Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fool's Views (1/1 - 1/15)

Welcome to 2012, my friends. It’s been a bit of a slow start for the old Fool, or rather, I’ve been operating at what might be considered “normal” speed for most. Chalk it up to a combination of acclimating to a new schedule, rehearsals for a new play, and writing a new HorrorHound article, the subject of which might be immediately apparent based on the brunt of the films below. Plus, there was all that tallying and discussions about everyone’s top 10, 20, etc. of 2011 – plenty to keep the Doc a-hoppin’.

But back in the saddle we are, and it’s finally feeling like winter, so there should be plenty of good Viewing ahead. Hope you enjoy what we’ve got in store for you this week, and as always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

HORROR:

Day the Sky Exploded, The (1958)
(1st viewing) d. Heusch, Paolo
When the first manned space expedition goes awry, Paul Hubschmid’s rocket ship is abandoned and exploded, resulting in a rogue collection of asteroids being diverted from their orbit around the sun. Naturally they start heading towards Earth, wreaking all kinds of weather-related havoc (tidal waves, forest fires, etc.) en route to our certain extinction. A not-bad sci-fi programmer from Italy, despite its heavy reliance on stock footage (the aforementioned natural upheavals, control rooms, an infinite number of missile launches). Mario Bava served as director of photography (although he’s credited as “Mario Baja”) and spaghetti horror buffs will spot his Kill Baby, Kill star Giacomo Rossi-Stuart as one of the frantic technicians attempting to thwart disaster through mathematics and thermonuclear warheads. There’s an amusing little aural snafu about an hour into the flick – as the panicked crowds break through the military barrier, it becomes clear that the English dubbing team laid down a 15-second clip to cover a 2-minute scene. As a result, we hear a woman cry “My baby!” with the same inflection about eight times in a row.




CHRISTOPHER LEE FILM FEST:

Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (aka Panga) (1991)
(1st viewing) d. Barton, Sean
After American √©migr√© Jenilee Harrison’s sister halts an African tribe’s ritual sacrificing of a goat, an evil sea spirit proceeds to hack its way through the film’s white populace. As the resident doc, Christpher Lee actually tenders some substantial screen time in his supporting role, even managing a bit of Afrikanese as well as two hefty monologues. However, Harrison’s vacant, stilted acting (10 years after her stint as Suzanne Somers’ replacement on Three’s Company) doesn’t help matters, though former soccer star Henry Cele fares well as the family’s native right hand man. There’s some brief nudity, mild gore and an overactive drum/synth score all attempting to enliven writer/director Barton’s suspense-free suspense scenes, while the halfway decent (machete-wielding!) rubber monster design is by Chris Walas. Bears no relation to any of the other Curse films.




End of the World (1977) (1st viewing) d. Hayes, John
As a stranded alien and the priest whose body he replicates, Christopher Lee pulls double duty in this turgid early Charles Band production, lording over six alien nuns while blackmailing nosey brainiac Kirk Scott and bride Sue Lyon into procuring the mysterious elements necessary for their return trip home. Of course, once they’ve got the goods, Lee and his sister act reveal their darker purpose: they’re really here to exterminate the Earth’s population via a series of natural disasters. Cheapjack effects, stock footage, yawns and annoying weeo-weeo electronic music score abound, although there’s a pretty great practical car explosion in the second act that clearly was done the good ol’ fashioned way of finding a junker and blowing that baby UP, flaming gas splashing all over the asphalt and terrified actors running for cover in the foreground. Aging screen veterans Dean Jagger and Lew Ayres show up to collect a paycheck, which couldn’t have been much. The “surprise” ending is a doozy, followed by some of the slowest crawling end credits on record.




Season of the Witch (2011) (1st viewing) d. Sena, Dominic
High profile B-movie starring Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman as two wisecracking thrill-killing 14th-century Knights Templar who suffer a crisis of confidence after offing one innocent victim too many and desert, only to be captured and pressed into duty transporting a young witch to a remote abbey in the hopes of ending the Black Plague. For his part, Christopher Lee delivers a delicious, boil-covered hare-lipped cameo, enduring impressive prosthetics for his limited time onscreen. Bragi F. Schut’s lame screenplay and dialogue do no one any favors. Cage has become as much as a liability as asset when it comes to attracting audiences – much like Drive Angry the same year, horror fans stayed away in droves. Unnecessary and shoddy CGI may dampen spirits, as does the goofy third act which goes giddily off the rails, but for those seeking mere escapism, this is a relatively inoffensive popcorn burner. Filmed on location in Austria and Hungary.





