Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SCARE -A-THON 2011 - A Benefit for U.S. Flood and Tornado Victims


Howdy folks,

As some of you might be aware, for the past few years I have engaged in an annual tradition called the October Horror Movie Challenge. (Last year was my highest mark yet, with 82 films viewed.) However, last year I decided to also turn my month-long celebration of silver screen screams into a benefit for those in need, dubbed SCARE-A-THON 2010. Thanks to the generosity of folks like yourself, we managed to raise over $1,500 for Season of Concern, a Chicago-based organization that provides direct-care support for people living with HIV and AIDS. (http://seasonofconcern.org/) This year, I will again be diving headlong into the horror pool, and again, I am requesting your help and support.

2011 has been an incredibly devastating year for many here in the U.S., with epic storms and tornadoes destroying lives and homes in unprecedented numbers. AMERICARES has set up a task force dedicated to getting funds and help to those in need, and it is to those unfortunate families that I will be dedicating my efforts. My lovely femalien's father worked closely with AmeriCares for many years - this is an organization for whom 98% of all donations go directly to helping victims in need. (For more info, visit http://www.americares.org/whatwedo/emergency/united-states/southern-united-states-storm-disaster-relief.html)

Here's the plan: For every fright flick I watch, I am asking folks to donate one nickel. Yes, a mere five cents per scream. My goal is to watch somewhere between 80 and 100 films next month, which means that you would only be asked to contribute a total of $4 to $5 – less than your average fast food lunch. Of course, you are welcome to make a lower (or higher) per-movie pledge, or even make a straightforward donation of whatever amount you deem viable. Every little bit helps and many hands make for light work. Together, we can make a big difference for someone out there who needs our help.

I will be documenting my progress here on the Dr. AC blog during the month of October. No need to send any money now, but if you are interested in participating, please drop me a line at drach101@gmail.com A) to let me know and B) how much per movie you would like to pledge. You can sign up as a sponsor any time between now and October 31. On Nov. 1, I will send out an email, letting you know how many movies were viewed, the corresponding amount of your donation, and how much total money was raised. (All individual donation amounts will be kept confidential.) If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Many thanks in advance, my friends. Happy Halloween!!!


AC


PS If you are conducting a SCARE-A-THON of your own or are already planning to contribute to someone else who is, consider yourself relieved of any obligation. Horror kids RULE.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fool's Views (9/12 – 9/18)


Back again so soon?

Well, as I said, I haven’t really been away, just preoccupied. With the October Horror Movie Challenge right around the corner (more on that in the next day or so) and the Greenbrier Valley Public Library opening its treasure troves to me, it was time to lean a little heavier on the civilian sector, especially since I wouldn’t be seeing its like again until November. However, fear not, true believers, because due to the unfailing dedication of the Kryptic Army and its followers, there were still fright flicks to be had...though it must be admitted, frightening they were not. (If you still have yet to indulge in the monthly pleasures that the Army has to offer, visit http://www.kitleyskrypt.com/army.htm today!)

Got a little romance, a little espionage, a little action, and a double dose of having-a-moment Ryan Gosling…and not even in double feature fashion. AND ALL FIRST TIME VIEWS!

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

Enjoy!




HORROR:
KRYPTIC ARMY SEPTEMBER ASSIGNMENT: INVASION OF THE BODY
Beast with a Million Eyes, The (1955)
(1st viewing) d. Kramarsky, David
Anyone hoping for a big rubber, mega-eyeballed monster is going to be sadly disappointed, as the “million eyes” belong to the beasts of the field and birds of the air, possessed by an extraterrestrial force to spy on humanity while it lays its plans for world domination. Despite this plot device, it’d be a bit of a stretch to say that Hitchcock borrowed the narrative, since the majority of the time is taken up with the five human characters squabbling amongst one another. Our final reel monster ends up being a creepy hand puppet with an eyeball double exposed over it for no real good reason (except to conceal the fact that it’s, oh, a hand puppet).

Evil Brain from Outer Space (1965) (1st viewing) d. Akasaka/Ishii/Misuwa
Very cheesy Japanese kiddie flick featuring a superhero in tights (Super…, er, Starman) battling against intergalactic interlopers bent on – what else? – world domination. The low-grade special effects do evoke a certain degree of nostalgia (characters leap from place to place via silly jump cuts), as do the elaborately costumed, if still distinctly humanoid, monsters. It’s kind of like a kaiju movie minus any giant monsters...which on second thought doesn’t sound all that great, does it?

Futurama: Beast with a Billion Backs (2008) (1st viewing) d. Avanzino, Peter
Having not seen any episodes of the Futurama TV show, I wasn’t aware of any backstory with any of the characters, but Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s specific brand of animated humor is present in spades. Snarky retorts fly, relationships blossom and characters die (and revive) with much speed and alacrity. The titular “Beast” is a tentacled blob creature, a randy little beast that stretches out its multitude of members, thereby achieving both mind control and sexual contact by plugging into the backs of the necks of Earth’s population. The amusing subplot concerning a malcontent robot looking to dominate his mortal creators only sweetens the deal.

Skeleton Crew (2009) (1st viewing) d. Lepola, Tommi/Molin, Tero
The tired old device of a independent film crew making a horror film only to find themselves in the middle of a horror film is trotted out yet again…with precious little new brought to the table. In a dilapidated Finnish mental hospital, the ghosts of psychotics past share company with old snuff film footage shot by a mad doctor known as “The Auteur.” Wouldn’t you know it, the young modern director becomes possessed by the evil spirits and starts picking off his crew one by one in “creative” fashion, spouting punchlines as he goes. Not terrible, but not terribly good either.





CIVILIAN:
Drive (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Refn, Nicolas Winding
Confronting and confounding expectations at every turn, what could have been a cliché-riddled story about a criminal loner falling for a pretty girl becomes something wholly original. Ryan Gosling continues to stretch as an actor, dialing down his emotional reactions here to a near-whisper, and the rest of the cast is ready to play. Amazing soundtrack, surprisingly graphic bloodshed and wickedly unconventional action sequences are the tools in Refn’s case, winning him the Best Director award at Cannes.

