Monday, February 20, 2012

Fool's Views (2/13 – 2/19)

Say hey, you wonderful warped wackjobs! Thanks for stopping by for yet another go-round with the Fool.

Well, wrapped up my run of A Wrinkle in Time with Milwaukee’s First Stage Theater this past weekend, and while I’m happy to be back home in the Chi-town groove, I confess I’ll be sorry to not find myself tesseracting around geodesic domes with nearly as much frequency. Due to the final stretch also including a nasty head cold in the mix, there was little to do but answer the siren call of the many DVDs hauled up north with me as I convalesced, pleased at the various “theme nights” which presented themselves (not to mention a certain excursion to the wilds of Oshkosh for another bout with the beloved House of Horrors). From bugs going boom to fistfuls of fu, from Blair gone bad to beating the streets, we hope you dig it too.

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

Enjoy!

HORROR:
Night Fright (1967)
(1st viewing) d. Sullivan, James A.
The solo feature directing credit from Larry Buchanan factory member Sullivan (production manager on Eye Creatures and Curse of the Swamp Creature, cojoling the latter’s John Agar to star) opens with a report of an innocent UFO sighting, but before long bodies are littering the landscape. The culprit: a hapless ape gone blood crazy after being exposed to cosmic rays as part of a deep space experiment. (We rarely get a good look at the “monster,” a wise decision since it’s clearly little more than a guy in a gorilla suit wearing a dinosaurized faceplate.) The shoddy production values include an array of amateur-hour performers, muddy day-for-night scenes, and an egregiously padded script with endless scenes of “teens” boogieing and bickering. At least Agar looks invested in his plight as a small-town sheriff beleaguered by taunting townies and mutilating mutations. Sullivan also has the dubious honor of serving as one of the editors on the infamous Manos: The Hands of Fate.




Slugs (1988) (2nd viewing) d. Simon, J.P.
Simon, the maestro behind the gut-busting splatter flick Pieces, delivers another heaping helping of the red sauce, this time with toxic waste-fed gastropods doing the honors. While the line readings and WTF moments are not as abundantly plentiful, there’s enough head-shaking banana boat wackiness to keep guts chuckling and gruesome sequences to keep lunches buckling. When several members of a quiet upstate NY community start turning up munchified, it’s up to public health inspector Michael Garfield (as a character named – snicker – Mike Brady) and his public works buddy Philip MacHale to save the day. The freewheeling and illogical means by which they manage this are questionable, but whenever Simon serves up the supremely slimy slithery screeching showstoppers, you probably won’t care much. Ah, Spain in the 80s, when you could have no-name no-talents doff their duds and roll around on the gore floor with about a zillion slugs, no questions asked. For the record, slugs were most definitely harmed during the making of this movie. But, hey, they’re slugs.



Ticks (aka Infested) (1993) (2nd viewing) d. Randel, Tony
Low-budget, high-entertainment offering that delivers awesome buggy goodness as promised on the marquee. Delinquent teens camping in a northern California retreat are terrorized by mutant insects created by supercharged pot plant enhancers – much scurrying and burrowing ensue. With a wealth of gooey practical effects served up by the capable team of Doug Beswick Productions and KNB EFX Group, this is a latex lover’s wet dream (heavy on the wet) with unhappy campers Seth Green, Peter Scolari, genre stalwart Clint Howard and Ami Dolenz running for their lives. Admirably directed by Hellraiser II’s Tony Randel, this remains one of Fangoria’s 101 Best Horror Films You’ve Never Seen still criminally unavailable on DVD. Set the Ticks free!




