous” calls to the local sports-talk radio shows, while his family barely conceals their contempt for his passions. The worm turns after Oswalt tails his favorite player to a strip club and, after a horribly uncomfortable exchange, is mercilessly beaten up. The emotional drama that subsequently plays out is sharp, honest and perceptive in a way that few indie dramas are, and how ironic that a performer generally recognized as a stand-up comedian (his “Death Bed” routine is a riot) is the one who tears your guts out. After nearly two decades of bit parts and supporting roles, Oswalt breaks out as the perfect leading man for Siegel to hang his story on. Highly recommended (and currently streaming on Netflix).

2011 totals to date: 536 films, 328 1st time views, 307 horror, 47 cinema

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fool's Views (11/7 – 11/13)

Greetings, my friends.

Sorry for the downtime, it’s been a weird time of finding my feet after the madness that was October. Honestly, it’s all a matter of building new habits, of reviewing as we go – you know, like we did last month. But then the morning gets away from me and then I’m more in the mood to watch a movie than to write about it… blah blah blah. Anyway, here we go.

This week in question was a wild and woolly one, composed almost entirely of brand spanking new releases – in fact, most of the films examined below are currently in theaters or are still seeking distribution! Even in the case of the two non-HorrorHound Weekend horror flicks with an earlier than 2010 time-stamp, Mandy Lane is still tied up in distribution hell and Rituals only found its way to legit silver disc status this year. So, color this edition of the Views the freshest we’ve ever unleashed on the unsuspecting hordes. Many thanks to Jason Hignite and Aaron Crowell over at HHW for curating such a terrific lineup for the Cincinnati faithful – it was the closest I’ve ever been to attending a film festival before, where of the seven titles consumed, I had never seen any of them and even more remarkably, had only tangentially heard of two! Most excellent.

So, without any further adieu…

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

HORROR:


All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) (1st viewing) d. Levine, Jonathan
After watching it sit in the “undated” section for literally years on Fangoria’s Film Forecast – only to disappear completely – I reached out to fellow fiend Jason Coffman who had acquired a copy through means fair or foul (I don’t ask questions) to see what all the fuss was about. Bottom line: this is a reasonably accomplished slasher about a small town hottie (a then-unknown Amber Heard) who generates below-the-belt interest from the opposite sex, whilst a not-so-mysterious suitor goes around knocking off the competition. There’s nothing groundbreaking or taboo-busting here, so how is it that A Serbian Film and Human Centipede are out there for public consumption while this remains out of reach? According to Fango’s Michael Gingold, after purchasing this reasonably accomplished, highly-buzzed-about slasher flick, the Weinstein boys didn’t know how to market it and decided to sell it off to Senator Entertainment…which subsequently went bankrupt, leaving the film tied up in litigation. However, perusal copies made the Hollywood rounds – Heard is now an established star while writer/director Levine is rubbing elbows and lenses with the likes of Ben Kingsley & Famke Janssen (The Wackness) and Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50). Still, it’d be nice to see Boys eventually get outside to play.




Rituals (1977) (2nd viewing) d. Carter, Peter
Hal Holbrook leads a quintet of vacationing surgeons out into the woods for a little R&R, only to find themselves hunted down by a mutant killer. Listed as one of Rue Morgue magazine's “101 Alternative Horrors”, there’s no denying the Deliverance influence, but the fine performances and gritty atmosphere allow it to survive the comparisons admirably. Veteran character actor Lawrence Dane pulls double duty as co-star and producer, with Peter Carter in the director’s chair. Previously only available via muddy, edited public-domain versions under its Stateside release title, The Creeper, Code Red finally released this in 2011 (after numerous delays) in a semi-cleaned up version (apparently the original negatives for the closing reel were damaged, so this is as good as it gets, folks).