Interpreter, The (2005) (1st viewing) d. Pollack, Sidney
Cagey political thriller starring the oh-so-fragile Nicole Kidman (seriously, where’s the scrappy chick from Dead Calm? Is she completely lost to us?) as a U.N. interpreter who may or may not have overheard an assassination plot. The oh-so-serious Sean Penn is the fed assigned to investigate and protect her. Well done, but not particularly stirring.

Jackie Chan's First Strike (1996) (1st viewing) d. Tong, Stanley
While heavier on the comedy and vehicle-based action sequences than his usual frenzied gymnastic balletics, Chan fans should still enjoy the hijinks of his bumbling but capable Police Story character chasing down a pair of hot potato nuclear detonators. Only one truly amazing fight sequence, but it’s a doozy.

Vantage Point (2008) (1st viewing) d. Travis, Pete
Utilizing a novel sliding timeline approach, as seen through the eyes of several different witnesses, an assassination plot is dissected and literally exploded over and over. Solid cast (Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Eduardo Noriega, William Hurt) and practical, long-take car chases elevate the proceedings substantially. Solid popcorn flick.





DEMENTIA, OR I THINK I LOVE YOU…I THINK...
Notebook, The (2004)
(1st viewing) d. Cassavetes, Nick
Two very pretty and feisty young lovers from opposite sides of the tracks (Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams) laugh and scream and cry and break up and get back together. Flash forward 50 years and it’s the story that James Garner keeps telling his lady love Gena Rowlands in the hopes of bringing her back from the abyss. Deeply schmaltzy, but I can understand its appeal. Plus, the four leads are dynamite.

Savages, The (2007) (1st viewing) d. Jenkins, Tamara
When ill-tempered father Philip Bosco starts losing his grip (and writing on the wall with his feces), estranged son Philip Seymour Hoffman and daughter Laura Linney are called on to find a place for him, both to live and in their lives. Strangely mismarketed as a comedy (though there are numerous dark comic moments), this is a extremely well written and acted drama about disconnected people battling fate and biology.





THE MARK OF CAINE: 2007 EDITION
Flawless (2007)
(1st viewing) d. Radford, Michael
Within her male-dominated diamond wholesaler corporation, Demi Moore finds herself intrigued by sly janitor Michael Caine’s proposition to make off with a thermos full of the precious stones. But she soon finds she’s in for much more than just a simple heist scheme. Clever plotting and solid turns by the ensemble make up for Moore’s wretched old age makeup during the bookend sequences.

Sleuth (2007) (1st viewing) d. Branagh, Kenneth
Sigh. The 1972 Laurence Olivier/Michael Caine original is one of my favorite films, and so it was with some reticence that I approached the remake, even with Caine returning to the fray to assay the “other” role opposite Jude Law. Unfortunately, thanks to Branagh’s in-your-face camera stylings and Harold Pinter’s ill-advised tweaking of Anthony Shaffer’s script, the whole thing loses its sense of delicious one-upsmanship devolving into an unpleasant and sour 90 minutes with two unpleasant and sour characters. Pass.


2011 totals to date: 369 films, 232 1st time views, 170 horror, 32 cinema

Jackie Chan movies: 6

TV:
Thriller – 4 episodes (Season 1)

Fool's Views (8/29 – 9/11)

Howdy, friends,

Got a little distracted over the past month, what with getting the show on its feet, getting myself into fighting shape, and finding the inspiration to sit myself down again in front of the computer at the end of the long day (as opposed to, say, the telly). Hence the delay in posting the Views, but Views there have been. Granted, there was also a goodly bunch of classic television consumed, but we managed not only to get to the cinema once or twice, as well as taking in a number of “been meaning to see that for a while now” flicks, and some bona-fide “research.”

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

Enjoy!


HORROR:
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Nixey, Troy
The creepy 1973 made-for-television original, starring Kim Darby and Jim Hutton, apparently lodged in the mind of a young Guillermo del Toro and who can blame him? With pint-sized creatures living in the depths of an old mansion’s basement, this is the kind of bedtime story that haunts our childhood dreams and so it’s no surprise that when the Mexican monster kid decided to revive the tale (serving as both screenwriter and producer here), he would make his protagonist a little girl. While the screenplay itself is heavy on backstory and light on realistic human behavior (if ever there was a house the tenants should figure to get out of, it’s this one), the production design is incredibly handsome with worthy CG-rendered antagonists swarming over their victims. Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce aren’t required to do much as the blinkered parents, and the film never really earns its R-rating, but in the pantheon of recent remakes, it’s one of the better efforts.




Predator 2 (1990) (2nd viewing) d. Hopkins, Stephen
While the 1987 original was a crown jewel in the testosterone-fueled action heyday, the follow-up feels more like a straight-to-video blow-‘em-up extravaganza, with every urban decay cliché trotted out in the first 15 minutes (bad 80s lighting, drug lords, feisty cops, interfering feds, gang members with bandanas, big explosions, uzi gun battles, gratuitous female nudity) with the mandibled menace from beyond the stars dropped into the middle of it all. Danny Glover bellows, Gary Busey barks, and elegance is eschewed in favor of firepower. That said, it’s schlocky fun for fans, but whereas it took the Alien series four films to devolve, here it only took two.




Shrooms (2007) (1st viewing) d. Breathnach, Paddy
In spite of its so-so title, this Irish indie trifle starts off with a lot more potential than one might have guessed. Two young American couples head over to Shamrock country to meet up with a college friend and partake in some hallucinogenic fungi, with unforeseen results. Sadly, in spite of some impressive atmospherics and not-bad acting, the storyline fails to pull its disparate elements together (mentally deficient hillbillies, ancient curses, unreliable narrators), leaving us with a spectacularly unoriginal resolution that is as obvious as it is uninspired. That said, I’m definitely curious to see more of what Breathnach has to offer, as he seems to know his way around both a camera and a spooky story.




