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!