Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fool's Views (1/16 – 1/29)

Wow, where the heck did January go?

While severely lagging behind last year’s totals at this point, we managed to make a stronger showing in the second half of the month, populating the magic picture frame with a combo of obscure 70s horror (and one oddly obscure recent release), awards bait, and a bevy of civilian flicks ranging from gold to garbage. And really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Among these, we took in three more Christopher Lee flicks, making a total of seven for the month. With Kitley’s Kryptic Army focusing on Hammer this month, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit more of ol’ tall, dark and gruesome before 2012 is out.

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

Enjoy!

HORROR:


All the Kind Strangers (1974)
(1st viewing) d. Kennedy, Burt
Stacy Keach stars in this TV movie as a freewheeling photojournalist who offers a ride to a towheaded lad walking home from the grocery store, only to find himself trapped by a family of orphaned youngsters looking to recruit a new father figure. Seems this brood has a habit of ensnaring unsuspecting passersby and if they don’t live up to their appointed role, to the bottom of the creek they go. Samantha Eggar is the current unwilling matriarch, attempting to save her skin while indoctrinating Keach into the fold, while Robby Benson makes a strong impression in an early role as the dopey second-in-command to John Savage’s tyrannical eldest child. Some creepy moments, but wusses out with a head-shaking conclusion. Benson also sings the folky theme song, seemingly channeling a 60-year-old flower child in the doing.




The Bloody Judge (aka Night of the Blood Monster) (1970) (1st viewing) d. Franco, Jess
A surprisingly well-mounted combo of historical war film, adventure, love story, and misguided justice/witch hunt horror, sparked by the success of Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General. In the third of the actor’s seven collaborations with the notoriously erratic Spanish filmmaker, Lee plays the infamous real-life Lord Jeffreys, mercilessly persecuting all who oppose King James II as well as numerous comely female “witches.” Beautiful blonde Maria Rohm (Venus in Furs) stars as one of the many potential victims, along with Franco-fave Howard Vernon as the head executioner. Though the sex and violence is not nearly as prominent as other similarly themed ’70s exploitation efforts, Lee was apparently vocal in his displeasure, claiming the more prurient scenes (such as Rohm’s notoriously erotic corpse-licking scene) were added in afterwards. Fine score by Bruno Nicolai.




Burke & Hare (2010) (1st viewing) d. Landis, John
“This is a true story. Except for the parts that are not.” Engaging horror/comedy about the infamous pair of 19th century Edinburgh confidence men who resort to grave robbing (and eventually bumbling murder), embodied by the superb comic team of Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis. Tom Wilkinson stars as eminent surgeon Robert Knox, complicit in the duo’s crimes in the interest of furthering science. Pegg’s Spaced co-star Jessica (formerly Stevenson) Hynes is terrific as Serkis’ conniving bawdy bride while Isla Fisher’s fetching barmaid turns on the sexy-cute in the hopes of finding a financier for her theatrical aspirations. Piers Ashcroft and Nick Moorcraft’s highly fictionalized comic script meshes well with Landis’ trademark brand of grotesque, absurdist leanings, and the scene is rife with cameos from the likes of Christopher Lee, Jenny Agutter, Ray Harryhausen, Costa-Gavras, Tim Curry and Landis’ longtime cinematographer Robert Paynter. Released without fanfare (to subsequent piddling box office), surprising considering the talent involved.




Demons of the Mind (1972)
(2nd viewing) d. Sykes, Peter
As Hammer struggled to keep pace with the times, it conjured this odd little Gothic curiosity piece focused on the twisted goings-on of the Zorn family and their supposedly cursed bloodline. Robert Hardy (best known as the elder vet on All Creatures Great and Small) is the doomed patriarch who keeps his young adult children (Shane Briant, Gillian Hills) secreted away from the world, fearing for their safety…or is it the safety of others he is concerned with? The answer is a little of both, and amidst the rantings of renegade priest Michael Hordern and Patrick Magee’s discredited but dedicated hypnotherapist, blood is shed, incestuous lust holds sway and there’s never any doubt that things are not going to end well. A understandably obscure flick, as its mainstream appeal is limited, but HammerHeads and discriminating genre fans will find plenty to enjoy here.