HORRORHOUND WEEKEND – CINCINNATI 2011


Chillerama (2011) (1st viewing) d. Green, Adam/Lynch, Joe/Rivkin, Adam/Sullivan, Tim
This anthology is a love letter from four of indie horror’s brightest boys, all of whom possess an appetite for outlandish gross-out humor, with bodily fluids painting the walls, floors, ceilings, backyards...you get the idea. Lynch handles the wraparound structure (“Zom B Movie”), setting the events at veteran character actor Richard Riehle’s to-be-demolished drive-in theater, while his compatriots’ featurettes make up the triple bill screened. Rivkin’s effort, “Wadzilla,” concerns the fallout from a Viagra-like drug whose side effects involve increased sex drive, groin pain and, oh, GIGANTIC MUTANT SPERMATOZOA. Sullivan delivers a way-gay riff on the 50s werewolf mythos with “I Was a Teenage Werebear,” with lots of slippery, leather-clad hardbodies and musical numbers amidst the occasional bloodletting. But it’s Adam Green’s “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein” that delivers the biggest laughs, not surprising when one takes the Hatchet-man’s early comedic shorts features into consideration. With Joel David Moore and Kane Hodder as a insanely shrill Hitler and a reanimated puzzlehead named “Meshuggenah” respectively, this is a well-crafted piece of absurdist amusement. Yes, all of the segments probably go on a bit longer than necessary, but if approached with the good-natured spirit that the enterprise is presented, even that mild complaint is easily brushed off.




Cold Sweat (2010) (1st viewing) d. Bogliano, Adrian Garcia
Terrific Argentinian thriller about a pair of geriatric revolutionaries who’ve gone from trying to change the world to the more modest goals of capturing and torturing local females. Throw in a love triangle of potential victims, vats of acid and a boatload of nitroglycerin (whose explosively lethal potential are exquisitely demonstrated for the uneducated), and you’ve got a deliciously debauched recipe for high n’ spicy tension.




D4 (2010) (1st viewing) d. Dickerson, Darrin
Borrowing handily in spirit from the Predator playbook, writer/director/star Dickerson unfolds the testosterone-jacked sci-fi tale of a nefarious government organization kidnapping epileptic children and transforming them into steroid-inflated musclebeasts. With his meager $35K budget, Dickerson achieves a blockbuster aura, utilizing his forest exteriors to great effect as his group of hired mercenaries attempt to infiltrate the covert governmental stronghold. A welcome blend of B-action, B-sci-fi and B-horror (available directly from the filmmakers at http://www.7-7-10.com/), and the pleasant surprise of the Weekend.




Down the Road (2011) (1st viewing) d. Christopher, Jason
A worthy entry in the nouveau slasher sweepstakes, with the surprising inclusion of a vengeful and articulate antagonist (well essayed by Brian Gallagher) who ends up being the most sympathetic onscreen character. Granted, considering the array of human fodder surrounding him, this is not as revelatory an accomplishment, but these are solid performances of annoying characters rather than the contrary. Impressive gore and body counts should make this a hit with the horror crowd, and I’m curious to see what else Christopher has up his sleeve. One quibble: Who lets their kid draw a hopscotch court in the middle of the freaking road? Bad Parenting 101.




Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010) (1st viewing) d. Hartley, Mark
Cheap thrills/no frills filmmaking expert Mark Hartley returns to the fray, following up his deservedly acclaimed Oz-ploitation documentary Not Quite Hollywood with this “ultimate B-movie feast from the Far, Far East.” During the 60s and 70s, there was no stunt too risky, no story too ridiculous and no article of clothing that couldn’t be shed in the name of lowbrow, drive-in entertainment, and the Philippines represented a mecca of exotic locales and lax safety regulations for bottom-line-minded filmmakers like Roger Corman, Eddie Romero and Sam Sherman. Tons of amazing footage combined with excellent talking head work by survivors Pam Grier, Chris Mitchum, John Landis, Pete Tombs, Gloria Hendry, Sid Haig and many, many more. A must-see for any card-carrying cinephile.




Puppet Monster Massacre, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Mills, Dustin
From the title card, hopes rise accordingly that we might experience something akin to the unhinged heights of Peter Jackson’s muppets-on-crack opus Meet the Feebles. However, PMM manages to simultaneously impress and disappoint: the low grade puppet effects and greenscreen f/x work a treat, with the occasional CGI bloodburst only adding to the charm, but Mills plays it terribly safe in the script department, content to regurgitate House on Haunted Hill…if Vincent Price and Co. were to endlessly rattle off tired, sporadically titter-worthy fart n’ poop jokes via lackluster vocal characterizations. It’s clear that one-man-band Mills is a huge fan of the genre and has the can-do spirit to forge his path, but in the future he would do well to bring aboard a cold-blooded producer that insists on a ruthless editor and a funnier screenwriter/cast. It’s true, puppet dying is easy – puppet comedy, on the other hand, is hard.