Zombieland (2009) (2nd viewing) d. Fleischer, Ruben
The success of this comic version of the zombie apocalypse illustrates just how thoroughly the cinematic undead gut munchers have permeated pop culture, since there no longer exists a need to explain how or why the plague has come – we just take it for granted and move on to the head shots. Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson make a terrific odd couple of survivalists, nicely paired with Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as sisters bound for a SoCal amusement park. More action and mayhem than its elder Brit zom-com-rom brother Shaun of the Dead, though I personally prefer that film’s sly wit and geeky energy. Thoroughly enjoyable.





CIVILIAN:
Breed Apart, A (1984)
(1st viewing) d. Mora, Philippe
This yarn about a Vietnam vet turned mountain recluse and self-appointed guardian of an endangered species of bald eagle is like a case study in not knowing how to control and/or use your actors wisely. For instance, you’ve got Rutger Hauer in his post-Blade Runner glory as the wackjob, but he’s such a bipolar head case that we never really get a bead on him. Powers Boothe is brought in as the heavy, hired to steal the eagle eggs, but he turns into Hauer’s buddy and passive rival for old maid Kathleen Turner’s affection. (Yes, Mora has Turner – in between Romancing the Stone and Crimes of Passion gigs – playing a love/sex-starved single mom. Puh-leeeeease.) Paul Wheeler’s script is riddled with clichés and the characters are so slimly drawn, that without the performers’ estimable presence, they would all blow away in the wind.




Hot Rock, The (1972)
(1st viewing) d. Yates, Peter
Perhaps it’s because of his million-dollar smile and sunny blonde hair, but I think most audiences think of Robert Redford as a heroic good guy, forgetting the myriad of S.O.B. roles the guy has assayed. Here he’s an ex-con recently released from prison who immediately finds himself planning a diamond heist with grinning brother-in-law George Segal. It’s no laugh riot, but an enjoyably light-hearted what-else-could-go-wrong affair, with wisecracks and safecracks galore.




Little Children (2006) (1st viewing) d. Field, Todd
An extremely well mounted adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel, with stay-at-home parents Patrick Wilson and Kate Winslet falling into an affair with each other against the backdrop of Jackie Earle Haley’s child molester character’s release from jail. Two things: 1) rarely has a film been so mismarketed (a poster of a smiling Winslet and Wilson like some generic rom-com??) and 2) that passenger seat car scene with Haley? Whoa. WHOA.





SEEING DOUBLE #11: “TWO HOUSEHOLDS, BOTH ALIKE IN DIGNITY…”

Romeo & Juliet (1968)
(2nd viewing) d. Zeffirelli, Franco

Romeo + Juliet (1996) (2nd viewing) d. Luhrman, Baz


Being that I was getting ready to start rehearsals for Shakespeare’s classic star-crossed lovers tale, it seemed like a good time to revisit the two major film versions and see what there was to see, especially since it had been 25 and 15 years since I had seen them, respectively. Zeffirelli’s period mounting is still an astounding achievement, well-deserving of its numerous Oscar nods. The performances by Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey still hum with genuine passion and purity of youth, their words and intentions clear as crystal from their first eye-opening encounter to the tearstained ending. Nary a wrong note is struck from the supporting cast either, and the adaptation is swift and direct as a blade. On the other hand, knowing the play a little better than I did when I initially saw it in '96, Luhrman’s extraordinary reimagining succeeds wildly as an adaptation-translation-concept (with due credit to co-screenwriter Craig Pearce as well). I still have a few quibbles with some of his liberties (such as the final scene with R&J in the church), but in the same breath I totally admire his audacity and strength of vision. Not wild about Paul Sorvino's wild accent as Capulet nor John Leguizamo's vocal posturing as Tybalt, but other than that, the performances are all strong across the board, with a pre-Titanic Leonardo di Caprio and post-My So-Called Life Clare Danes in the title roles. But Baz is definitely the star of the show.


2011 totals to date: 357 films, 220 1st time views, 166 horror, 31 cinema

TV:

Alfred Hitchcock Presents – 39 episodes (Season 1)
League of Gentlemen, The – 12 episodes (Series 1 and 2)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fool's Views (8/22 – 8/28)




In the waning hours of hours of August (and with West Virginia and Romeo & Juliet on the horizon), it was Netflix streaming, Chicago’s Public Library, Kitley’s Kryptic Army and LifeSource’s video library that provided viddying fodder for the Fool. With another flick each from Heston and Jackson logged, several civilian revisits and a couple fresh Frankensteins that had ne’er crossed my path, as well as vengeful samurai and mutant vamps getting their licks in, the playing field was kept bumpy and jumpy, just the way we like it.

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

Enjoy!


HORROR:
Screamtime (1986)
(1st viewing) d. Armstrong, Michael/Long, Stanley
A so-so anthology film composed of a trio of British chillers of equally middling nature, held together by the goofiest and laziest of conventions: a pair of NYC thugs rip off a video store at the opening and then we watch the movies through their eyes at home. The first segment centers on an aging Punch n’ Judy show operator seeking vengeance upon the hoodlums that trashed his puppet stage, a story that packs zero suspense but plenty of unintentional laughter as we watch full-grown adults assaulted by a 2x4 packing hand puppet. The central piece features a young couple moving into a new country estate, with the wife soon visited by horrifying visions of murder and death. (While we’ve seen this scenario before, it does yield a genuinely surprising twist ending.) The final story is a bit of a yawner, as a young funds-seeking hot-rodder plans to rob a pair of old ladies, then finds himself the victim of a haunted painting. Not a complete waste of time, but no need to bump it to the top of the queue.

