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

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