Sunday, March 6, 2016
Fool's Views (2/1 – 2/29)
The shorter the month, the fewer the Views, if one were to believe the tale of the tape. And really, why wouldn’t you believe the tape? I mean, what has the tape ever done to you to deserve your mistrust? Then again, physical media is a dying form and it might just be trying to impress you by telling you what you want to hear. I mean, you’re reading this so-called tale of the tape on the INTERNET, for crying out loud.
But I digress.
February was actually a dynamite month for movies, with more hits than misses, and many of them viewed in the company of fellow fiends and friends – in fact, in looking at the titles below, I think I only watched one of them alone-ish (the femalien was popping in and out of Unfriended), while the rest were shared with one or more others. Perhaps this is the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown, when you don’t have to watch something like The Sinful Dwarf or Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood by your lonesome.
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
The Interior (2015) d. Juras, Trevor (Canada) (1st viewing)
Intriguing little low-budget offering from our friends to the North, following the micro-adventures of a disaffected twentysomething (Patrick McFadden) burnt out on life who is then diagnosed with an unnamed, potentially lethal condition. In response, he dumps his girlfriend, apartment, and job, heading out into the wilderness to camp his remaining days away, only to have strange goings-on show up at his door, er, tent-step. Writer/director Juras delivers several audacious flourishes (like finally showing the title card 20-odd minutes in), switching gears from dark stoner youth comedy to existential quest to waking nightmare (complete with dream logic), and while his deliberate pace and unabashed ambiguity might frustrate, there’s no denying the fellow knows how to cultivate tension and haunting atmosphere, while McFadden’s lead turn would be breakout material in a just world. Thanks to the good folks at Chicago Cinema Society for screening this little beaut.
The Land That Time Forgot (1975) d. Connor, Kevin (UK) (8th viewing)
After a German U-boat sinks a British cruiser in the waning days of WWI, the remaining survivors – led by square-jawed American Doug McClure – turn the tables on their aggressors, floating in a lifeboat until the sub surfaces and taking the Jerrys by surprise. As food supplies dwindle, an uneasy truce is drawn after they happen upon a mythical uncharted island named “Caprona” which boasts all manner of evolution from dinosaurs to cavemen. While some of the prehistoric beast effects require more than a little suspension of disbelief, the overall charm and sturdy cast’s gusto dealing with the more fantastic elements sell this bucket of corn right down the line. Special notice to John McEnry’s turn as the fair-minded U-boat captain and the lovely Susan Penhaligon (Patrick, The Confessional), the lone female presence, being presented as an intelligent and strong member of the group instead of a mere damsel in distress. Based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs story, this nostalgic treat from the Doc’s youth represented a break in studio Amicus’ omnibus cavalcade, leading to three more adventure tales directed by Connor (Motel Hell) with McClure in the lead (The People That Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core, and Warlords of Atlantis).
The Mutilator (1984) d. Cooper, Buddy (USA) (2nd viewing)
If ever there was a film to be watched with one finger firmly placed on the remote control’s “fast-forward” button, it’s this craptastic slasher flick from writer/director Cooper. Following a wonderfully dark and twisted opening where a young child, cleaning Daddy’s guns as a birthday present, accidentally blows Mom in half, the script devolves into a stupefyingly unfunny dead teenagers flick. With less motivation than a Scooby Doo episode, a group of co-eds, including our remarkably well-adjusted matricider, heads up to (where else?) his dad’s oceanside cabin for the weekend, unaware that Pop’s finally gone off the deep end and is looking for a little belated vengeance. While the onscreen characters pitch woo and rattle off teeth-gratingly bad “jokes,” we wait impatiently for these jackasses to get bumped off. Mark Shostrom and Anthony Showe’s garish and ferocious gore effects offer the only redeeming value to be found; with a couple nasty beheadings, a pitchfork or two, and a gaff hook to the groin that I’m still feeling a week later, Mutilator is as stupid as they come, but makes for a great beer n’ pizza flick with the gorehounds in your circle, with whom you will still be singing the “Fall Break” theme hours later. Available now from Arrow Video in a bright, shiny, new, extras-packed Blu-ray release.