CIVILIAN:
There Will Be Blood (2007)
(2nd viewing) d. Anderson, Paul Thomas
Epic in scale and length, Anderson’s dust-choked rendering of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! rests firmly on the shoulders of acting machine Daniel Day-Lewis as a ruthless oil prospector whose thirst for power and wealth is only equaled by hatred for his fellow man. Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead) turns in a score that becomes a character all its own, one that is occasionally intrusive but never anything less than fascinating, while Robert Elswitt’s Oscar-winning cinematography is a thing of wonder, as any shot could be framed and mounted. While the unsympathetic characters take their toll over the 2.5 hour running time, there is no denying the talent on either side of the camera. Much more than simply a vehicle for Day-Lewis (whose channeling of John Huston deservedly earned him a second Best Actor Oscar), this is a work of extraordinary beauty, power and conviction. Color me waiting impatiently for Anderson’s The Master – due later this year – because for my money, he hasn’t missed yet.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001) (1st viewing) d. Wain, David
Wain, a founding member of the unhinged comedy sketch program The State, takes the feature film reins with this madcap sendup of 80s camp comedies (think Meatballs and its ilk) that died a horrible death upon initial release but has since grown a rather healthy cult following. Co-scripting with Michael Showalter (who plays the lovelorn Coop), Wain recruits several of his show’s alumni and numerous upcoming Young Hollywood types (Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Molly Shannon and Amy Poehler among them) alongside stalwarts such as Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce and Chris Meloni to populate his zany outdoors escapades. The results are consistently subversive, infinitely quotable and occasionally downright hilarious.




LINDA BLAIR’S GOT A PAIR








Born Innocent (1974)
(1st viewing) d. Wrye, Donald












Savage Streets (1984) (1st viewing) d. Steinmann, Danny









After watching our little head-spinning Regan MacNeil all grown up in Chained Heat last week, it seemed the opportune moment to dig out two other Blair pics I’ve had sitting by the wayside. The first, a TV-movie sandwiched in between her star-making Exorcist stint and being sung to by Helen Reddy in Airport 1975, is a surprisingly brutal, hard-hitting indictment of teen girl halfway houses, with real issues being raised about the System’s failure to rehabilitate or even benefit their inhabitants. Blair, it must be stated, has never been an entirely convincing actor, but she manages to go through the paces of a confused runaway child – encountering obstacle after obstacle from authority figures, family and peers until any desires to be an upstanding member of society are systematically crushed – effectively emerging on the other side a disillusioned, hardened delinquent…


…which is pretty much where we pick her up a decade later in Streets, a sleazy cheesy rapesploitation flick that posits the chubby-cheeked full-figured former Oscar-nominee as a way-too-old-for-high-school hottie sporting huge hair and a bad attitude. As the leader of a chiquita clique called the Satins, Blair is at her sneering sexpot peak, ready to lay you out with an eyeroll-inducing one-liner one minute and a full-on catfight the next. But when a gang of thugs rape her deaf/mute younger sister (a very innocent looking Linnea Quigley, especially considering her nude gravedancing gig in Return of the Living Dead was only a year away), it’s time for LB to strap on the crossbow, break out the bear traps, jump in the SUV (?) and unload some full tilt boogie on the ill-mannered bastards. Unbelievably tawdry and undeniably entertaining, Steinmann (whose next assignment, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, had Jason fans crying foul) keeps the action cooking with classroom hijinks, bouncing boobs and hiss-worthy scumbags. Idiotic in the extreme and all the more enjoyable for it; a vintage slice of 80s exploitation.




FIVE IS THE DEADLIEST NUMBER THAT YOU’LL EVER DO







Five Deadly Venoms (1978)
(1st viewing) d. Chang, Cheh














Five Fingers of Death (1972) (1st viewing) d. Jeong, Chang-hwa







I had somehow never gotten around to this pair of chop-socky classics which happily proved worthy of their reputations. By most reports, Fingers is THE film that kicked off the kung-fu craze in the States, paving the way for Bruce Lee’s Hollywood-financed vehicle Enter the Dragon and paid homage several times over in Tarantino’s Kill Bill (eyeball plucking, music cues and all). At its heart a simple story of a young man Lieh Lo’s journey into adulthood and feuding families seeking superiority through the annual martial arts tourney, the brutal beatdowns and flashy flailings are surprisingly effective, as are the filmmakers’ willingness to sacrifice just about any character to the cause. Venoms, which unfurls the tale of a quintet of martial artists – each schooled in a different animal fighting technique – seeking to off one another in a quest for hidden treasure, is a little zanier, with more mystical spells and wire-fu in play, but no less entertaining.




