Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Fool's Views (1/1 - 1/31)
So, it’s been a slow-ish start to the new year, especially in terms of longer reviews, but I’m okay with this if you are. January’s Views consisted primarily of Share the Scares with my fellow Chicago blood brothers, working through the SAG Award nominee screeners, chill time with the femalien, and a couple trips to the local library; while nothing really blew my doors off, there were definitely some high points amidst the hype.
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Evil Dead Trap (1988) Ikeda, Toshiharu (Japan) (2nd viewing)
I remembered seeing this about 10 years ago, just as I was starting to dig into “wild and weird” Asian cinema, but couldn’t remember much about it except a few juicy gore sequences. Well, there’s a reason for that, because the story (a news reporter and her team track down the source of a mysterious videotape to a foreboding deserted warehouse) lives in an uncanny world of nightmare logic and there’s not a whole heck of a lot to hang onto. Still has some pretty juicy gore sequences, though.
Luther the Geek (1990) Albright, Carlton J. (USA) (3rd viewing)
Mentally (and physically, since his teeth were knocked out) scarred from witnessing a sideshow act in “1938 rural Illinois,” Luther Watts (Edward Terry) grows up to be a special kind of psychotic: one that bites the heads off chickens, sucks down raw eggs in the supermarket, and chomps unsuspecting human victims with his razor sharp metal teeth, all the while bawking like a motherclucker. Bizarre but fully committed weirdness bogs down in the middle, then builds to a climax that has to be seen to be believed, one against which all other resourceful final girl showdowns should be measured. (Big props to actress Joan Roth for going there.) A decade before, Albright and Terry co-wrote the script for the radioactive zombie tyke schlocker The Children, while enthusiastic pop-topping ingénue Stacy Haiduk went on to enjoy a robust television career (Superboy, Seaquest 2032, and several soaps).
Ghost Warrior (1984) Carroll, J. Larry (USA) (1st viewing)
“Fish out of water” tropes abound when a wounded samurai falls into a frozen stream and is thawed out 400 years later in modern day Los Angeles. Misleading title, since there’s really not much in the way of ghosts or anything supernatural, although there’s plenty of slashing and bashing as the bladed one encounters hoodlums, thieves, and nogoodniks looking to challenge him. Not bad, but supremely formulaic.
When Animals Dream (2014) Arnby, Jonas Alexander (Denmark) (1st viewing)
Slow-paced but worthwhile werewolf yarn that lives up to its rep as the art-house version of Ginger Snaps, with a young woman (Sonia Suhl) exhibiting signs of her hairy heritage as she evolves into sexual maturity. A film that I found myself appreciating more than loving, but one that’s certainly worth checking out for the practical makeup effects and grounded performances.
THEY GROW ‘EM BIG OUT EAST
Daimajin (1966) Yasuda, Kimiyoshi (Japan) (1st viewing)
Big statue comes to life to protect a village from warlords, but it takes a loooooooooong time to get there. Great special effects with live-action interacting with miniatures and split-screens. Hats off to compadre and mutual monster masher Dan Kiggins for purchasing and piloting this one.
Return of Daimajin (1966) Misumi, Kenji (Japan) (1st viewing)
Would you believe it’s the same big statue? And yet, somehow, it takes another looooooooooong time to wake up and start smashing. This one also has a lot more kids running around, presumably looking to rope in the Gamera fans. Feel free to fast forward to the one-hour mark – you’re not missing much, especially not what you came for.
Mighty Peking Man, The (aka Goliathon) (1977) Ho, Meng Hua (Hong Kong) (1st viewing)
Bonkers riff on King Kong sees big game hunter Danny Lee heading off to capture the famed oversized titular gorilla, only to run into leather bikini’d blonde bombshell Evelyne Kraft who turns out to be the beast’s favorite gal pal. To no one’s surprise, the gargantuan ape gets dragged back to civilization where he gets ticked off and smashes the city to pieces. Loopy and super fun.
Battlefield Earth (2000) Christian, Roger (USA) (1st viewing)
Yup. Just as bananas and colossally inept as I’d heard. Just had to find out for myself. So much pushy-blur cinematography and slow-mo yelling, but John Travolta’s inscrutable accent is the icing on this caca cake.
Batwoman, The (1968) Cardona, Rene (Mexico) (1st viewing)
Energetic tale of female do-gooder Maura Monti who doubles as a wrestler and a crime fighter, wearing racier versions of Adam West’s duds from the classic TV show. Here, she’s faced with the challenge of a mad scientist looking to create a race of amphibian fishmen and RULE THE WORLD. Good stuff.