Stake Land (2010) (2nd viewing) d. Mickle, Jim
The minds behind 2006’s Mulberry St. are back, revisiting the same apocalyptic themes with roving bands of mutated vampires standing in for their debut feature’s bloodthirsty man/rat creations. Infused with superlative camerawork, astonishing makeup effects and remarkably well-drawn characters, the result is one of the finest horror features of the year. The script, co-written by Mickle and lead actor Nick Damici (terrific as the stoic vamp-killer “Mister”), consistently surprises with its nimble combination of humanity and horror, and the capably glammed-down cast (Connor Paolo, Danielle Harris, and an unrecognizable Kelly McGillis) are up to the challenge, fully inhabiting their roving band of survivors characters with nary a false note. The open roads and fields of rural Americana have never felt as bleak and wasted, as leached of life as the littered victims that strew the countryside. An incredible independent effort, required viewing for any budding horrormeisters who think it impossible to create a worthwhile end product with limited financial resources. Highly Recommended.



KRYPTIC ARMY JULY MISSION: FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE KRYPTIC ARMY
Frankenstein '80 (1972)
(1st viewing) d. Mancini, Mario
Probably the only Frankenstein feature in which the monster visits a prostitute and actually pays her in cash...before raping and killing her anyway. As the titular mad scientist, former muscleman Gordon Mitchell steals a formula (the "Schwartz Serum," which resembles blue Romulan Ale) to create a reanimated, piecemeal, sexually ravenous monster none-too-subtly dubbed "Mosaic." This by-the-numbers Eurotrash effort blatantly follows the blood n' boobs stopwatch formula: Introduce a female character, get their clothes off, messily do away with them, then return to the "plot" for another 15 minutes. Rinse, lather, repeat. John Richardson, best known for his loincloth-clad heroics alongside Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C., headlines as a reporter carrying on his own investigation into the crimes while the lovely Dalila Di Lazzaro keeps her clothes on here as Frankenstein's niece, perhaps prepping for next year's role as the female monster in Flesh for Frankenstein. Bizarre, inconstant moments of "comedy" are provided courtesy of a nicotine-starved police inspector ranting at his underlings, and future f/x wiz Carlo Rambaldi's special effects primarily consist of applique scars and red karo syrup-soaked livers, hearts, kidneys, etc. being flung about. Not a great film by any stretch, although watching a female butcher clumsily bludgeoned to death by a cow femur has its unexpected pleasures.

Spirit of the Beehive, The (1973)
(1st viewing) d. Erice, Victor
According to Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, this is the story of "a lonely little village girl who sees Boris Karloff's Frankenstein in the town hall and becomes entranced by the monster. Her sister convinces her that the monster is still alive and she treks off into the countryside to find him." Now, doesn't that sound like an awesome movie? Unfortunately, while the above scenario does in fact occur over the course of the story, it's far from what the film is actually about. There's a five minutes worth of Frankensteining - the rest is all meditations on life, death, war, loyalty, childhood, fidelity and imagination. It's a slow-moving, thoughtful, worthwhile effort, but not at all what I was expecting and decidedly not a monster movie.

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009) (1st viewing) d. Nishimura, Yoshihiro/Tomomatsu, Naoyuki
With not a serious bone in its bloody body, the directors of Tokyo Gore Police and Stacy: Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies join forces to yield this absolutely bonkers tale of high school female rivalry taken to supernatural excess. Everything is exaggerated to cartoon levels, with arterial sprays greasing the narrative wheels as a comely bloodsucking exchange student sets her fangs on the object of the vice principal's daughter's affection. When the romantic rival is sent toppling to her death by the immortal anemic, her father (a relative of the infamous mad doctor) takes it upon himself to reassemble, revive and reprogram his offspring into an unstoppable killing machine. The first act introduces dozens of seemingly unrelated (and completely politically incorrect) tangents, all of which are eventually Mixmastered seamlessly into the final reel. Another low budget, high energy splatterfest from the East, an ideal late night beer n' pizza flick.




CIVILIAN:
Lovely Bones, The (2009)
(1st viewing) d. Jackson, Peter
Having not read Alice Sebold’s acclaimed novel upon which it is based, I cannot respond to complaints regarding its screen version’s worthiness as an adaptation. But overall, it’s a pretty hit and miss affair; the scenes of Stanley Tucci’s homicidal recluse or Saoirse Ronan’s fresh-faced spirit narrating her adventures from the beyond keep the proceedings work well. But the clunkier sequences featuring Susan Sarandon’s monster-in-law (the montage of her “tidying up” feel like they come from a completely different movie) or Mark Wahlberg’s grieving, obsessed father ring false and lose viewer goodwill. Fans of Heavenly Creatures will undoubtedly see parallels between this tale of a young girl’s small town murder and Jackson’s breakthrough art house hit, in particular the blend of realistic drama and CGI-enhanced fantasy, so it’s no surprise that the property should strike his fancy.

Henry V (1989) (4th viewing) d. Branagh, Kenneth
In honor of closing week of the show (and since the femalien and I had stopped halfway through a few weeks back), took another visit to the incredible ’89 screen version. So good.

Prestige, The (2006) (2nd viewing) d. Nolan, Christopher
Two turn-of-the-century magicians (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman) wage an ever-escalating war of wits and bloodshed against one another, destroying each other’s lives and livelihoods in the process. Nolan’s direction and script (co-written with brother Jonathan) lure us by revealing just enough of the trick to keep us captivated, then shows us how the trick is accomplished in the final reel. Watching it a second time around is the equivalent of watching another movie altogether (as with Memento) – Nolan’s cinematic magic trick seems less impressive once you know how it’s done, to the point where you kick yourself for not figuring it out earlier.

13 Assassins (2010) (1st viewing)d. Miike, Takashi
Superb production values, strong ensemble performances, spraying arterial streams, and showstopping battle sequences are the order of the day. Miike spends an hour setting all his pieces in place, then tips the scales and lets the next hour play out with swords and pikes and arrows piercing all manner of human flesh. A worthy, flawlessly executed epic, more astonishing for its conventional nature than anything else, considering its outré helmsman.

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) (2nd viewing) d. Hyams, Peter
All the answers to the questions posed by Stanley Kubrick’s landmark feature are addressed, without considering that mystery was half the magic. The cartoon Cold War backdrop feels terribly dated, and while the visual effects and sci-fi thriller elements are not bad, the whole thing feels clichéd and forced, despite the best efforts of the notable cast (Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban). Really, REALLY meant to watch this last year; seemed almost beside the point now.

