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

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