Sleeper, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Russell, Justin
There’s been a lot of talk about recent films that recapture the aura of an “old school slasher,” but the flash and f/x of most of these miss the point that half the charm of the 80s heyday were the cheapjack effects amidst underlit starlets and real-world locations. Much in the way that Ti West’s The House of the Devil captured the late 70s feel, writer/director Russell realizes an authentic atmosphere that genuinely transports the viewer to a bygone era. This is not to say that Sleeper is a legitimately “good” film – it’s filled with clichés, fair-to-weak performances, less-than-stellar f/x, unconvincing gore, and the tease of only one member of the underwear-happy sorority house willing to pop her top – but damn it, that’s the point, and one gets the feeling that died-in-the-wool slasher fan Russell knows this. Personally, I’d rather watch real-deal efforts like this than glossy pretenders-to-the-throne like Hatchet any day.




CIVILIAN:


Hanna (2011) (1st viewing) d. Wright, Joe
Saoirse Ronan, star of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, turns her sweet Susie Salmon persona on its arse here as an only child raised in the frozen Finland tundra by her ex-operative father Eric Bana, and by raised, I mean trained as an expert linguist, weapons specialist and survivalist. Of course, the day comes when she is discovered by evil government ice queen Cate Blanchett (wielding one of the most inconsistent Southern accents in recent memory) and our young flaxen-haired princess must fight the powers that be to discover her history and destiny. A whole lot of good here, although Wright’s propensity for camera kinetics gets a bit taxing. Ronan’s angel face as she disarms, disables, and destroys her opponents is priceless.




M.M.M.M.…GOOD. (NOW PLAYING AT A THEATER NEAR YOU)


Moneyball (2011) (1st viewing) d. Miller, Bennett
Brad Pitt in full-on Brad Pitt mode (which in my book is good news) as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, attempting to reinvent the team-building strategies of baseball with the help of analyst Jonah Hill. Considering that the film’s outcome is a matter of record (we know whether or not Beane’s scheme worked or not – just check the 2002 stats), it’s astonishing how much tension and excitement Miller and company manage to conjure. A real winner, whether you’re a sports fan or not.

Ides of March, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Clooney, George
Ryan Gosling does his taciturn thing as the press secretary of Clooney’s idealistic, “new hope” presidential candidate. A better straight-up thriller than the rabblerousing discussion starter that it seems to want to be – when the big lesson is that all politicians have dark sides, well, we all tested out of that class years ago. Still, worth your time.

Margin Call (2011) (1st viewing) d. Chandor, J.C.
On the other hand, this is the rabblerousing discussion-starting thriller that it wants to be. In a thinly disguised dramatization of the 2008 Lehman Brothers scandal, Zachary Quinto’s risk analyst discovers a disaster in the making according to various complicated formulas that – to the movie’s credit – seem plausible, comprehensible and beyond our reach all at the same time. When he brings it to his superiors’ attention (an extraordinary ensemble that includes Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Jeremy Irons), decisions are made that basically boil down to this: If you’re a spinach company and you raise a crop of poisoned spinach, do you go bankrupt or do you sell the poisoned crop, kill your neighbors, and run away with the loot? Guess which option they take. Infuriating examination of the capitalist condition, and a superb drama to boot.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) (1st viewing) d. Durkin, Sean
Elizabeth Olsen arrives in a big, big way with her multidimensional portrayal of a young lady who leaves a modern day cult/commune, escaping to her sister Sarah Paulson’s country home in Connecticut but the demons of her mind continue to pursue her. Writer/director Durkin isn’t about providing easy answers and the unreliable narrator that is Olsen creates some incredible moments of paranoia and tension. John Hawkes, as the seductive Manson-like leader, equals his electrifying turn in Winter’s Bone without replicating it.

2011 totals to date: 525 films, 321 1st time views, 304 horror, 45 cinema

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dig, You Sucker... (i dig your blog award)

Hey troops,

I'm already overdue to post the latest batch of Fool's Views (funny how I managed to post nearly every single day during the October Challenge, and now I'm back to my accustomed practice of dithering and dawdling).

I also owe you guys a recap from the awesomeness that was HorrorHound Weekend Cincinnati 2011. Yep, still working on that.