POWELL/PRESSBURGER TRIPLE PLAY
Red Shoes, The (1948)
(1st viewing) d. Powell, Michael/Pressburger, Emeric
Small Back Room, The (1949) (1st viewing) d. Powell, Michael/Pressburger, Emeric
Tales of Hoffmann, The (1951) (1st viewing) d. Powell, Michael/Pressburger, Emeric
Horror fans likely know Powell’s name (or at least they should) from his UK slasher granddaddy Psycho counterpart Peeping Tom, but before making the masterpiece that ostensibly destroyed his career, he was one half of a filmmaking team that turned out distinguished, commercially successful and critically lauded features of every stripe. Cases in point: the gorgeous melodrama of rising prima ballerina Moira Shearer in Red Shoes to Back Room’s claustrophobic b/w war drama about David Farrar’s wounded veteran struggles with the bottle, bureaucracy, and boobytrapped bombs to the gorgeous staging, cinematography (Freddie Francis) and production design of Jacques Offenbach’s opera Tales of Hoffmann. When you’ve got Martin Scorsese and George A. Romero in your corner, you must be doing something right (though I must confess that the final scene in Shoes is a unapologetic load of hooey, introducing a fantastical reverse deus ex machina in order to, ahem, shoehorn on an unhappy ending to mirror the original Hans Christian Andersen story).




TAKIN’ IT TO THE STREETS
Across 110th Street (1972)
(1st viewing) d. Shear, Barry
When an NYC Italian/Negro drug deal is soured by an independent third party, turmoil reins for police officials Anthony Quinn and Yaphett Kotto who are left tussling with each other’s personal racial biases as they struggle to keep the city from exploding beneath their feet. Not your average blaxploitation flick, though it is often categorized as such, with rich, complex characters and viciously brutal sequences which elicit more groans of empathy than enthusiastic cheers. Standouts include the two leads, as well as Paul Benjamin, Anthony Franciosa, Antonio Fargas, Gloria Hendry, Richard Ward. Look sharp for Burt Young in the opening sequence.

Panic in the Streets (1950) (1st viewing) d. Kazan, Elia
Fans of Steven Soderbergh’s recent infection drama Contagion should do themselves the favor of checking out Kazan’s superbly effective thriller based on similar subject matter in a smaller microcosm – in this case, New Orleans. An illegal immigrant carrying pneumonic plague sits down at the wrong card table his first night in country, unwittingly infecting everyone he comes in contact with, including hoods Jack Palance and Zero Mostel. It’s up to Richard Widmark’s determined government health official and police captain Paul Douglas to track the now-dead man’s movements before the infection spreads beyond the city’s populace and/or the newspapers catch wind of the story, sparking a mass exodus. All the performances are strong, but watching “Walter Jack Palance” in his film debut is something of a revelation, making Widmark’s presence all the more ironic considering the lead’s similar breakout in Kiss of Death only three years prior.

Side Street (1950) (1st viewing) d. Mann, Anthony
A serviceable noir programmer, with Farley Granger as an expectant father/part-time mail carrier who yields to temptation when a $35K bundle makes itself available. Unsurprisingly, the mob characters want their missing dough back, but by the time the would-be thief is ready to make amends, he’s already been flim-flammed several times over and now sits multiple degrees away from the loot. Cathy O’Donnell shares top billing as his doormat wife with a heart of gold, but Granger (never one of my faves) is too much of a wishy-washy sap to generate much empathy. Not bad, but not notable either. With Jean Hagen, James Craig, Paul Kelly and reliable character man Paul Harvey.