Will Penny (1968) (1st viewing) d. Gries, Tom
Novelist-turned-director Gries serves up a worn and darker version of the cowboy’s life, with Charlton Heston as a battered and aging loner who finds himself rescued after being left for dead by Bible-thumping hostiles Donald Pleasance and Bruce Dern. Nursed back to health by homesteader Joan Hackett, Heston is inexorably drawn to her, but denies himself love, knowing he can never give her the life he feels she deserves. While a little heavy handed at times, it’s an engaging character study without conveniently happy endings.

2011 totals to date: 348 films, 214 1st time views, 163 horror, 30 cinema
Charlton Heston movies: 6

TV:
Tales of Frankenstein - 1 episode

Fool's Views (8/15 – 8/21)

Whasssssuuuuuuuuup?

(I'm sorry, I'll never do that again.)

As the summer began drawing to a close, I found myself sitting on the first season of Deadwood (loaned to me by good pal Rom) that I wanted to knock out before I disappeared off to West Virginia for a couple months. So, those 12 hours took up the allotted space for six two-hour movies or eight 90-minute movies. Either way, it was viewing time well spent, and I’ll probably track down the next two seasons at some point, but I’m still a movie kid at heart. Tell me your story in one sitting, and then tell me another. Just personal preference, and why television will never be my mistress.

However, that said, I was still able to find time for a couple killer swine opuses, as well as another visit to the multiplex (although my initial plan was to see Final Destination and Fright Night as well, but due to a last minute audition and my misguided sense of priorities, I left the cinema to do the tryout…AND DIDN’T EVEN GET THE JOB. Grrrrrrrr…)

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

Enjoy!


HORROR:
TrollHunter (2010)
(2nd viewing) d. Ovredal, Andre
My second viewing of the critically-lauded Norwegian giant monster movie yielded more or less the same reaction as my first encounter: While an undeniably quaint, original idea with some solid filmmaking skill on display, I found it a bit long and bearing more than a passing resemblance to The Blair Witch Project, except that the three student filmmakers are seeking trolls as opposed to witches and you can actually see the darn things. I absolutely appreciate Ovredal’s efforts even if they sometimes felt a little labored and occasionally violate his own “single camera/found footage motif.” The various fairyland nemeses are amusingly designed (even if their CGI origins are more than a little apparent), with a wicked sense of dark deadpan humor running through the proceedings. Like it, but don’t love it. (However, watching it in fellow fiend Dave Kosanke’s uber home theater was a decided highlight – looking forward to more Share the Scares within those friendly confines…)



DEM PIGS IS BIG…AND MEAN:


Pig Hunt (2008)
(1st viewing) d. Isaac, James

Prey (aka Proie) (2010) (1st viewing) d. Blossier, Antoine






Call it the “Revenge of Razorback,” but giant killer boars seem to have come back in season over the past couple years (in addition to the two profiled herein, South Korea gave us last year’s Chawz). Part of Fangoria’s Frightfest, Pig Hunt presents a relatively unique creature feature within some familiar settings (city slickers with varying skill sets encounter Nature’s full fury, as well as some aggrieved locals who prove as lethal as the monster pigs themselves). With Jason X’s Isaac marshalling crisp direction over his acting corps through tightly knit action sequences, sparing not flesh, blood or guts, Hunt succeeds as worthy popcorn horror. Meanwhile, France’s take on the subject is handled a bit more seriously, though it yields just as many dividends in the thrills and bloodshed departments. Chemically tainted water proves to be the culprit spawning the maniacal hogs, with a family’s farm ground zero for tusked terror. Blossier’s harsh-faced cast glowers and shouts each other down, providing equal parts human menace to animal.




CIVILIAN:
Despicable Me (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Coffin, Pierre/Renaud, Chris
Fun if forgettable animated hijinks, with Steve Carell and Jason Segal voicing supervillains vying for the top slot.


Friends with Benefits (2011) (1st viewing) d. Gluck, Will
Snappy, hip players Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis throw snappy hip dialogue at each other and end up having snappy hip no-strings-attached (wait, wasn’t that the Natalie Portman/Ashton Kutcher movie?) sex before realizing that they are just too, too perfect for each other, but by then they’ve already screwed it up. (Get it? Get it?) Luckily, there’s always the last 10 minutes to save the day. Not bad, just exactly what you thought it was going to be.


Julius Caesar (1970) (1st viewing) d. Bruge, Stuart
Big name cast (Charlton Heston, Jason Robards, Richard Johnson, John Gielgud, Richard Chamberlain) knocking the stuffing out of Shakespeare’s political drama, with Heston once again proving that given material suited to his bigger-than-life persona, the man could deliver the goods.


Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) (1st viewing) d. Wyatt, Rupert
One thing you can say about this prequel to the 1968 classic is that it offers a much more logistically sound basis for the simian leap in evolution than the trippy time-travel loop served up by the 70s sequels. Here, an anti-Alzheimer’s serum enhances our leap chimp’s brain functions, leading to his incarceration in an animal shelter, a move that inadvertently provides him with the followers he needs. While the final reel is chock full of wow, one does wonder just how so many apes found themselves in the San Francisco area at one time. Was there a convention or something? Andy Serkis’ motion capture work here rivals his Kong exploits of a half-dozen years ago, although I would have preferred fewer “human” expressions and aspects – after all, a smarter ape is not necessarily a more human ape.


Unforgiven (1992) (5th viewing) d. Eastwood, Clint
Having spent the week watching my first dozen episodes of Deadwood, and upon learning that the femalien had never seen Squint’s Oscar-winning effort, it felt absolutely fitting to dust off the omega bookend to the star’s early years as Rawhide’s Rowdy Yates and Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” epics. Dark, dirty, ambiguously violent and flawlessly performed, it feels real, right and fits like a pair of well-worn boots.