In spite of all this, my good online pal Jude Felton (aka The Lord of Filth) decides to lay this on me out of the blue:



Now, apparently there are some rules that go accepting this award. Luckily, they are the kind of rules I can totally live with.

1) Gratefully accept this award. (Done)
2) Link to the person you received it from. (Done)
3) Post 3 interesting facts about yourself. (Um, I'll try)
4) Pass this award around to at least 5 blogs you dig. (See below)
5) Notify said 5 bloggers (Done)



THREE INTERESTING FACTS

1. I was born in 1968, the same year as Night of the Living Dead, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rosemary's Baby, Witchfinder General, and Destroy All Monsters. Is it any wonder I'm a horror fan?

2. I have visited every U.S. State except Alaska.

3. Everywhere you look in my house, there is either a monster, monkey or dinosaur represented in some way.




FIVE BLOGS I DIG

1. Kitley's Krypt - Not technically a blog, but since Jon provides an amazing weekly scroll of what's going on in his world of horror, complete with Mystery Photos, reviews of horror books, DVDs and soundtracks, lessons in horror history, and upcoming events, I'm willing to make an exception.

2. Krell Laboratories - You want smart film criticism? I mean, like, REALLY FREAKING SMART? Stop by the lab and prepare to have your mind blown and vocabulary expanded.

3. The Framing Business - Gavin Schmitt is a firebrand with a bear-like personality: big and cuddly one minute, tear you a new one the next. This mercurial nature keeps things lively. He's a horror fan with a big brain and a bigger heart (check out his Fight Fear with Fear fundraiser).

4. Video Junkie Strikes Back from Beyond the Grave Will Wilson and Thomas Simmons dish out some of the finest commentary on the lowliest of flicks, from Italian exploitation to the bargain basement big box bastards. Seriously, if you're looking to venture off the beaten track, this is the place to be.

5. A Stuffed Legless Duck Production Film reviews as smart and absurd as the title suggests, Craig J. Clark covers everything from the latest art films to the trashiest that cinema has to offer. He's a true cinephile, embracing the moving image in all its guises, and while his opinions are always his own, they never fail to entertain.

So, there you have it. Dive in deep, fellow fiends.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fool's Views (11/1 - 11/6)



Hello True Believers,

Well, the Challenge d’ Octobre that left 115 nightmares in the minds of the Foolish has faded into memory, but like any marathon runner, it’s best to keep walking for a bit in order to avoid cramping up. At least that’s what I told myself as I continued my viewing spree into the next week, consuming another 13 features before Sunday rolled around. However, the notable thing about the past week’s vidddying (aside from the fact that there were actually a couple civilian films back in the mix) was that all of them came from the shelves of fellow fiends as opposed to the hallowed halls of Chez AC, Netflix or even the public library. Nope, these were all straight from the school of “Dude, you need to watch this,” discs and tapes that had been sitting on my to-watch pile, some literally for years. So, high-fives to Joe Foust, Craig J. Clark, Rom Barkador and especially Jason Coffman for spreading the wealth and expanding the consciousness.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

HORROR:


Howling: Reborn, The (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Nimziki, Joe
Not really a sequel or a prequel to Joe Dante’s 1981 lycanthrope classic, but then again, this is no surprise when looking at the Howling franchise en toto. Introverted high school nerd Will Kidman secretly pines for rebellious bad-girrrl hottie Lindsey Shaw, and is understandably shocked when she suddenly takes a liking to him during finals week. Writer/director Nimziki does a little bait n’ switch about halfway through, turning Shaw from predator to prey after Kidman starts lupus-ing out, but in the end, this is a serviceable wolfman flick for the Twilight crowd, with a surprisingly welcome amount of hairy practical effects amidst the requisite CGI.

Let's Kill Uncle (1966) (1st viewing) d. Castle, William
Relatively tame if enjoyable gray comedy with Pat Cardi’s young thrill-seeker finding himself the target of drolly homicidal uncle Nigel Green after the lad inherits a fortune from his late father. It’s all very much kiddie fare with Green smilingly declaring his murderous intentions, even creating “safe zones” and “rules of conduct” as he pursues his adolescent quarry. Based on a novel by Rohan O’Grady, this is one of producer/director Castle’s minor efforts, comparable to his 13 Frightened Girls in both tone and thrills. Still, a shark-occupied swimming pool provides a lovely taste of Castle’s special brand of charming cheese and Green’s lively performance is more than worth checking out.

