Friday, May 4, 2012

Fool's Views (4/19 – 4/29)


Hey kids,

After the immersive 53-movies-in-12-days flickathon that was the BIFFF, anything else would understandably fall somewhat short.  Even so, thanks to the resources of the Chicago Public Library, Movieside’s Sci-Fi Spectacular and a bountiful trip to the multiplex, I was genuinely surprised and gratified to rack up a 15-film/10 day tally upon my return Stateside. 

I don’t have as many tales of celebrity encounters or culinary delights this time around, but I can report that April 20 brought with it the four-year mark of wedded bliss to my beloved femalien – an event beside which international travels and travails pale by comparison.  How did we celebrate?  By settling down on our fantastic futon, gorging ourselves on glorious, gluten-free fajitas and listening to the cast commentary on the recently released Dead Weight DVD, of course.  Sometimes it’s all about the company you keep, ladies and gentleman, and my personal choice of traveling companion is beyond reproach.  Thanks for saying “Yes,” sweetheart. 

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

Enjoy!


HORROR:

 




Attack the Block (2011) (2nd 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 last year, and one that hopefully will find its way to home video cult status following Sony’s bungled 2011 theatrical release.






Cabin in the Woods, The (2012) (1st viewing) d. Goddard, Drew
I know, I know, every Cabin review starts off with “can’t say too much for fear of spoiling the surprises” and I will honor that agreement.  What I can say is that as an entertaining deconstruction of horror films, you’d be hard pressed to find a more compelling example of “intellectual popcorn.”  Director Goddard co-wrote the clever script with producer Joss Whedon as a response to the failure of American studios to yield anything but torture porn and torturous remakes (appropriating the intellectual properties of superior foreign efforts or capitalizing on name recognition from the 70s/80s genre pool) and the duo’s witty dialogue is the sharpest tool in their box.  Which is not to dismiss the pic’s florid production design or its capable cast of victims and antagonists or the plentiful splatter, all of which suit the turn admirably.   But I cannot deny leaving the cinema feeling slightly unfulfilled and it may just be a matter of personal taste; while I certainly enjoyed the tweaking of genre conventions, especially by those clearly in the know, at the end of the day I wished for genuine terror, horror or revulsion.  Instead, Goddard and Whedon play at and around it, point up the ridiculousness of established tropes, but never deliver an game-changing twist of the knife themselves.  It’s all good and fine to say there’s something wrong with the state of affairs, but this is not news to the proud and faithful genre fan.  What we want is to be shown the way to something new, something better… a desire that is left unquenched.  Not to say I wasn’t entertained, but like many a tasty Chinese meal, I was eyeballing the menu after the fortune cookies had come and gone, a place in my stomach still left wanting.




Dead Weight (2012) (4th viewing) d. Pata, John/Bartlett, Adam
Heh.  That “Survivors” cast commentary is one of the finer examples of unfettered cross-talking and blithering blathering you’ll come across.  True story.




Devil's Rock, The  (2011) (1st viewing) d. Campion, Paul
On the eve of D-Day, New Zealand Army officer Craig Hall stumbles onto a bunker inside the German-occupied Channel Islands only to find a lone Nazi soldier and a female prisoner chained to the wall.  But things are not, as you might guess, as they seem; dark activities are afoot and the evil that men do occasionally resides in the form of beautiful women (in this case Gina Varela).  Impressive Weta Workshop makeup effects collude with fine performances, the result being an impressively minimalistic horror effort that plays out very much like a gory stage drama even if the central “mystery” is pretty easy to figure out. 


(Oh, and if I were the filmmakers, I’d want to punch out whosever idea it was for the silly “chick in Nazi uniform” DVD cover art.  Not only is it misleading, it’s not even good exploitation.)





Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011) (1st viewing) d. Munroe, Kevin
Shameless completism, thy name is AC.  When I saw that this critically reviled and underperforming horror comedy had somehow appeared on the BIFFF programming lineup, I resigned myself to chasing it down once I got back to the States, knowing as I did that it was streaming on Ye Olde Netflixe.  While it probably didn’t deserve its “official selection” status, it sure as heck wasn’t the shitestorm I was expecting.  Brandon Routh (star of Superman Returns, even though Routh didn’t) is the New Orleans-based titular investigator of paranormal criminal action (based on
Tiziano Sclavi’s comic series), and the actor does a serviceable job as the neo-noir world-weary detective, chasing down vampires, werewolves and ’roid raging rogue zombies in pursuit of Anita Briem’s monster hunting papa’s murderer.  The mixture of practical effects and CGI are actually handled quite well, and while there aren’t exactly thrills a-plenty, the mystery aspects probably stack up against your standard episode of Supernatural.  Where it falls down is in Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer’s hyper-jokey script and in Sam Huntington’s Will Ferrell wannabe turn as Routh’s eager beaver partner saddled with the lion’s share of the punchline shrieking.  It’s too bad Munroe didn’t stick to the understated characterizations, which play surprisingly well in the face of the mystical and fantastic goings-on.








Game of Werewolves (aka Lobos de Arga) (2011) (2nd viewing) d. Moreno, Juan Martinez
If you don’t hear more about this hilarious lycanthrope Spanish before the end of the year, it won’t be because I wasn’t trying.  Writer/director Moreno’s love letter to the Universal classics, Paul Naschy and 80s practical effects is first and foremost a situational, character-based comedy – not a spoof – dealing with ordinary characters trapped in extraordinary, supernatural circumstances.  In this case, writer Gorka Otxoa returns to his home village coincidentally on the 100th anniversary of the gypsy curse laid upon it.  Alongside his cowardly literary agent (Secun de la Rosa) and childhood friend (The Last Circus’ Carlos Areces), Tomas attempts to ward off the flurry of fangs and fur that descend by moonlight upon his hometown, as heads roll as fast and furious as the belly laughs. Things get hairy in a hurry, with nary a CGI wolf nor cuddly Twilight boy toy in sight.  Just as enjoyable a second time around (Stateside this time at the Chicago Latino Film Festival) and Moreno is one of the coolest cats around – guy deserves all the success he can stand and all the support you can give.  Drop a line to your favorite DVD distributor today and give the Arga Wolves the free rein they deserve.  For more info, visit
http://www.rtve.es/noticias/lobos-de-arga-pelicula/






Theatre Bizarre, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Various
After all the hype and build-up over the prospect of six promising horror directors contributing their talents to an anthology film, the result is a crashing disappointment – a collection of not-bad shorts that bear no commonality except their unified missing of presumed dramatic targets.  There’s not a true stinker in the bunch (though Jeremy Kasten’s ridiculously literal, Udo Kier-featuring framing devices might just as well been left on the cutting room floor), and equally so, there is not one of the five tales that rises above its middlin’ brethren.  All exhibit squandered promise, and the fault for the most part lies in the disparate scripts (written or co-written in five of the six cases by the directors) that lack a true punchy punchline among them.  Richard Stanley’s “Mother of Toads” has atmosphere galore – and Catriona MacCall – but drives a frustratingly straight narrative line of a witch bewitching her victims.  Buddy Giovinazzo’s “I Love You” has the opposite problem, wearing a hole in the carpet over its thin breakup story, and Douglas Buck’s polished “The Accident” lacks any real horror at all, content with depicting what happens when motorcycle meets Bambi.  Tom Savini’s “Wet Dreams” (with script by John Esposito) comes closest to actually delivering goods promised, as James Gill continually experiences nightmares of gruesome emasculation; by contrast, David Gregory’s “Sweets” has little to no story at all –just a calorie-busting freak show.  Karim Hussain’s “Vision Stains” possesses the most intriguing premise of the bunch – a female serial killer who steals the intraocular fluid of her victims and injects it into her own eyes, experiencing her prey’s “life flashing before their eyes” and documenting these stories – so when it sputters out with only the weakest EC-inspired comeuppance whimper, it’s doubly disheartening.  Were these student films or rank novices, expectations might not have been so high, but the roster of talent on board deserves a higher level of scrutiny, and as such, disappointment reigns.