CIVILIAN:


Cove, The (2009)
(1st viewing) d. Psihoyos, Louie
The Oscar-winning documentary about the systematic slaughter of dolphins in Taijii, Japan is upsetting on multiple levels, because not only do we see our finned friends graphically skewered on pikes and watch the waters run red, but we also learn how devastating life is for the “lucky” ones that survive to be brought to perform at oceanariums such as Sea World and how politically filthy the entire enterprise is. Humans, you suck.

Hannie Caulder (1971) (1st viewing) d. Kennedy, Burt
Raped and widowed by bandit brothers Jack Elam, Strother Martin and Ernest Borgnine, Raquel Welch vows vengeance on the clan, learning to shoot and kill courtesy of Robert Culp’s taciturn gunslinger (using tools of sudden death crafted by ex-pat Christopher Lee). There’s no denying Welch’s sultry screen presence, and Martin shines as the whiniest of the scoundrel siblings, but perhaps not the lost classic heralded upon its recent DVD release.

Piranha, Piranha (1972) (1st viewing) d. Gibson, William
I’ll admit, this one was a bit of a disappointment, as much due to expectations as shoddy filmmaking. When a flick shows up in a collection entitled NIGHTMARE WORLDS with a juicy title named after a certain carnivorous fish (so nice, they named it twice), one might expect there to be some bloody nature-strikes-back mayhem complete with fierce finned beasties devouring fetching lasses and square-jawed hunks. Not the case. Instead, we spend time with great white hunter William Smith toying with camera jockey Ahna Capri, her diamond-seeking brother Tom Simcox, and Peter Brown’s wily guide, and the most excitement to be had is a completely outa-left-field motorcycle race that serves no purpose but to kill/fill time. As for the title, turns out that Smith’s character is dubbed “Caribe,” which means… you guessed it. Wah wah.

Tell No One (2006) (1st viewing) d. Canet, Guillaume
Grieving widower Francois Cluzet (bearing an uncanny resemblance to Dustin Hoffman) receives an email from his supposedly eight-years-dead wife on the anniversary of her murder. Such is the premise behind this electrifying, superbly crafted French thriller, and so tightly scripted is Canet and Phillippe Lefebvre’s script (based on Harlen Coben’s novel) that viewers are constantly on edge as to where the next shoe will drop.




TOM HARDY IS A BIG BAD MOTOR SCOOTER




Bronson (2008)
(1st viewing) d. Refn, Nicolas Winding













Warrior (2011) (1st viewing) d. O'Connor, Gavin












I’ve been meaning to check out Hardy’s breakout role for a while now, and discovering Drive director Refn was at the helm only fueled the desire. But it took seeing Hardy’s bulked-up badass turn in the recent “MMA brothers duking it out for the title” sports drama to finally get my ass in the Netflix chair. Watching the rising British star inhabit the highly theatricalized biography of “England’s most violent criminal” Michael Peterson (who changed his name to, yes, Charles Bronson) is a revelation for those of us who’ve only seen him in charismatic but straightforward supporting roles in Inception or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Refn pulls off a kind of magic trick in making this thuggish brute’s life story compelling and even sympathetic at times. As far as Warrior goes, it’s a familiar story of family torn apart by anger, alcohol, abuse and neglect, and brought back together amidst the roar of the crowd. That said, this is a finely tuned instrument of conventions, and all the performances (including Joel Edgerton’s noble family man and Nick Nolte’s grizzled recovering lout) are strong. As a physical specimen, Hardy is an absolute beast and should inspire a few more pushups out of any red-blooded he-men watching. Special shout out to O’Connor’s exemplary use of folk-rock duo The National’s “About Today” in the final sequence.