Silent House, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Hernandez, Gustavo
Undeniably the first horror effort from Uruguay I’ve ever seen, but it’s also one of the very few (if any) “real-time” fright features I can recall. A young lady (Florencia Colucci) and her father (Gustavo Alonzo) spend the night in an old house they have been enlisted to clean and rehab, one which reveals itself to not be as vacant as originally believed. Colucci becomes our main point of focus, as she wanders the house seeking the source of random creepy noises, with Hernandez’s camera prowling about and around her. The ever-changing POV and handheld cinematography is a little off-putting at times, as is the relentlessly padded-out narrative (how many times must we go up and down the stairs?) and the “unreliable narrator” plot twist. But the illusion of one continuous shot is quite mesmerizing and deserving of kudos, while the claustrophobic atmosphere amidst dusty relics and shadowy mirrors generates chills aplenty. Well worth your time (Hollywood clearly agrees, since an American remake is already in the works with Martha Marcy May Marlene breakout Elizabeth Olsen in the lead role).

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings (2011)
(1st viewing) d. O'Brien, Declan
The ongoing adventures of those West Virginia inbred mutants never seemed to necessitate a backstory, but since that’s only the pre-credits sequence of this gory slaughterfest, so the subtitle is a bit of a misnomer. Apparently the trio of misshapen murderers were originally inmates at a mental health facility, but in classic prison break tradition, they escape and lead a revolt that leaves the staff and most of their fellow loonies dead and shredded. Flash forward 30 years to present day where a group of horndog co-eds take a…wait for it…wrong turn while on a snowmobiling adventure, eventually taking shelter from the blizzard-like conditions at the presumably deserted hospital. Writer/director O’Brien, who also helmed WT3, is clearly a slasher gorehound at heart, because the splattery kills are only worthwhile aspects to be found – there’s not a single worthy character onscreen, shrill protagonists and grunting antagonists alike. Ultimately, the whole enterprise is equally dumb and nasty throughout, with a wrap-up ending that may leave your forehead bruised from the inevitable face-palm.





W.T.F. x3: NOT YOUR EVERYDAY HORROR
Death Warrior (aka Olum Savascisi) (1984)
(1st viewing) d. Arkin, Cuneyt/Inanc, Cetin
Absolutely bonkers Turkish martial arts extravaganza with superstar secret agent Cuneyt Arkin trampolining over hill n’ dale, smashing the bad guys and smooching the women. Less of a plot than a grab bag of WTF sequences that will have you picking your jaw off the floor while scrambling to put your eyeballs back in your head. Only tangentially a horror flick by virtue of a yeti-like beastie menacing Arkin’s inner circle, but anyone who embraces low budget/high insanity factor frolics will find much to love here. (Note: the entire film is on YouTube for your viewing pleasure here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SIWc_Z7z7Y

Eyes of Fire (1984) (1st viewing) d. Crounse, Avery
Curious little feature that’s two parts historical drama, one part mystical horror flick as settlers fleeing from the religious hysteria of their village (adulterous priests shall not be tolerated, thank you very much) encounter Native American wood spirits in the form of faces in trees and spectral children. There’s some admirable atmosphere cultivated, although the frequent speedy fades-to-black undo the spell time and again. Also in Crounse’s script’s favor is its venerable unpredictability, introducing new characters and situations with abandon. Leaf monsters, exploding tykes and Irish witches gambol about our intrepid band’s woodland stronghold, and while it’s never really scary, it’s never dull either.

La Blue Girl: Revenge of the Shikima Realm (1995) (1st viewing) d. Kobayashi, Yo
Tentacle-raping alien descends upon a trio of Japanese schoolgirls in this live-action version of the classic hentai anime, delivering the goods in nubile slimy fashion. There’s no shortage of female nudity as the extraterrestrial lothario plies his kinky trade, with white cotton undies and plaid skirts left a-fluttering to the floor, until the resourceful young ladies reveal their inner ninja in a climactic sword-slinging finale. Definitely not for the conservative type, but for the adventurous and lascivious, this is a mind-blowing, pulse-raising specialty dish not often found on the cinematic menu.