2012 Totals to date: 55 films, 50 1st time views, 19 horror, 1 cinema

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fool's Views (2/6 - 2/12)


Ah, gentle friends, gather ye ‘round while I spin tales of the journeys mine eyes have seen…

In other words, AC’s back with some more blithering blathering, y’all. The Views erred a bit more on the non-horror side this time around, although there was plenty of wild and woolly viddying and the term “civilian” deserves its quotations when one realizes that this is far from your everyday multiplex fodder. Nay, it was babes behind bars and narcissism run amok, Soviet sci-fi and satiric biopics. But while the horror menu was slim, it was prime…as you shall see.

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

Enjoy!

HORROR:


Things (1989)
(1st viewing) d. Jordan, Andrew
Seriously, there are no words to describe the astonishing transcendent awfulness of this Canadian DIY Super-8/16mm feature. Fellow cinematic adventurer Dave Kosanke and I both looked at each other when it was over and said, "I can safely say I've never seen anything like that before. And that's saying something." Absolutely one of the worst-produced films ever to see legit release, and yet, so completely ineptly terrible on every single level that you just can't stop watching. It’s as close to a waking nightmare as you can imagine, where a sort of internal illogic takes over. Why is that guy taking off his coat and putting it in the freezer? Why are those guys just talking calmly while that bloody bug is crawling out of his wife's belly? Why does it sound like everyone is dubbed twice? Why is porn star Amber Lynn playing a (clothed) TV news reporter who seems to have omniscient knowledge about the events within this little Nova Scotia house when it's happening right now and there is no one else around? Does it not bother anyone that she's clearly looking five feet offscreen to read her lines? These and many other questions will confound your synapses for the 95 minutes it takes to realize director Jordan and lead actor Barry Gillis’ screenplay’s hazy vision, but by the end there will only be a sense of great accomplishment and the profound realization of having ventured where very few can claim to have gone. You’ve seen some THINGS



Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape (2010) (1st viewing) d. West, Jake
Extraordinary documentary about the feverish political climate in early 1980s England which resulted in the criminalization of owning or distributing any one of 72 horror and exploitation film titles dubbed as “video nasties,” capable of debauching and polluting the free-thinking minds of anyone who might encounter them. West collects a wonderful array of talking heads to weigh in on the matter, most of whom understandably boggle at the absurdity of a democratic political body that would agree to such measures, although there are also a few who staunchly believe that they acted for the good of their fellow man. Remember, my friends, this ACTUALLY HAPPENED, and it wasn’t all that long ago. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.




CIVILIAN:

Hollywood Boulevard (1976)
(1st viewing) d. Arkush, Allan/Dante, Joe
When they were but young turks at the Corman factory, co-directors Arkush and Dante assembled a game cast and a whole lot of recycled footage to crank out this inordinately inexpensive (reportedly shot in 10 days on a $60,000 budget) and wildly entertaining send-up of the exploitation film industry. Following hopeful starlet Candice Rialson as she attempts to break into the biz, viewers are treated to women in cages, roads of rages, popping tops and big-blam-booms… mostly from previous Corman features (thinly disguised as Miracle Pictures – “If it’s a good movie, it’s a Miracle.”) While the sexual assault humor does not go down quite as easily in this “enlightened” age, there’s still a lot to like and admire here, especially Mary Woronov’s fussy starlet, Paul Bartel’s preening artiste, and Dick Miller’s hustling huckster talent agent.



Louis C.K.: Hilarious (2010) (1st viewing) d. C.K., Louis
Guy’s funny, no question about it. A little reliant on shock humor, but sometimes he’s saying what you’re subconsciously thinking, which is pretty sharp.



Room, The (2003) (1st viewing) d. Wiseau, Tommy
It’s almost fitting that I should finally catch up with this midnight movie sensation the same week that I encounter Things and the week after revisiting the legendary Pieces. My initial reaction throughout was, “While I get that Wiseau’s quadruple-barreled ego-trip (starring, writing, directing, producing…and executive producing (!)) is ineptly made on every level and has some choice moments, this is astonishingly boring.” For me, a truly great bad movie doesn't need the communal experience or running audience commentary – the WTF factor should be juice enough. Obviously, a communal experience can enhance a film's impact, but I gotta admit, mostly I was just waiting for it to be over.