OSCAR BAIT:


Better Life, A (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Weitz, Chris
A intimate look at the life of an Mexican illegal immigrant (superlatively assayed by Demien Bichir) struggling to make ends meet and keep son Jose Julian away from the darker elements of inner city L.A. life. When the opportunity arises for Bichir to acquire the truck and clientele of his retiring employer (himself an alien), the story is goosed from touching family drama to white-knuckle thriller.

Iron Lady, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Lloyd, Phyllida
It has been 29 years since the Academy gave Meryl Streep the Oscar. She’s been nominated 13 times since (for a total of 17). Think about that, and while you do, witness her extraordinary transformation into one of the best known political figures of the 20th century, Margaret Thatcher. Then tell me it’s enough for her just to be nominated. At some point, it becomes an insult to the greatest living actress of our time to keep inviting her to the party and sending her home empty handed. This year, she’s more due than anyone else on the red carpet, and the work is beyond reproach. While I know we’ll see her in future awards races in years to come, it should be as a two-time Best Actress winner. Nothing less should suffice.

J. Edgar (2011) (1st viewing) d. Eastwood, Clint
Leonardo DiCaprio does his usual solid if unspectacular work as the creator/head of the FBI who became one of the most powerful and feared men in US history, struggling against political powers, an overbearing mother (Judi Dench) and his own closeted homosexuality. Much has been made of the dodgy prosthetic old-age makeup that adorns the star and his advisor/platonic boyfriend Armie Hammer, and the complaints are justified (especially in the case of Hammer, who appears completely mummified by the final reel). Despite some boggy patches in Dustin Lance Black’s script, Eastwood capably guides his ensemble through five decades of political skullduggery and the results are for the most part satisfying.

My Week with Marilyn (2011) (1st viewing) d. Curtis, Simon
Set during the filming of the Marilyn Monroe/Laurence Olivier vehicle The Prince and the Showgirl, Adrian Hodges’ script (based on Colin Clark's published recollections) seems interested in painting a mostly sympathetic view of the Hollywood icon, portraying her as a bundle of insecurities wrapped around a core of icy consumptive need. Michelle Williams does an admirable job balancing the giggles and the tantrums, but while Kenneth Branagh creates a fine character, he seems to have made no effort at all to replicate the British star’s mannerisms, vocally or physically. It’s very much Branagh doing Branagh, which isn’t all that impressive at this stage of the game.

2012 Totals to date: 20 films, 19 1st time views, 9 horror, 0 cinema

TV:

Patton Oswalt: No Reason to Complain

6 comments:

  1. I keep meeting people who loved Tell No One, and I wonder if they saw a different movie than the one I saw. I hated it. Contrary to your assertion that it's tightly scripted, if it had been tightly scripted, it wouldn't have needed the 25 minute exegesis at the end to unwind the gordian knot it ties itself into. To me, it was proof that the French can make glossy genre films that are just as crappy as their American equivalents.

    I'll spare you my thoughts on Meryl Streep.

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  2. Heya gal,

    You've never had any problem swimming against the tide of public opinion. Even so, wow, hated it, huh? I really didn't know where it was going, how it was going to resolve itself, and the final reveal at the end seemed perfectly in keeping with the dark, labyrinthine story that had been told thus far. It didn't feel like a cheat or introducing new characters or the like. I dug it.

    Hey, I'm not saying every role she's taken has been gold, even those that she's been nominated for. I'm no Meryl fanboy. But she nails IRON LADY so hard, it's going to be hard to ignore her getting passed over again.

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  3. Been wishing to see "Burke and Hare" ever since it was announced. Sadly, it'll never arrive to my country unless it comes in an Amazon.com box.

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    Replies
    1. Well, there is a certain HorrorHound care package scheduled to arrive your way sometime soon. Perhaps a certain copy of B&H could find its way into said package...? Stranger things have happened.

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  4. 2012 Totals to date: 20 films

    You slackin'!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tell me about it. Luckily, I'll be unemployed soon enough. Oh, those short term theatre gigs, gotta love 'em.

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