Tale of the Mummy (aka Talos the Mummy) (1998)
(1st viewing) d. Mulcahy, Russell
As some might have gathered at this point, Christopher Lee had no problems picking up a check for a day’s work and featured billing. Here, the venerable actor exits the scene at the eight-minute mark, having fulfilled his duties via a fateful 1948 excavation scene (that includes some truly horrible CGI). Flash forward to 1999, where Lee’s granddaughter Louise Lombard returns to recover the sarcophagus for display in the London Museum. This original but silly take on the mummy legend has the bandages themselves become the monster, scrambling around London car parks, tube stations, laundry chutes and gay bars in search of seemingly random victims, extracting their internal organs in order to restore Talos to life…with a cockamamie interplanetary alignment “ticking clock” in place for good measure. Decent cast includes Michael Lerner, Sean Pertwee, Lysette Anthony (of Krull infamy), Shelly Duvall, a very young Gerard Butler and the unintentionally hilarious supercool Jason Scott Lee as a U.S. embassy detective. Shorn of nearly 30 minutes for its US release, from 119 to 88, though I can’t help but feel a little grateful.




CIVILIAN:
Forks Over Knives (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Fulkerson, Lee
You don’t have to be a vegetarian…unless you want to, you know, live longer, be healthier, reduce your risk of cancer, spend less time in the hospital, etc. Such is the thesis put forth by this thought-provoking documentary based largely on the research of Drs. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. and T. Colin Campbell, and I gotta say Fulkerson & Co. make a compelling case for converting to a plant-based, whole-foods diet. Check it out and see if it doesn’t make you think twice about eating that Double Whopper.

2012 Totals to date: 6 films, 6 1st time views, 5 horror, 0 cinema

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Civilian 2011 Wrap-Up and Year-End Stats!


Back again!

Having addressed the horror genre in the previous entry (hey, the title of the blog is HORROR 101 after all), it seems only fair to give the civilian flicks their moment in the sun, seeing as how they composed nearly half the total Views this year. As before, all of the films listed were encountered for the first time from January 1 to December 31, 2011 (i.e. no repeat viewings were eligible), with my top picks denoted with an asterisk.


2011 TOTALS: 640 films, 419 1st time views, 355 horror, 59 cinema
(2010 Totals: 364, 253, 242, 45)
(2009 Totals: 472, 276, 289, 38)
(2008 Totals: 384, 278, 226, 39)
(2007 Totals: 409, 284, 260, 40)




TOP CIVILIAN 2011 RELEASES
Adventures of Tintin, The (2011)
Another Earth (2011)
Bridesmaids (2011)
Drive (2011)*
Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
Hugo (2011)
Margin Call (2011)*
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
Moneyball (2011)
Tree of Life, The (2011)*
War Horse (2011)





Dr. AC's 2011 Horror Wrap-Up Extravaganza!


Howdy troops,

Greetings, fellow lovers of the moving image,

First off, let it be duly noted – this year was INSANE. 2011’s total of 640 films represents the 3rd highest I’ve ever amassed in a single year. As a result, narrowing things down to a simple Top 10 just didn’t seem in the cards, and with an abundance of worthwhile cinema to be tallied, why impose such an arbitrary limit? Why indeed.

Therefore, after much deliberation, below is my assessment of the horror year that was. All of the fright flicks listed herein were encountered for the first time sometime between January 1 and December 31, 2011 (i.e. no repeat viewings were eligible). To accommodate and acknowledge as many films as possible, I've broken them down into various categories in alphabetical order, with my top pick denoted with an asterisk. (*)

If you are curious about or want to celebrate/debate why a certain title landed in a certain category, please leave a comment and we’ll go at it. Also, if you’re interested in reading the original reviews of the films in question (and really, who wouldn’t be?), you can easily access them via the Blogger search function in the upper left hand corner of the screen.

Thanks so much for the past year of rapping and chatting - looking forward to more of the same in 2012!






BEST HORROR RELEASES IN (OR AROUND) 2011
Attack the Block (2011)
Chillerama (2011)
Chop (2011)
Dream Home (2010)
Exorcismus (2010)
Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), The (2011)*
I Saw the Devil (2010)
Kidnapped (2010)
Last Circus, The (2010)
Let Me In (2010)
Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010)
Rammbock: Berlin Undead (2010)
Red State (2011)
Red White and Blue (2010)
Stake Land (2010)
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fool's Views (12/26 – 12/31)


Boom. There it is.