IT’S GETTING HOT IN HERE, I’M GONNA TAKE MY CLOTHES OFF








Caged Heat (1974)
(1st viewing) d. Demme, Jonathan










Chained Heat (1983) (1st viewing) d. Nicholas, Paul












A pair of self-aware WIP (women in prison) flicks that deliver all the scuzzy male characters, obligatory shower scenes, catfights, inmate uprising, lady-on-lady lovin’ and shock-tastic torture sequences that made the subgenre great while deliberately going above and beyond the call of duty in order to call attention to conventions without tipping into parody. While the young Demme’s directorial debut boasts plenty of blood, boobs and bitches (courtesy of Russ Meyer protégé Erica Gavin, Roberta Collins, Juanita Brown and Barbara Steele as the tyrannical wheelchair-bound warden), it’s tough to compete with the sleazy sexy star power of Linda Blair, Sybil Danning, Stella Stevens, John Vernon, Henry Silva, Tamara Dobson and Kendal Kaldwell. Bottom line, if you’re looking for the real deal, these are two great places to start.



WALKIN’ & STALKIN’

Stalker (1979)
(1st viewing) d. Tarkovsky, Andrei
While watching this epic exercise in sci-fi dystopia, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Samuel Beckett’s immortal work, Waiting for Godot. I have tried to watch this “masterpiece” on at least five different occasions, and each time, while I recognize the impressiveness of the talents on the page and the stage, I have never managed to keep from woolgathering and/or dozing off. There are some incredibly striking moments of imagery, insight, humanity and absurdity within the Soviet auteur’s tone poem, but there is also an oppressive monotony to the proceedings that hammered this viewer’s attention span and eyelids into submission. No denying its importance or brilliance, but perhaps too rich a meal for one sitting.



Walker (1987) (1st viewing) d. Cox, Alex
Blistering indictment of the U.S.’s involvement in 1980s Nicaragua through Cox’s anachronism-filled retelling of American religious fanatic/mercenary William Walker who actually served as the country’s president from 1856-1857. Part Spaghetti Western, part period biopic, this extraordinary, bloody, funny, fearless political satire – featuring a flawlessly cast Ed Harris, Richard Masur, Peter Boyle, Rene Auberjonois, Xander Berkely, Gerritt Graham, post-Oscar-win Marlee Matlin and Santa Sangre’s Blanca Guerra) – ostensibly destroyed the director’s Hollywood career. Our loss, my friends, our loss.


2012 Totals to date: 40 films, 38 1st time views, 16 horror, 1 cinema

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fool's Views (1/30 – 2/5)

Hey troops,

Well, whaddya know, more or less on schedule and with a truckload of flicks as well. Gotta love it.

January came and went without me getting to the cinema once. However, I was finally lured out into the wilds last Friday in order to see one of my favorite trashy horror flicks on the big screen, and it was a magical night. Thanks to Mr. John Pata for scooting his fine behind down to Brewtown and making it happen. Other than that, though, it was all new first-time viewings courtesy of the magic window on the wall or on the desk, and considering the richness of the dishes, I have no complaints at all. Special shout out to fellow fiend Dave Kosanke for hosting one of my favorite synapse-sizzling Views of the week – details below.

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

Enjoy!

HORROR:

How Awful About Allan (1970)
(1st viewing) d. Harrington, Curtis
Anthony Perkins stars as a troubled mental patient, psychosomatically blinded by guilt over having accidentally set his father on fire and scarring sister Julie Harris in the process. After being released to stay with her at the old family abode, Perkins starts to suspect their new boarder is trying to kill him (but cannot identify the assailant due to his infirmity). Though there aren’t a whole lot of surprises, Harrington generates a reasonable amount of tension via scenes viewed through Perkins’ obscured vision, with Joan Hackett lending able support as a former flame.