2011 totals to date: 337 films, 207 1st time views, 158 horror, 30 cinema
Charlton Heston movies: 5
Clint Eastwood movies: 4

TV:
Deadwood – 12 episodes (Season 1)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fool's Views 8/8 – 8/14



Onward, you dogs!

As those who follow this Fool with any regularity have probably realized, when it comes to viewing habits, I’m a sucker for themes. Be it a common actor, director, subject matter, or title, I like to pair things up to make it interesting for both the viewer (ahem, that’s me) and the reader. This week, in addition to 2011’s ongoing Cronenberg retrospective, I found myself in the midst of a Peter Jackson festival (unexpected if not terribly surprising) and a completely unanticipated John Guillerman (Who, you ask? Read on, true believer…) triple feature, brought on by the dual factors of my recently acquired Heston bug and Jackson’s King Kong viewing from the week prior.

Also got in a couple of recent international horrors, two wickedly enjoyable indies, plus a Technicolor epic and melodrama each, just to stay regular.

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

Enjoy!


HORROR:
Dead End (2003)
(1st viewing) d. Andrea, Jean-Baptiste/Canepa, Fabrice
A thoroughly engaging and woefully overlooked horror/comedy that deserves greater fanfare, if for no other reason than the delightful lead performances by veterans Ray Wise and Lin Shaye, in top form here as a married couple traveling to relatives for Christmas Eve. With their bickering offspring (Mick Cain, Alexandra Holden) in tow, the should-be routine journey turns into the road trip from hell, with menacing spectres picking off the travelers one by one. While the twist ending has been done before, as with any great road trip, it’s the journey itself that makes it worthwhile rather than the destination.

Hazing, The (aka Dead Scared) (2004) (2nd viewing) d. Kanefsky, Rolfe
Being that 2011 has turned into the Year of the Shepis, it seemed only right to pay a return visit to this winning horror/comedy starring Miss Tiffany as one of quintet of co-ed pledges looking to join the ranks of the most prestigious fraternity/sorority on campus. Given the assignment to stay in a “haunted mansion,” is challenging enough, but when a scavenger hunt item turns out to be a volume of occult spells held by an eccentric professor (a very game Brad Dourif), mayhem ensues in enjoyably old-school 80s fashion, with female flesh and latex monsters aplenty.

High Lane (2009) (1st viewing) d. Ferry, Abel
The idea of pitting a group of mountain-climbing enthusiasts against homicidal loonies isn’t the worst idea in the world, but one would have hoped that this French production would have sought to inject some originality into the mix. But the entire enterprise is cobbled together from innumerable preexisting tropes, from the paint-by-numbers characters to the mutant melonheads’ backstory. It’s not terrible, just terribly unoriginal.

Reef, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Traucki, Andrew
Low budget, high concept, well-realized Aussie thriller about a shipwrecked group out in the ocean forced to swim for survival in shark-infested waters. While some might beef about the lack of chompage, I found Trauki’s methods for maintaining suspense quite effective, constantly plunging our faces below the surface to search for any nearby aquatic eating machines; sometimes it’s scarier not to see any finned menace in the vicinity…as that means they could be coming from the other direction. Solid acting from all involved, and while comparisons to Open Water are not unwarranted, they are favorable even as Reef maintains its own distinct flavor.



CIVILIAN:
Greatest Story Ever Told, The (1965)
(1st viewing) d. Reed, Carol
Handsomely mounted but utterly rote unspooling of the New Testament, following the Christ from birth to miracles to crucifixion, hitting every landmark along the way. Water is walked on and/or turned into vino, lepers are healed and Lazarus raised, Baptists beheaded, and hands washed, but with no urgency to the proceedings, the only enjoyment factor is derived from seeing the countless Hollywood stars populate the screen in support of Max Von Sydow’s blue-eyed Jesus.

Magnificent Obsession (1954) (1st viewing) d. Sirk, Douglas
Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman are paired opposite one another in this unabashedly melodramatic tale of a ne’er do well playboy who inadvertently brings misery upon the life of a kindly widow and dedicates the rest of his life to making amends. The real surprise lies in the effectiveness Robert Blees’ serpentine script and that Sirk and his cast manage to keep our hearts engaged and the forehead slapping to a minimum.



PETER JACKSON TRIPLE PACK
Bad Taste (1987)
(3rd viewing) d. Jackson, Peter
Meet the Feebles (1989) (2nd viewing) d. Jackson, Peter
Heavenly Creatures (1994) (2nd viewing) d. Jackson, Peter
When fellow fiend Tery revealed that he had never seen Jackson’s debut Bad Taste, any debates regarding our choice of viewing for the afternoon were instantly resolved. Like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead before it, the nascent Kiwi’s ability to overcome financial woes with vibrant imagination, tireless dedication, ingenious visuals and over-the-top gross-out f/x heralded a visionary to watch. (The accompanying documentary, Good Taste Made Bad Taste, is as inspiring a tale as could be conjured, as the shaggy young Jackson reveals his cost-cutting techniques and behind the scenes magic.) The fact that, after garnering international attention with his rookie feature, Jackson elected to turn his energies toward a large-scale Muppets parody, exploring the seamier side of the felt-and-stuffing set, only further endeared him to underground cinema lovers. After all, how many films examine X-rated puppet characters’ relationships to drug addiction, extramarital (and interspecies) affairs, murder, extortion, S&M, and STDs? Exactly one: Meet the Feebles. But Jackson’s mainstream breakthrough (following 1992’s splatterpiece Dead-Alive/Braindead) would also be one that introduced the world to the talents of a certain future Oscar-winning actress. Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey star as real-life teen murderers Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker and the director’s skillful blending of realistic drama with eye-popping fantasy sequences (the early days of CGI rarely look this good) caught the eye of cinemagoers and Hollywood suits alike. Like Raimi, these days one wonders if Jackson has too many resources as his disposal, as any ragged onscreen edges are now CG’d away rather than imaginatively concealed, but no one can say he hasn’t earned his success.