CIVILIAN MINI-VIEWS:

12 Monkeys (1995)
(2nd viewing) d. Gilliam, Terry
Gilliam liberally lifts from Brazil’s dystopian visual palette for his reworking of the famed French short La
Jetée, but I suppose it was his to steal.  Not nearly as impressive on a second viewing, though Bruce Willis certainly gives it his best shot.  Brad Pitt’s ridiculously artificial insane antics somehow earned an Oscar nod?  Even this card-carrying Pitt fan must raise an eyebrow in dismay.

Visitor, The (2007) (1st viewing) d. McCarthy, Thomas
Richard Jenkins deservedly racked up a Best Actor nomination for his low-key inhabiting of a Connecticut college professor who finds an illegal immigrant couple living in his Manhattan apartment.  Successfully avoiding sentimental clichés and artificial plotlines, McCarthy (who also scripted) guides his performers through an emotionally rewarding and affecting examination of prejudice, legality and human connection.




GIMME A “B”!



Bank Job, The (2008) (1st viewing) d. Donaldson, Roger
Fact-based thriller about a 70s crew of crooks who attempt to liberate Lloyd’s of London’s vaults of their bounty, but it’s the underlying peripheral political interests that make this more than just a standard heist film.  Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows headline a terrific Brit ensemble.

Bernie (2011) (1st viewing) d. Linklater, Richard
Sporadically funny mock-u-drama about Jack Black’s eternally congenial mortician and the odd couple relationship formed with Shirley MacLaine’s aging harridan.  Non professionals mingle effortlessly with Linklater’s skillfully assembled thespians, with Matthew McConaughey’s pitch perfect small town district attorney nearly stealing the show.

Bully (2011) (1st viewing) d. Hirsch, Lee
The ratings battle (PG-13 vs. R) over this documentary on public school bullying and its repercussions gave it an unexpected profile boost, and while I appreciate the fact that the film might actually generate a few conversations between children, parents, school officials, community leaders, et al., it doesn’t quite account for the fact that Hirsch himself doesn’t have much to say other than the obvious: it sucks to be bullied and wouldn’t it be great if it stopped.  This is not to undermine the recent victims who felt they had no other recourse than suicide to escape their fate, but the film feels a bit like a three-act play missing its concluding chapter.



LIGHTS…CAMERA…I SAID ACTION MOTHERF*CKERS!!!!!


Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) (2nd viewing) d. Bird, Brad
Seriously,
never, ever count Tom Cruise out. In a year filled with oodles of superheroic flicks, The Incredibles director Bird delivered the most deliriously enjoyable edge-of-your-seat set-pieces of 2011, with a car park finale that should be taught as a how-to in film schools. The rare franchise that actually keeps getting better with each installment.

Raid: Redemption, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Evans, Gareth
An elite SWAT team becomes trapped in a tenement run by a ruthless mobster and his army of killers and thugs.  Welsh born writer/director Evans marshals the forces of his fearless Indonesian cast, delivering one of the most jaw-dropping action films of the last decade, full stop.  In spite of some needless CGI bullet splatter, the feverish pace and eye-popping stunts are unrivaled spectacles of wonder, with martial arts sequences that have left international audiences in states of spontaneous, breathless applause.  By any means necessary, see this movie now.

Salt (2010) (1st viewing) d. Noyce, Philip
Angelina Jolie is a CIA agent suspected of being a Russian mole, but that’s just an excuse to send the lithe Oscar-winner through a parade of exquisitely lensed (if logic-defying) cavalcades that would leave any mere mortal pulverized after the first five minutes.  Fun if forgettable, with red herrings that shockingly turn out to be the real magilla.


2012 Totals to date:  189 films, 162 1st time views, 100 horror, 63 cinema

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