Panic (1982) (1st viewing) d. Ricci, Tonio (as Anthony Richmond)
A scientist meddling in things best left alone finds himself transformed into a slobbering, melting, moaning, limping freak lurching around a small English village draining the locals of their precious bodily fluids. Superstud cop David Warbeck (playing a character called…wait for it…Captain Kirk) proceeds to run around the country tracking the invincible beast, who is now inexplicably superstrong and impervious to bullets. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds, even with the occasional bloodletting, oozing, or smattering of female nudity, although the “ticking clock” of whether our heroes will be able to corner their quarry before the Army “contains” the town with an air strike of nerve gas is pretty amusing.




Pieces (1982) (4th viewing) d. Simon, J.P.
“You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!” screamed the ad line, and boy, they weren’t kidding. This legendary Spanish splatterfest doles out the gore by the bucketload, but what really sets it apart are the astonishing lapses in narrative logic and the wealth of buh-rilliantly inept performances by Christopher George, Susan Day George, Edward Purdom, Paul Smith…heck, pretty much everyone involved! In addition to the already loopy plot about a killer assembling a dream girl from hacked-off sections of his victims, viewers are treated to jaw-dropping onscreen moments that include the most random kung fu attack in cinema history and Day George’s immortal line reading of “Bastard! BAAAAAASTARD! BASTARRRRD!” Seriously, this is must-see material for gorehounds and bad movie lovers alike, and seeing it on the big screen (Milwaukee’s Times Theater) with a great crowd just made it that much better.





Visitor, The (1979)
(1st viewing) d. Paradise, Michael J.
Ovido Assonitis, the visionary behind such schlock classics as Beyond the Door, Tentacles (and supposedly a goodly portion of Piranha II: The Spawning), wrote and produced this mind-blowing epic slice of cheese featuring an A-list cast in service of a sci-fi Christian parable comprised of equal parts The Omen, The Bad Seed, Rosemary’s Baby, Ice Castles, The Birds, Close Encounters, The Star Chamber and The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh. While single mother Joanne Nail is wooed by Lance Henriksen’s basketball team owner, her daughter Paige Conner is revealed to be the spawn of an extraterrestrial terrorist hunted in taciturn fashion by godlike John Huston. Glenn Ford, Franco Nero, Mel Ferrer, Shelley Winters, and Sam Peckinpah also engage in the madness, which consists of multiple creative “accidents,” random aviary attacks, randomer ice-rink brawls, big-screen Pong tournaments, rooftop light shows, and one exploding basketball. Nothing makes a lick of sense, but it’s never ever boring (especially when Franco Micalizzi’s inappropriately bombastic score kicks into high gear, which happens early and often). High-five to DK for hooking a Fool up.





THE THRILL OF THE HUNT:

Mutant Hunt (1987)
(1st viewing) d. Kincaid, Tim
From the 80s heyday of straight-to-video lunacy comes writer/director Kincaid’s (Breeders, Robot Holocaust) tale of cyborgs-gone-wrong, with healthy doses of futuristic fashion sense, buff dudes with great hair, crappy fight choreography, illicit drug use, impressive practical gore and animatronic f/x, and dum-dum comedy to keep the gears turning. Even so, things get a little boggy in the final stretch, even with the slim 75-minute running time, and while there were ample opportunities and a lot of teasing, bare female flesh is glaringly absent from the proceedings. There’s even a gratuitous shower scene where the lovely lass in question steps out of the stall, the top of her black bikini clearly apparent at the bottom of the frame (odd considering Kincaid’s adult film background, which he would later return to). Still, an entertaining beer n’ chips time-waster from a bygone era.




Wild Hunt, The (2009) (1st viewing) d. Franchi, Alexandre
Terrific Canadian indie feature set in the world of LARPing (aka Live Action Role Playing, i.e. turning your average group of Dungeons and Dragons players loose in the countryside to do “battle” armed with foam swords and Renn Faire-speak). What’s most remarkable about Franchi’s script (co-written with star Mark Antony Krupa) is that it both mocks and celebrates the participants’ imagination and dedication to the fantasy world they’ve created. We’re introduced into the pageantry through the eyes of Krupa’s “Viking” character’s younger brother Ricky Mabe, there to retrieve sultry/conflicted girlfriend Tiio Horn who has escaped his clutches to play “captured princess” for the weekend; his overt scorn for the players’ enthusiasm surprisingly endears them further to us, the viewer. As emotions run high, the lines of fantasy and reality are inevitably blurred, whereupon bad things happen to good people in the best tragic ways. Now streaming on Netflix and well worth checking out.