The last week of 2011 featured no fewer than seven current theatrical releases, as well as a bevy of recent video releases and a continued game of catch-up from the decade gone by. Hope you like, and I’ll be seeing you very soon with the year-end totals!

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

Enjoy!

HORROR:


American Haunting, An (2005)
(1st viewing) d. Solomon, Courtney
Watching the much maligned screen version of the Bell Witch legend (the most documented haunting in U.S. history, if the opening crawl is to be believed), I kept wishing that writer/director Solomon had avoided the cheap action thrills and kept things under a tighter rein. At times, there is the potential for a good old fashioned period horror yarn (a la Hammer) is strongly evident, especially with veterans like Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek in the mix, but once people start flying around and windows shatter right and left, the movie oddly enough loses its magic. Not terrible, but not good either.



Chop (2011) (1st viewing) d. Haaga, Trent
Having been a fan of Haaga for years now, as an actor (Troma’s Edge, Bonnie & Clyde vs. Dracula) and a writer (Deadgirl), I was very excited to check out his directorial debut. Happily, this deliberately twisted horror/comedy delivers the gory goods hand in hand with caustic characters and insane scenarios, courtesy of Adam Minorovich’s wacky script. Will Keenan, who Troma fans will remember from Tromeo & Juliet, plays a hapless game of cat and mouse with Timothy Muskatell’s increasingly psychotic self-appointed judge, jury and executioner. A late entry in 2011’s horror race, but one that deserves consideration for anyone’s top 10.



Darkest Hour, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Gorak, Chris
Oh, squandered potential, thy name is Darkest Hour. What could have been a terrific alien invasion flick, amped up by the fish out of water elements of setting the main protagonists as American tourists on their first night in Russia, steadily falls apart from a diet of dumb-dumb pills and predictable pecking order. One can tell who is going to survive the longest almost exclusively by the cast list’s roster, even if it means straining the audience’s frontal lobes’ capacity for suspension of disbelief to do it. It’s too bad, because the desolated street scenes are hauntingly effective and the electrical disintegration of their human prey make for dandy visuals. Luckily, the movie’s marketing team forgot to tell anyone about it, so there was no time to work up any expectations.



Hostel: Part III (2011) (1st viewing) d. Spiegel, Scott
Almost as if he knew any movie called Hostel III was going to be considered a bad joke, director Spiegel embraces the insanity to deliver a film that’s more black comedy than dread-filled horror and largely succeeds as a result. A bachelor party in Vegas goes off the rails as one by one the odious horndogs and their stripper companions end up on the torture rack. As with his minor slasher classic Intruder, Spiegel includes tons of trick camera shots (including from within one victim’s mouth) to match the elevated plot twists and performances, all serving to remind the audience not to take any of this seriously. Since the torture porn movement has essentially come and gone, this was probably the best route to take, and I’ll go on the record as saying that I liked it a heck of a lot more than Eli Roth’s own second installment (though I could have done without a couple of the useless supporting characters).



Rammbock: Berlin Undead (2010) (1st viewing) d. Kren, Marvin
A couple weeks ago, I called Mutants a French version of 28 Days Later. Much in the same reductive yet complimentary vein, this German zombie thriller is in many ways a Teutonic spin on Juame Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s marvelously claustrophobic [Rec]. While its predecessor’s “found footage” element is abandoned, director Kren’s action all takes place in a low-rent apartment complex with the tenants bonding or abandoning one another based on circumstances and temperament. Plus, it’s only an hour long! Well worth checking out.




CIVILIAN:

Airplane! (1980)
(3rd viewing) d. Abrahams, Jim/Zucker, David/Zucker, Jerry
“Where did you get that dress? It's awful, and those shoes and that coat, jeeeeez!” Stephen Stucker. That’s the crazy funny bald guy with all the memorable lines who gives Lloyd Bridges and Leslie Nielsen a run for their comic money in this flagship for the next three decades of parody movies. Why this guy didn’t get used more before his death in 1986, I’ll never know.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) (1st viewing) d. Bird, Brad
Never, ever count Tom Cruise out. In a year filled with oodles of superheroic action flicks, Incredibles director Bird delivers the most enjoyably edge-of-your-seat finale of 2011. The rare franchise that actually keeps getting better with each installment.

Rango (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Verbinski, Gore
Visually magnificent, chock full of lively characters and pretty darn funny to boot, I’m sorry I let mixed reviews keep me from seeing this on the big screen. Definitely a contender for top animated film of the year. Oh, and Timothy Olyphant’s “Man with No Name” impression is terrifyingly authentic.