Crow, The (1994) Proyas, Alex (USA) (3rd viewing)
Still a visual treat 22 years on, although I thought there was more martial arts action than there actually is. Not to speak ill of the tragically demised, but... Brandon Lee? Not a great actor. That said, he’s supported by an incredible array of character actors who elevate the so-so script: Jon Polito, Michael Wincott, David Patrick Kelly, Bai Ling, and “I totally forgot he was in this” Tony Todd.
Lego Movie, The (2014) Lord, Phil / Miller, Christopher (USA) (1st viewing)
Everybody seemed to unreservedly love love love this movie, and while it’s good, I don’t know that it’s the unequivocal instant classic I was envisioning. Chalk up my mild disappointment to elevated expectations. However, Morgan Freeman has never been funnier.
Never Let Me Go (2010) Romanek, Mark UK/(USA) (1st viewing)
Dark and brooding sci-fi of an alternate reality where clones are created specifically for the purpose of providing organ transplants as needed by the “real” populace. We spend time in the company of three of these clones, played by Keira Knightly, Carey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield, and learn that – surprise surprise – they have souls and emotions just like regular humans. Not the feel-good movie of the year, but thought-provoking and unquestionably well-produced and performed.
Primer (2004) Carruth, Shane (USA) (2nd viewing)
One-man wrecking machine Shane Carruth starred, wrote, directed, produced, edited, scored, and designed the sound for this wildly inventive stellar mind-twisting time travel sci-fi effort. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, here is proof positive that a miniscule budget ($7,000) does not dictate low intellectual quality nor does it require everything to be shot from a “first person found footage” POV.
Spectacular Now, The (2013) Ponsoldt, James (USA) (1st viewing)
I was urged to see this by Kicking the Seat’s head honcho Ian Simmons preceding our viewing of Ponsoldt's The End of the Tour last year, and while it’s a pretty solid and honest look at high school and modern youth, when our main character is a complete self-centered jerkwad as played by Miles Teller (yeah, yeah, he’s got a ton of family issues that contribute to this, but he’s also just kind of a prick), I felt myself starting to disconnect. Some bright flashes, but not the love affair I was hoping for.
Straight into Darkness (2004) Burr, Jeff (USA) (1st viewing)
Originally thought this was a horror flick from our friend Mr. Burr (From a Whisper to a Scream, Pumpkinhead II), but instead it’s a personal, low-budget, would-be WWII epic that showcases ambition more than compelling filmmaking. Considering the financial constraints, I have to give him credit for his multitude of camera set-ups and other visual stunts, as well as some unique story elements (wounded orphans hiding in a church), but it’s ultimately a test of endurance and goodwill.
Big Short, The (2015) McKay, Adam (USA) (1st viewing)
As much as I liked what he was doing, I don’t understand Christian Bale’s Oscar nod for supporting actor here, especially when Steve Carell is knocking it out of the park with a completely unlikable character who ultimately becomes our hero amidst the housing market disaster of 2008.
Brooklyn (2015) Crowley, John (Ireland) (1st viewing)
Nice job by all involved in this coming-of-age story of an Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan) finding her way in NYC, but it’s just not my cuppa Guinness.
Danish Girl, The (2015) Hooper, Tom (UK/USA) (1st viewing)
Another one where I’m not quite sure I understand all the hoopla. Eddie Redmayne is all smiles and tears, in and out of female garb, but his character remains at an arm’s length throughout. Alicia Vikander is stellar as his unbelievably patient and supportive wife (with even more smiles and tears), and it is to her character that our sympathies go.
Revenant, The (2015) Iñárritu, Alejandro González (USA) (1st viewing)
Undeniably impressive on a technical level (the CG bear attack manages to completely engage despite the fact that you never forget it’s a CG bear), but I found myself admiring it more than emotionally engaged until the final 45 minutes when Leonardo DiCaprio’s and Tom Hardy’s characters (finally) get back within striking range of one another.
Room (2015) Abrahamson, Lenny (Canada) (1st viewing)
Utterly fascinating scenario (based on Emma Donoghue’s novel, itself based on true events) where a young woman (Brie Larson) and her son (Jacob Tremblay) are kept imprisoned in a shed for years, keeping their sanity intact by constantly playing out the game of life in miniature. Don’t read anything else about it. Just see it.
Steve Jobs (2015) Boyle, Danny (USA) (1st viewing)
Holy crap, that guy was a dick.
KEEPING IT REAL (DOCUMENTARIES)
Best of Enemies (2015) Gordon, Robert / Neville, Morgan (USA) (1st viewing)
Sterling look at Gore Vidal vs. William F. Buckley in their famed live debates during the 1968 presidential campaign.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015) Gibney, Alex (USA) (1st viewing)
Seriously, who falls for this? I mean, I want to feel sorry for those who end up locked in rooms and abused and kept under the thumb of the secret society, but COME ON. IT’S THE DUMBEST CULT EVER.
2016 Totals to date: 23 films, 19 1st time views, 8 horror, 1 cinema