Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fool's Views (7/25 – 7/31)

Heh heh. Got 'em in on time again. Color me stunned.

July closed out with a wave of 80s Cronenberg, a month after revisting his 70s oeuvre, as well as wacky Japanese sci-fi, low-tech zombie fare, and a ton of expiring civilian Netflix streaming options. (Fair warning: having finished his film journals, you can expect to see a spike in Cheston viewings in future FV installments.) But most notably, I was obliged to drag out my copy of Return of the Fly in order to debate its debatable merits with the estimable Jon Kitley. Nothing like a good ol’ fashioned clash of the geeks to get your blood up.

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


Better Off Undead (2007)
(5th viewing) d. Pata, John
While short films aren’t generally accorded the same space as for features here at the Views, we’ll make an exception for this $700 horror/comedy from Wisconsin-based writer/director Pata for the simple reasons that I have a huge man-crush on this former Oshkosh B’gosh model, and this is not your average zombie gut-muncher. Plus, JP is wrapping up his first feature film as we speak (Dead Weight) so it seemed like a perfect time to sit down and listen to the four, count ‘em, four commentary tracks he and his zany cohorts recorded for our listening pleasure. Honestly, even if the flick wasn’t already rock solid, the special features (including the hilarious “Cooking on Set” sequence) make this shiny silver disc a must-have.

Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell (1968) (1st viewing) d. Sato, Hajime
In the 1960s, Japan turned out some of the wildest, weirdest genre offerings fans could encounter. Case in point: This futuristic Flight of the Phoenix, where, after passing through blood red cloudbanks and encountering a glowing UFO, a commercial airliner crashes in the desert, stranding its disparate band of survivors. An evil space amoeba subsequently takes possession of a would-be hijacker (a showstopping, head-splitting, glob-oozing sequence) who begins drinking the other passengers’ blood. Before long, the “Gokemidoro” alien has drained or killed everyone except the captain and stewardess who make a break for civilization, only to confront more sinister surprises in a downbeat, politically-charged twist ending. Tough to track down, but well worth the effort.

Return of the Fly (1959) (3rd viewing) d. Bernds, Edward
Much like Chris Walas’ sequel to Cronenberg’s smash 1986 reimagining (before that was even a term), this perfectly serviceable cheesy monster movie has the misfortune of being a sub-par follow-up to a landmark horror film. However, being that it is clearly riding on the coattails of its superior predecessor, we must judge accordingly and, well, it just doesn’t measure up. Most of the problems lie in Bernds’ weak screenplay, from leaps in onscreen logic to queered original plot elements (Delambre’s lab is relocated from the house’s basement to the foundry, the supposedly destroyed experiment notes conveniently reappear) though it’s the goofy not-so-special effects that really win the booby prize, from the giganto fly head to the ill-conceived guinea pig/human switcheroo to Brett Halsey’s silly-dilly-looking head on fly body. Again, an entertaining way to spend 80 minutes, but perhaps not for the reasons it should be.

Videodrome (1983)
(5th viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Dead Zone, The (1983) (10th viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Fly, The (1986) (8th viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Dead Ringers (1988) (5th viewing) d. Cronenberg, David

If you couldn’t tell from the viewing numbers, this portion of the Canadian auteur’s output represents my gateway drugs to the man and his films (not to mention the fact that I had moved away to college and owned my own VCR for the first time, facilitating repeated viewings). However, it had been over a decade since watching any of the above (except for a big screen viewing of Videodrome about five years ago), so it was high time. Oddly enough, what was once my favorite DC film is now the least satisfying 20 years later – perhaps because Dead Zone is so conventional, the least radical and daring, it connected with my less-developed cinematic self with its straightforward narrative and “professional” performances as opposed to the rough-edged turns from earlier works that resonate with me now. (However, it contains one of my favorite Christopher Walken performances, mostly because he’s playing a real character as opposed to a collection of tics and mannerisms.) The Fly, however, still succeeds mightily in all areas and it’s no wonder that it remains Cronenberg’s most successful film at the box office. Its accessibility and emotional resonance have not abated at all in the 25 years (!) since its release, and Jeff Goldblum not being nominated for Best Actor still stands as one of the great miscarriages of Oscar justice, right alongside the Academy’s slighting of Jeremy Irons’ dual turn as the Mantle twins in Dead Ringers two years later. In fact, let’s look at the director’s track record with his male leads: James Woods, Walken, Goldblum, Irons…all of whom turn in among their best performances under DC’s watch. Not too shabby for an artist obsessed with “gross-out body-horror.”

Crooklyn (1994)
(1st viewing) d. Lee, Spike
This semi-autobiographical look at Lee’s upbringing presents Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo as tough but fair, loving but flawed parents heading up a rambunctious and large family. What registers most strongly and truthfully are the blatant lies children tell and casual cruelties that we engage in while young and individual moral codes have yet to be formed.

Gray Lady Down (1978) (1st viewing) d. Greene, David
Chuck Heston plays the retiring commander of a U.S. nuclear sub that collides with a Norwegian freighter, sending the crippled craft to the ocean floor. On shore, it’s up to brass Stacy Keach and quirky inventor David Carradine to execute a rescue. Not many surprises, but an efficiently rendered adventure tale.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973) (1st viewing) d. Bartlett, Hall
Stunning Oscar-nominated aerial cinematography and Neil Diamond’s dramatic song score are the main reasons to check out this adaptation of Richard D. Bach’s existential bestseller that presents its Christ allegory in the form of a seabird’s quest for enlightenment. James Franciscus rasps admirably as the voice of JLS.

Last Sunset, The (1961) (1st viewing) d. Aldrich, Robert
Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson star as the hunted and the hunter in this twisted Western, with more than a few melodramatic touches and one huge taboo subject on the menu.

13th Warrior, The (1999) (1st viewing) d. McTiernan, John
Maybe it was Michael Crichton fatigue or overexposure to Antonio Banderas’ pretty mug, but this bloody, muddy Vikings-meet-savage-cannibals slaughterfest never really found its audience upon release. However, the director of Predator, Die Hard and Hunt for Red October still knows his way around an action sequence and the international cast of hirsute males fill their Nordic scabbards nicely.

2011 totals to date: 300 films, 183 1st time views, 144 horror, 24 cinema


The Actor’s Life: Journals 1956-1976 by Charlton Heston


  1. Better off Undead kicks ass! I picked it up at the Chicago Weekend of Horrors where we successfully missed each other haha!

  2. Hey, you ain't gonna get any argument outa me. Love that flick, love that crew. HATE that we missed each other though.

  3. Conenberg is terrific with his male leads. Only botch of his that I've ever seen is the bland performance by Ewan McGregor in "eXistenZ". But other than that... simply amazing. Fiennes and Mortensen follow the steps of Woods, Irons et al in the 00s...

  4. "right alongside the Academy’s slighting of Jeremy Irons’ dual turn as the Mantle twins in Dead Ringers two years later."

    It should be noted that when Irons won the Oscar for Reversal of Fortune the very next year, he thanked David Cronenberg. Even HE knew that he was being given a kind of "make-up" Oscar.

  5. J-Lu: What's your feeling about Peter Weller in NAKED LUNCH? Felt like he was in the groove there as well. Agreed about eXistenZ, although I have issues with that movie as a whole. The CRASH ensemble was interesting as well, although I don't know that Spader shown out in the same way as the others. He was fine, but not extraordinary.

    Vulnavia: Actually, I listened to the Irons' commentary this time around, and he spoke to that, saying that "Oscars are given not just for the role, but for an actor's body of work, so it felt totally justified to thank Cronenberg." It was absolutely a retroactive award for DR.