SHINE THAT PUPPY UP GOOD
Laid to Rest (2009)
(2nd viewing) d. Hall, Robert
Prolific f/x artist Hall (Buffy, Firefly, The Burrowers, Quarantine) takes the director’s chair for his sophomore outing (following 2004’s personal coming-of-age story Lightning Bug), delivering a relatively satisfying old-school slasher flick. However, while it features some undeniably nifty/gory kills & thrills – as well as a unique visage for his masked maniac ChromeSkull – there’s an inordinate amount of suspension of disbelief required of the audience, and the “mystery” of busty amnesiac Bobbi Sue Luther’s (Hall’s wife, who also produced) identity is underwhelming, to say the least. Kevin Gage (Strangeland, Chaos) co-stars, with a welcome cameo from genre stalwart Richard Lynch. Considerably more enjoyable on a second viewing, but still no classic.

Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2 (2011) (1st viewing) d. Hall, Robert
Seems like director Hall might have taken the criticisms about his psychotic antagonist’s vague backstory to heart, as he and co-writer Kevin Bocarde have worked overtime to provide an inordinately complex (and implausible) organization to assist Chromeskull in his sanguinary showcases, headed by twitchy protégé Brian Austin Green and cool-as-ice personal assistant Danielle Harris. Unfortunately, where the original LtR was an old-school slasher, the follow-up feels like a stale later-stage entry in the Saw series, complete with a police task force tracking the killer and underground lairs filled with equal parts technology and analog sharp-edged implements. This change of tone and scope will annoy or delight fans of the original, depending on their disposition. (Consider me in the “annoyed” camp, though at least Hall & Bocarde took great pains to resurrect their thoroughly vanquished hero rather than claiming amnesia.)





GIALLO DOUBLE SCOOP
Amer (2009)
(1st viewing) d. Cattet, Helene/Forzani, Bruno
A love letter to the stylings of a bygone era, with gliding cinematography, startling imagery, haunting eroticism, vibrant primary lighting schemes…and a nearly wordless narrative spanning three separate periods of a young woman’s sexual awakening. Some have called this a nouveau giallo, but while there are numerous nods and direct references to the subgenre (black gloved killers and shadowy figures abound), it’s more representative of the entirety of Italian cinema, art house and exploitation alike. Regardless of how one interprets the rich symbolism or which of the triptych is the most personally satisfying – I favor the spectral childhood-based chapter – there’s no denying the skill on display (though its loose narrative and “style over substance” approach will likely prove off-putting to general viewers). Cattet and Forzani are two names to keep eyes out for, and I for one eagerly await their next effort, an entry in the 26-part anthology film, The ABCs of Death.

Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso) (1975) (4th viewing) d. Argento, Dario
David Hemmings plays a English jazz pianist in Italy, who after a late-night set, witnesses a brutal murder and feels compelled to unravel the mystery. Considered by many to be the apex of the giallo subgenre, this is Argento in his 70s prime, with dazzling, dizzying camerawork capturing beautifully violent set-pieces, all set to the driving rhythms of prog-rock band Goblin (their first collaboration). Though the story is unnecessarily padded out with Hemmings’ interactions with Daria Nicolodi’s headline-chasing reporter (her character was severely trimmed for the U.S. release) and the theatricality of certain performances and shot selections may elicit more giggles than goosepimples from modern viewers, this remains an undeniably influential and important chapter in Italian horror and the genre in general.




CIVILIAN:
Insomnia (2002)
(2nd viewing) d. Nolan, Christopher
A worthy remake of Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s 1997 Norwegian thriller, Nolan’s follow-up to Memento (and precursor to his time in the Batcave) follows L.A. detectives Al Pacino and Martin Donovan up to Alaska during their “white nights” period as they attempt to track down a young woman’s killer. Hillary Swank co-stars as the local law, while a less-mannered-than-usual Robin Williams shows up for the second act to serve as foil to Pacino’s weary, ever-unraveling cop.

Winter's Bone (2010) (1st viewing) d. Granik, Debra
Jennifer Lawrence’s star-making turn as a young Missouri woman struggling against poverty, governmental machinery and a backwoods drug running organization is undeniably impressive, but director Granik and Anne Rosselini’s adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel is equally impressive in its straightforwardness and unapologetic tone for even the most rustic of characters. John Hawkes also received an Oscar nod for his tightly coiled performance as Lawrence’s uncle, a man of mysterious motives and methods.

2011 totals to date: 511 films, 308 1st time views, 296 horror, 35 cinema

BOOKS:

Shock Value by Jason Zinoman