CRONENBERG IN THE 90S
Naked Lunch (1991)
(3rd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
M. Butterfly (1993) (2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Crash (1996) (2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
I’ll be honest: While I’ll still see anything that the man does while we both still draw breath, it was right about here that the heat went out of our relationship. It’s an intellectual appreciation as opposed to the gut-punches that he doled out in the previous two decades. There’s no denying the skill and imagination that went into adapting William Burroughs’ unfilmable novel such that it holds up as a cinematic narrative at all, and the cast (Peter Weller, Ian Holm, Judy Davis) and Chris Walas’ effects are all pretty flawless, but it doesn’t resonate on an emotional level. Meanwhile, his screen version of Henry David Hwang’s Broadway smash is his first straightforward drama, and his second feature (Fast Company being the first) that falls completely outside the horror/sci-fi arena. Again, there’s little faulting the performances by Jeremy Irons and John Lone as the star-crossed lovers, but everything registers above the neck rather than about a foot or more lower. With Crash (his fourth consecutive literary adaptation, it’s worth noting), things got a bit more visceral in examining a group of auto crash fetishists; with no shortage of gore, scars, kinky sex and nude flesh strewn about, it’s easily my favorite of his features from the decade. (I’ve already revisited 1999’s eXistenZ earlier this year, finding it just as wanting as I had on my initial theatrical viewing.) For better or worse, his output of the 2000s continued his trajectory away from the fantastic and more into the realistic, and it’s no accident that I’ve not seen any of them since that initial encounter. I don’t know that Cronenberg could (or even should) go backwards to revisit the themes he examined in his youth – I just know that, like many of his 70s horror brethren, that’s when I liked him best.



JOHN GUILLERMAN GOES BIG
Skyjacked (1972)
(1st viewing) d. Guillerman, John
Towering Inferno, The (1974) (3rd viewing) d. Guillerman, John
King Kong (1976) (4th viewing) d. Guillerman, John
‘Twas a combo of Heston and a big ape that brought us round to this week’s spotlight on a relatively unknown name, surprising considering the big hits holding up his resume. My recent encounter with Chuck’s autobiography steered me to Skyjacked, a fairly transparent riff on 1970’s Airport, with Heston as a take-no-guff pilot contending with a mad bomber at 30,000 feet. Fittingly enough, Guillerman was then tapped to helm the next big disaster movie of the 70s (a movement spawned by Airport), that of the Paul Newman/Steve McQueen headlined Inferno, which for my money is the best of the bunch. Running nearly three hours, the story clips along with numerous subplots given just enough weight to provide satisfying melodic stings amongst the action sequences en route to the spectacular finale. The director’s success here led to his assignment on the decade’s highest profile extravaganza to that point: Dino de Laurentiis’ then-staggering 24-million dollar remake of the classic Beauty and the Beast tale. Many took issue with its campy tone (courtesy of Lorenzo Semple’s quippy script), lack of beasties (Kong only tangles with a so-so giant snake as opposed to a myriad of monsters) and the highly touted Carlo Rambaldi mechanical effects which weren’t nearly so special, resulting in Rick Baker (both designing and performing in the monkey suit) and his “special contributions” doing most of the heavy lifting. Even so, to my mind it plays more like a cohesive movie than a collection of extravagant set pieces (hello, Peter Jackson), and Baker’s sympathetic in-the-furry-flesh portrayal elicits more tears from this monster kid than Serkis’ motion-captured one.

2011 totals to date: 329 films, 201 1st time views, 155 horror, 28 cinema
Charlton Heston Movies: 4
Tiffany Shepis Movies: 12

TV:
Arrested Development (2 episodes – 4 total for 2011)

BOOKS:
Cronenberg on Cronenberg, edited by Chris Rodley
The Eldritch Plays by Eric Woolfe

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fool's Views (8/1 - 8/7)





Howdy folks,

Yep, it’s been a spell since the Doc got in the saddle to round up the Views. As the workload lightened on the Shakespeare front, I must confess to being more inclined to continually and vigilantly visit the multiplexes, whittle away at the Netflix queue, and pillage the public library than wax rhapsodic about said viewing experiences. However, now that we’re once again a month behind and since things are going to go predictably off the rails with the October Horror Movie Challenge and the second annual Scare-a-Thon, I figured I’d better put fingers to keyboard before I was lost completely.

The first week of August yielded another all day stint at the cinema, with seasoned flixster friend Toy and I taking in a varied but worthy quartet of summer flicks (three of which, oddly enough, featured aliens in one form or another). Back on the home front, it was a medley of horror docs, Oscar knocks, dramatic licks and action flicks. 14 in all. Good stuff, Maynard.

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

Enjoy!



HORROR:
King Kong (2005)
(2nd viewing) d. Jackson, Peter
There’s no faulting Jackson’s admirable aim to give fans and cinema history the quintessential telling of the Kong story, with all the advantages that modern technology can offer. There’s also no denying that the CGI Kong, complete with motion capture performance by Andy Serkis, is an astonishing creation. But sadly there is so much fat, juicy and tasty as it might be, on this beast (each set piece is astounding, but there is such a thing as TOO MUCH, Pete) that the three-hour enterprise ultimately topples under its own weight. Logic, even in a story as fantastic as this, is stretched to the breaking point time and again, and while Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody do fine in their roles of ape-crossed lovers, Jack Black rings false in the pivotal role of fearless, gung ho movie director Denham. More exhausting than exhilarating.

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) (1st viewing) d. Farrands, Daniel/Kasch, Andrew
While the term “landmark” might edge toward hyperbole, it is difficult to find anything negative to say against this documentary’s exhaustive reflection on the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Freddy fans will delight at the attention paid to each installment, and the candor expressed by the players involved is refreshing and delightful. Without pulling punches (although for my money, Freddy’s Dead still comes off looking better than it should), countless production stories are delivered with deep affection and twinkling eyes from major players (Wes Craven, Robert Shaye, Robert Englund) to the dozens of one-off victims of everyone’s favorite dream demon. At four hours long, it’s a bit much for any one sitting, but structured as it is in movie-by-movie format, it’s easy to break up into installments to suit each fan’s particular stamina level. A welcome improvement over Farrands’ previous attempt with the Friday the 13th series doc, His Name was Jason.