Space Cowboys (2000)
(1st viewing) d. Eastwood, Clint
Sure, it’s silly escapist fare, but watching Squint, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner all suit up as over-the-hill astronauts is just as much fun as you’d think.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) (1st viewing) d. Alfredson, Tomas
Honestly, I don’t think there’s a single car chase or fist fight in the entire film. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) Just lots of tense looks, stiff jaws, terse words and intelligent actors doing their thing with words and gesture. Not sure how I feel about the exaggerated grain that director Alfredson injected in the film stock, but I’m willing to chalk it up to artistic freedom and move on.

Woodsman, The (2004) (1st viewing) d. Kassell, Nicole
Kevin Bacon delivers a marvelously understated performance as a recently released convicted child molester, attempting to integrate back into society despite the prejudices of others and the fact that he is not “cured” of his urges. A unique examination of a sensationalized subject, with solid work from Bacon’s real-life wife Kyra Sedgwick, Benjamin Bratt, Mos Def, Eve, and David Alan Grier in a non-comedic role.




CATCHING UP WITH 2007

American Gangster (2007)
(1st viewing) d. Scott, Ridley
Epic telling of heroin kingpin Frank Lucas and the team of lawmen that took him down. Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe both bring their A-game, surrounded by an impressive array of talent. Liked it more than I expected to, and even though I was watching the extended director’s cut, I never felt bored.

Charlie Wilson's War (2007) (1st viewing) d. Nichols, Mike
…or How U.S. Congressman Tom Hanks Armed Afghanistan and Ended the Cold War, with the help of Houston socialite Julia Roberts, CIA operative Philip Seymour Hoffman and Representative Ned Beatty. It’s a comedy, and it works as such, but the epilogue is such a downer that it left me angrier than I would have imagined. As the real-life Wilson said, “These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world...and then we fucked up the end game.”

Hunting Party, The (2007) (1st viewing) d. Shepard, Richard
Political thriller has Terrence Howard and rogue reporter Richard Gere chasing after the #1 war criminal in Bosnia. Based on a true story, but never quite reaches Salvador heights.

Margot at the Wedding (2007) (1st viewing) d. Baumbach, Noah
Nicole Kidman visits her estranged sister Jennifer Jason Leigh for her wedding to Jack Black, bringing unchecked judgment in her wake. These are awful, AWFUL people, and it is some kind of miracle that Squid and the Whale writer/director Baumbach compels us to keep watching. But he does, and for that, he has my admiration.




MICHAEL FASSBENDER HAS ARRIVED


Dangerous Method, A (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Cronenberg has often noted his Jungian upbringing, so it’s hardly surprising that he would choose to present the tumultuous relationship between Carl Jung (Fassbender) and his mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). As one might guess, the two men are presented as highly intellectualized figures who examine their every move and thought, so it is left to Keira Knightly (as the oft overlooked Russian psychologist Sabina Spielrein) to bring the emotional heart and heat, which she does magnificently. Naked in both flesh and word, Knightly believably transforms from spasming animal to stable educator before our eyes, a performance that seems to be overlooked in the end of year tallies.

Shame (2011) (1st viewing) d. McQueen, Steve
McQueen’s examination of a sex addict is both rewarding for its patience and non-judgment, yet equally frustrating by the same nature. Do we really need to watch Fassbender run for an entire 60 seconds down the street? Do we need to see him stare off into space over and over and over again? There are some incredible moments of frankness and truth, and I’d recommend the film (which absolutely earns its NC-17 rating), but there are times where one wishes the editing shears had been used with a bit more enthusiasm.




SPIELBERG IS BACK

Adventures of Tintin, The (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Spielberg, Steven
War Horse (2011) (1st viewing) d. Spielberg, Steven
In a nutshell, I liked both of these so much more than I thought I would. Spielberg reins (ha ha) in his oft-sentimental tendencies to present a rich emotional journey via War Horse, while the animated format of Tintin gives unlimited license to Uncle Steven – who has already graced us with some of the most astonishing chase sequences the silver screen has to offer – and says, “Sky’s the limit – knock yourself out.” He does, and in the process, knocks us out as well.