Malatesta's Carnival of Blood (1973) d. Speeth, Christopher (USA) (1st viewing)
Whew. Having been celebrated in Stephen Thrower’s indispensable Nightmare U.S.A., I’m sure there were numerous genre aficionados eager to bear witness to this rarely-seen, never-before-available-on-home-video effort from one-off director Speeth. Sadly, it’s a clumsy and rough-hewn effort that is neither well-executed enough to pass as an actual movie, nor insane enough to satisfy as a WTF party bash. Sure, there are worthy sequences set amidst a deserted east-coast amusement park, but there are no characters to really identify with, heroes or villains. The convoluted plot involves something to do with an Evil carnival owner who may or may not be The Man Downstairs and his desire to ensnare the comely teenage daughter of a couple hellbent on destroying him… maybe. Herve Villechaize shows up in one of the many nightmare sequences, but I’ll be damned if I know what he or anyone else was doing. Even at a brief 78 minutes, it feels pretty interminable – more curiosity item than lost masterpiece deserving praise or reappraisal from a new generation. Now available from Arrow Video as part of their American Horror Project, Vol. 1.
The Sinful Dwarf (1973) d. Raski, Vidal (Denmark) (1st viewing)
This effectively sleazy and bizarre fable has our titular little person (Torben Bille) luring young women into his abode (using stuffed animals, no less!) and turning them into heroin-addicted prostitutes under the watchful gaze of equally twisted landlady Lila Lash (Clara Keller). When a young couple takes up residence in the small room for let, Lila sets her eye on the sweet young missus, hoping to incorporate her into the illicit basement antics. While not terribly suspenseful and undeniably seedy, Raski serves up enough moments of sadism and jaw-dropping weirdness to keep viewers’ attention, with Keller’s cabaret numbers the icing on the bonkers cake.
They Look Like People (2015) d. Blackshear, Perry (USA) (1st viewing)
Brilliant little microbudget feature that expertly traffics in the horror of mental illness without resorting to cheap shocks or diminishing the seriousness of the condition. Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) visits his childhood friend Christian (Evan Dumouchel), a former nerd obsessed with shedding his past and all of its accompanying insecurities, pumping iron and aurally inhaling self-help podcasts by the score. But Wyatt has larger problems on his plate, namely the delusion (or is it?) that alien forces have descended upon Earth and are in the process of assimilating humans in preparation for The Great War. Flashes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers intertwine with Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and George Romero’s Martin to create a waking nightmare where regardless of the “reality” of the situation, the end results are horrifying. Whether Wyatt is actually seeing/hearing aliens is beside the point; he believes these things are happening, and in acting accordingly, woe betide anyone who has been “assimilated” and needs to be eliminated for the betterment of mankind. Writer/director Blackshear gleans excellent performances from our two male leads as well as Margaret Ying Drake as Christian’s co-worker/object of his affection, whose vocal-fry sorority voice belies the badass chick beneath the cute exterior. Even without the horror elements, these three deliver sterling onscreen chemistry, offering up original characters as opposed to cookie-cutter plot devices. Another marvelous discovery from Chicago Cinema Society – here’s hoping TLLP receives a distribution deal soon so that the world at large can appreciate it.
Unfriended (2014) d. Gabriadze, Levan (USA) (1st viewing)
Perhaps the format of an entire horror film unfolding on a computer screen in real time has been done before, but if so, I haven’t seen it, and I genuinely admired seeing the conceit played out as skillfully and realistically as was done here. The vengeful spirit of a student, driven to suicide by online taunts, visits five of her classmates on the anniversary of her death, playing murderous head games with them during a Skype chat (as well as haranguing them on Facebook, Gmail, and YouTube). Not many of the characters have a chance to develop much sympathy (or develop, period), but Gabriadze captures a sense of verisimilitude as we watch our lead Blaire (Shirley Hennig), through whose eyes and laptop events unfold for the audience, type out half-sentences, hover over links, and bounce back and forth between internet windows. We know this world, and yet we’ve never seen it played out in this fashion. Never truly scary or shocking, but effective and engrossing nonetheless.