When a Stranger Calls (1979)
(3rd viewing) d. Walton, Fred
The opening 20 minutes, playing upon the infamous urban legend about a frightened babysitter plagued by mysterious phone calls asking, “Have you checked the children?”, is a master class in ever-escalating suspense. Carol Kane’s bulging eyes and baby doll voice serve as perfect counterpoints to Walton’s creeping camera and Dana Kaproff’s THX sound-bite inspiring soundtrack, with a climax that rivals many features’ third acts. Honestly, the film never really reaches those dizzy heights again, though its evolution into a worthy “on the trail of the psycho” thriller with Charles Durning’s ex-cop trailing Tony Beckley’s strangely sympathetic mental case is hardly a demerit. A minor classic.


E.T. GO HOME!
Arrival, The (1996)
(1st viewing) d. Twohy, David
Charlie Sheen stars as an astrophysicist who finds sonic signs of extraterrestrial life, only to discover that the interstellar interlopers are already here, well-entrenched and plotting with baddie executive Ron Silver to suck our planet dry. Despite some charming low-grade CGI effects, writer/director Twohy generates a fair amount of suspense and tension, as well as getting solid performances from his cast, including the underrated (at the time) Sheen.

Attack the Block (2011) (1st viewing) d. Cornish, Joe
When a group of teen East London thugs capture and kill a gremlin-like monster, they find themselves the targets of an aggressive herd of vengeful hungry beasts. While the reductive “Shaun of the Dead meets Critters” equation is a minor disservice to the skill displayed by Cornish and crew, there’s no denying it’s an accurate description of the raw energy, vibrant screen personalities and imaginative creature design introduced in this low-flying sleeper hit from across the pond. Easily one of the best genre films of the year, and one that hopefully will be rediscovered on home video following Sony’s bungled theatrical release.

Cowboys & Aliens (2011) (1st viewing) d. Favreau, Jon
Yes, there is truth in advertising, as both spurs and spaceships occupy the same screen, but one can’t help but think that the whole affair maybe should have been a bit more fun. Amnesiac cowpoke Daniel Craig awakens with a strange, laser-shooting device clamped to his wrist, and before long, he’s wandered into cattle baron Harrison Ford’s town and a whole mess of trouble when a squadron of alien crafts begin buzzing the joint. Bells, whistles and Olivia Wilde galore, but without a lighter touch from either of his leads (Craig and Ford seem to be having a “grim-off” contest), the flick doesn’t soar like Favreau’s Iron Man…and one gets the feeling it should have.



CIVILIAN:
Agony and the Ecstasy, The (1965)
(1st viewing) d. Reed, Carol
Charlton Heston takes up the paintbrush as Michaelangelo facing off against Rex Harrison’s demanding, penny-pinching Pope over the painting of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Regally photographed with solid production values, though lacking in any genuine emotional heft.

Another Earth (2011) (1st viewing) d. Cahill, Mike
An extraordinary sci-fi/drama humdinger, one that fully exploits a brilliantly simple premise without ever exceeding the reach of its meager budget. One singular day, an identical planet inexplicably appears in our sky, evoking fear, wonderment, mystery and exultation. Against this backdrop of phenomena, a young ex-con attempts to amend for her crimes by insinuating herself into a grieving widower’s life. Narrative levels and symbolism abound, but unobtrusively so as to heighten the experience rather than muddying it – well worth seeing.

Captain America (2011) (1st viewing) d. Johnston, Joe
In a summer jam-packed with Marvel superhero movies, this was easily the most handsomely produced and the most all-around satisfying on both artistic and entertainment levels. Chris Evans’ inherent goodness may come off a little square at times, but it absolutely fits the WWII setting, and Johnston has assembled a terrific ensemble of veterans (Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving) to anchor the fanciful story.

Drive Angry (2011) (1st viewing) d. Lussier, Patrick
When Nicolas Cage can’t ruin his own movie, that’s a worthy achievement. Back from the dead to protect his grandchild from an evil cult, Cage tones everything down, allowing Lussier’s whizbang camerawork and his supporting cast (particularly William Fichtner’s priceless incarnation of “The Accountant”) to provide the fireworks. I’m still not convinced Amber Heard is the face of the future, and some might raise an eyebrow at Lussier’s cartoon sexual politics, but overall this is a frills n’ thrills treat.

Half Nelson (2006) (1st viewing) d. Fleck, Ryan
Ryan Gosling earned his first Best Actor nod here as an inspiring and effective high school teacher/coach who hides his crack addiction from the rest of the world. But as he begins to allow a certain student and a fellow instructor into his insulated world, the façade begins to crumble. A superb character study that never resorts to cliché or caricature (the handling of Anthony Mackie’s drug dealer character is particularly laudable).

Sentiment of the Flesh, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Garzelli, Roberto
A French psycho-drama that follows the increasingly twisted relationship between two medical students in love, so much so, that frustration soon arises with the barrier the skin, muscles, etc. presents to their quest for intimacy. Suffice to say, things soon get clinical and messy, on both the physical and emotional level. Were David Cronenberg to make a dark romantic comedy, it might look something like this.

Serious Man, A (2009) (1st viewing) d. Coen, Joel/Coen Ethan
Supposedly autobiographical in nature, this modern-day Job fable stars Michael Stuhlbarg as a bumbling but good-natured teacher whose life unravels in spectacular fashion, with extramarital affairs, criminal charges and wavering television signals assailing him at every turn. Light-hearted and quirky, just like one might expect a Coen Brothers downward spiral comedy to be, although like The Hudsucker Proxy before, it failed to connect with audiences.

State of Play (2009) (1st viewing) d. MacDonald, Kevin
A effectively solid thriller with Russell Crowe as a scruffy newspaper journalist uncovering the dirty details behind the death of politician Ben Affleck’s aide. A great cast (Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams) helps sell the goods.

2011 totals to date: 314 films, 195 1st time views, 149 horror, 28 cinema