2011 totals to date: 640 films, 419 1st time views, 355 horror, 59 cinema

TV:

Louis C.K.: Chewed Up Comedy Special

Fool's Views (12/19 – 12/25)



Hey kids,

Welcome to 2012! But, before we dole out the year-end goodies, we need to commune with the remaining 2011’s Views. Wouldn’t you know it, since they were the final weeks, and since I had little to do after placing my meager offerings to the femalien under the tree, I dug out the eyelid toothpicks and again drank deeply from the cinema pools. The Chicago public library continued in my catch-up of notable civilian films gone by, Netflix kept the horror blood pumping, and the penultimate Cronenberg features in our year-long examination unfurled before us. Good stuff.

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

Enjoy!

HORROR:
Apollo 18 (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Lopez-Gallego, Gonzalo
I missed this “period found footage” flick this Fall due to its excoriating critical savaging. However, I have a feeling that a lot of people are going to be pleasantly surprised once they finally check it out this purported expose’ of the fateful “final” moon landing. For starters, the look of the film is (ahem) stellar, with that weird early 70s color correction adroitly setting the mood, and the unfamiliar cast playing the astronauts are appropriately rugged and believable. Sure, there are a few logistical glitches here and there, but overall, this proved to be an adequate time-waster and much better than early reviews would lead one to believe.




House of Fears (2007)
(1st viewing) d. Little, Ryan
This is one of those flicks that you’ve never heard of before, but you watch anyway because your friend likes the plot description on Netflix. In this case, the friend shall remain nameless (but you know who you are, Tery), and the synopsis that suckered us in was “When a group of teenage friends breaks into a carnival-style haunted house before it opens on Halloween, they unwittingly unleash a hellish power that animates the attraction's sinister clowns, killer scarecrows and other monsters.” Sounds awesome, right? But it became clear within 15 minutes that this one was gonna leave a mark on our souls. Stooooooopid. Little’s sole horror outing leaves the distinct impression that his heart was not in it. Leave indie fright flicks to those that care, my friend – we’ve got enough pretenders to the throne in Hollywood.



Psycho Legacy, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Galluzzo, Robert V.
Pleasantly exhaustive documentary on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic as it terrified people out of their showers, opened the door to the modern day slasher flick, and eventually spawned three sequels of its own. Chock full of interviews from all the main players, highlighted by a second-disc 60-minute horror convention Q&A with star Anthony Perkins. Even the most seasoned veteran is sure to pick up something new here.



Spell, The (1977) (1st viewing) d. Phillips, Lee
Amusing little Carrie-inspired TV-movie has Susan Myers in the misfit telekinetic teen shoes, terrorizing little sis Helen Hunt, fattie-hating father James Olson, and anyone else who crosses her path. Lee Grant stars as her blinkered mom, who refuses to believe her troubled offspring is responsible for the recent spate of “accidents” (such as the jaw-dropping octogenarian inferno sequence). Starts off slow, but builds to a dandy finish.




CIVILIAN:
Breach (2007)
(1st viewing) d. Ray, Billy
Chris Cooper turns on the surly as a malcontent CIA agent who may or may not be a spy for the Soviets. Solid political thriller based on a true story, with Ryan Phillipe and Laura Linney.

Four Seasons, The (1981) (1st viewing) d. Alda, Alan
Alda wrote, directed and stars in this charming ensemble comedy about three married couples (Alda-Carol Burnett, Jack Weston-Rita Moreno, Len Cariou-Sandy Dennis) who go through massive upheavals over the course of four group vacations. Recalls Neil Simon at his best.

Strange Brew (1983) (1st viewing)d. Moranis, Rick/Thomas, Dave
Yep, finally caught up with this SCTV-inspired 80s comedy starring Moranis and Thomas as Bob and Doug Mackenzie, a pair of beer-guzzlin’ hockey-lovin’ Canadian-stereotypin’ siblings caught up in brewmeister Max Von Sydow’s nefarious scheme for world-domination. Good-natured juvenilia abounds.

Talk to Me (2007) (1st viewing) d. Lemmons, Kasi
Well-crafted biopic about legendary Washington D.C. radio DJ Petey Green, who emerged from a life of petty larceny and incarceration to become one of the most influential voices of the 60s/70s black movement. Don Cheadle inhabits Green with a finessed balance of rage, joy, insecurity and chutzpah, alternately infuriating and inspiring boss/manager Chiwetel Ejiofor. Taraji P. Henson (so good in Hustle & Flow) shines in a different light as Cheadle’s sassy, sexy mate.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) (1st viewing) d. Allen, Woody
Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson play two vacationing Americans who both fall into relationships with Javier Bardem’s impossibly charismatic painter. Not really complaining that Penelope Cruz took home the Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as Bardem’s tempestuous ex-wife, but she’s done better work and I’d like to think this was a combo award for her nuanced performance in the same year’s Elegy.