CIVILIAN:


Buried (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Cortes, Rodrigo
The same year that James Franco was Oscar-nominated for playing a character whose arm is trapped under a boulder, director Cortes and screenwriter Chris Sparling goes one step further by secreting Ryan Reynolds’ American truck driver away inside a coffin-like box in Iraq for 95 minutes of increasingly claustrophobic screen time. Reynolds literally shares the screen with not another living soul, only sharing verbal exchanges with disembodied voices on a rapidly dying cell phone, and unlike 127 Hours, we never leave the container’s confines, making Cortes’ magic trick that much more impressive.

For Your Consideration (2006) (1st viewing) d. Guest, Christopher
While departing from his mockumentary stock-in-trade, there’s still a loosey-goosey handheld feel to the fourth of Guest’s ensemble comedies. Unfortunately, it’s also the most strained, following Catherine O’Hara’s fading screen veteran as she rides the Hollywood buzz wagon circulating her latest role, that of a dying Jewish matriarch in “Home for Purim.” Guest’s cast (which includes regulars Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Jane Lynch, Bob Balaban) does fine with what they’re given, but one might have hoped for something cleverer than the obvious Hollywood targets that he and co-writer/co-star Eugene Levy choose to skewer.

Hindenburg, The (1975) (1st viewing) d. Wise, Robert
In the disaster movies-laden 70s, a big screen, all-star telling of the infamous May 6, 1937 zeppelin tragedy must have seemed like no-brainer, but unfortunately audiences are instead treated to an airborne soap opera that doesn’t generate any significant thrills until the big-ship-goes-boom final reel. There’s a whole lot of chitter-chatter about George C. Scott’s attempts to uncover an anti-Nazi espionage plot (the film’s supposition for the catastrophe, based on Michael Mooney’s book), but ultimately we don’t care about the multitude of doomed passengers and crew, Anne Bancroft, William Atherton, Roy Thinnes, Gig Young, and Burgess Meredith among them. That said, the fiery climactic scenes, highlighted by Albert Whitlock’s team’s special effects, are undeniably impressive and worth fast-forwarding through the rest of the silliness to get to. Those only familiar with Herbert Morrison’s “Oh, the humanity!” newsreel footage (myself among them) might be surprised to learn that nearly two-thirds of the personnel on board actually survived the incident.

Peacock (2010) (1st viewing) d. Lander, Michael
Quirky character drama about Cillian Murphy’s small-town Nebraska recluse whose life is turned upside down when a politician’s whistle-stop campaign train crashes off the tracks and into his backyard…revealing his formerly secret alter ego, Emma, to the town’s surprised residents. With his “wife” now engaging with the community, Murphy’s formerly orderly existence becomes a tension-filled juggling act of dueling characters and alibis. The Irish actor impresses in both roles, with fine support from Ellen Page, Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman and Josh Lucas.

Soldier Blue (1970) (1st viewing) d. Nelson, Ralph
Rollicking Cowboys (well, Union Soldiers) and Indians adventure yarn maintains a light, even comedic tone as feisty Candice Bergen’s coarse fiancée and Peter Krause’s naïve private travel cross country after their wagon transport and escort is attacked and killed by redskins. However, the film culminates with a graphic recreation of the real-life Sand Creek tragedy of Nov. 29, 1864 where over 500 Cheyenne were massacred by heavily armed cavalry members (an obvious attempt to mirror the unpopular practices taking place in Vietnam). It’s one of the most devastating cinematic tone-switches in recent memory, and probably accounts for the film’s lesser known status today. Worth seeing.

2012 Totals to date: 31 films, 29 1st time views, 14 horror, 1 cinema

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:

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