CRONENBERG IN THE “OTTS”

Spider (2002)
(2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
History of Violence, A (2005) (2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Eastern Promises (2007) (2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Wrapping up the Canadian director’s CV is a bit bittersweet, not only because it means the end of the journey, but also because it takes us further and further away from his horror/sci-fi roots (where his innovation and intelligence strongly resonated in a genre often equated with dumbed-down gorefests). Even so, I was happy to revisit this dramatic trio, having only seen them each only once before. I watched Spider with the subtitles on this time, hoping to gather what I could from Ralph Fiennes’ mumbling emotional defective – basically all I remembered from the first go-round was that I couldn’t understand anything he said. While the performances are all strong, including Miranda Richardson’s triple-play, Fiennes’ remote character keeps viewers at a distance and the resulting drama fails to significantly impact. Of Cronenberg’s civilian fare, I’d say that History is probably the most accessible, with Viggo Mortensen’s everyday small-town family-man hero revealed to have a very dark past, to the consternation of his family and friends who thought they knew him. DC proceeded to cast Mortensen in Promises as a cryptic chauffeur to a London Russian mob family (a role which earned him an Oscar nod, a long-overdue first for the director’s performers) who becomes entangled in Naomi Watts’ quest to track down the father of a murdered prostitute’s baby. Much was made of Viggo’s naked bathhouse brawl (rightly so), but more impressive is his meticulous and understated collection of character traits that slowly reveal the man beneath the driving gloves.




A GREAT DAY AT THE MOVIES

Great Muppet Caper, The (1981)
(2nd viewing) d. Henson, Jim
Has it really been 30 years since I last saw Kermit & Co.’s madcap exploits in jolly olde England? This is the Muppets the way I likes ‘em: Unhinged silliness and calculated mayhem amidst truly astonishing instances of “how’d they do that?” puppet wizardry.

Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, The (1972) (1st viewing) d. Kaufman, Philip
Dirty, gritty, funny and cheeky yarn about the wild west James/Younger gang’s last big attempted bank robbery, with Cliff Robertson portraying Cole Younger as an easy-living, low-key bandit at odds with Robert Duvall’s playfully psychotic Jesse James.

Great Texas Dynamite Chase, The (1976) (1st viewing)d. Pressman, Michael
Jocelyn Jones (who would later star in David Schmoeller’s underrated Tourist Trap) teams up with wild gal Claudia Jennings for a spree of bank robberies across the Yellow Rose State. Unpretentious exploitation has nothing on its mind but good time explosions, nudity and car chases, yet also manages to present two liberated women living life by their own rules, using men as their sexual playthings and outsmarting male authorities with gusto.




FINCHER OSCAR BAIT DOUBLE STACK

Social Network, The (2010)
(2nd viewing) d. Fincher, David
In retrospect, it’s little wonder that this unflattering portrait of the rise of Facebook and its creators failed to take home Best Picture over the more sumptuous King’s Speech. In the end, it’s about Facebook, and we’d all like to categorically state (even as we post holiday photos and scramble for clever status updates) that The Great Time-Suck of Our Time doesn’t matter all that much to us. In the same way that FB feels slight, these characters’ fates and conflict likewise register as insignificant. The performances are all strong, Aaron Sorkin’s script is a wonder, and Fincher pulls off the magic trick of making it all seem relevant during the film’s two-hour running time…but then it all fades away, as unsubstantial as Jesse Eisenberg’s CGI winter’s breath.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Fincher, David
First off, this didn’t need to be remade. The original 2009 Swedish film starring Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace was a stellar screen version of Stieg Larsson’s novel, and I’ll argue that Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg’s adaptation blows Steven Zallian’s out of the water. Plus, without distracting celebrity faces (hello Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, et al) popping up throughout, Niels Arden Oplev’s vision was able to truly transport viewers into Larsson’s story. That said, Fincher’s redundant version is still worthwhile for the subtitle-phobic, and Rooney Mara’s damaged punk hacker Lisabeth Salander is a revelation, erasing nearly all my snarling venom aroused by her involvement in the execrable Nightmare on Elm Street reboot. Just a couple more nitpicks and I’ll walk away: a) what was up with that ridiculous opening credits sequence and b) why couldn’t Craig at least attempt a Swedish accent (or have Fincher nix everyone else’s)?

2011 totals to date: 621 films, 390 1st time views, 350 horror, 51 cinema

TV:

Black Adder’s Christmas Carol (1 episode)