Apocalypto (2006) d. Gibson, Mel (USA) (3rd viewing)
It’s unfortunate that “Mad Mel” had to go loony right around the time of this film’s theatrical release – my feeling is that it would have been rightly recognized as superior to the overblown melodrama of Braveheart. This tale of a South American native jungle tribe is violent, poetic, and utterly gorgeous to behold, courtesy of Dean Semler’s wow-worthy cinematography and the sterling production team. Rudy Youngblood (as our protagonist Jaguar Paw) somehow failed to be noticed by Hollywood’s casting directors following his outstanding physical and emotional performance, although (according to IMDb) he does seem to have a few fires in the iron these days. Meanwhile, his primary onscreen antagonist, Raoul Trujillo, continues to plug along as a working journeyman actor instead of a recognizable name star; his brilliant, powerful presence here should have launched him to another level.
Blue Ruin (2013) d. Saulnier, Jeremy (USA) (2nd viewing)
A young homeless man’s (Macon Blair) life is given sinister purpose following a convict’s (Brent Werzner) early release from prison. If you have it in your power to see writer/director Saulnier’s (Murder Party) award-winning festival smash, do so. The smartest and most suspenseful film I've seen in recent years; one never knows where it’s going, yet it consistently maintains viewer interest from start to finish. My top civilian pick from 2014 holds up nicely on repeat viewings, I’m happy to report.
Comin' At Ya! (1981) d. Baldi, Ferdinando (Italy) (1st viewing)
While still capturing the dark and violent essence of the classic Spaghetti Westerns of the '60s and '70s, director Baldi imbues this 3D novelty item with so much energy and spirit that it emerges as one of the most enjoyable entries in the subgenre. As the title says, all manner of items are hurled toward the lens, from flaming arrows to jangling coins to spears to infant asscracks, all done with a straight face and a twinkle in the eye. And if you ever wanted to know where Quentin Tarantino picked up his inspiration for the wedding sequence in Kill Bill, look no further. (Blatant thievery or loving homage? You make the call.) While MVD Visual does offer a 2D version on their recent Blu-ray release, you really, REALLY owe it to yourself to track down a friend with 3D home viewing capability and watch it in its proper element. One of my favorite views of the year.
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) d. Hartley, Mark (Australia) (1st viewing)
My biggest takeaway was the sense of “Seriously, how did that company stay alive as long as it did?” Following the Roger Corman/American International model of cranking out low-budget product and selling the exploitation elements, Meneham Golan and Yoram Globus did it on a massive scale while somehow never achieving the necessary boffo box office to keep up with their dreadful output. What was really funny was realizing that there weren't many movies in their catalog where I was thinking, "Hey, I really like that film." Most are so-so if that. You know the titles (Over the Top, Masters of the Universe, Bolero, Invasion USA) and the franchises (Death Wish, Enter the Ninja, Missing in Action), so you know what I’m talking about.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) d. Vaughn, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)
Not really sure what this film wanted to be – comedy, action, spy film, spoof, superhero flick – and as such, it never really gelled for me. Everyone seems to be having fun onscreen, so maybe it was just me. I couldn’t get into Colin Firth (or the CG version thereof) kicking ass or Samuel L. Jackson doing WHATEVER THE HELL HE WAS DOING as an inconsistently lisping billionaire megalomaniac, and while the over-the-top violence is decidedly shocking within the cartoon context, I don’t know that it makes me recommend it much.
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993) d. Zaillian, Steve (USA) (4th viewing)
Despite James Horner’s shameless recycling of his Field of Dreams musical score, I’ve consistently enjoyed this based-on-true-events examination of being a child prodigy and the effects it has on a family at large. Max Pomeranc stars as Josh Waitzkin, one of the youngest chess masters of all time, and writer/director Zaillian surrounds him with a brilliant cast that includes Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen as his supportive but conflicted parents, Laurence Fishburne and Ben Kingsley as Josh’s chess instructors from very different sides of the tracks, with David Paymer, William H. Macy, Dan Hedaya, Laura Linney, and Tony Shaloub holding the center in various supporting roles. One tiny quibble – what’s with the weird 2-second shot of Josh assembling a bunch of chess pieces like some kind of balancing master? What does that even have to do with his chess skills? Is he a savant of equilibrium physics as well?
Sonny Boy (1989) d. Carroll, Robert Martin (USA) (1st viewing)
In a remote desert town, psychopathic petty crook Slue (Paul Smith, Pieces), his long-haired toadie (Brad Dourif), and his transvestite girlfriend (David Carradine) accidentally kidnap an orphaned infant, then decide to cage it like an animal and train it to steal and kill on command. Years later, the feral-but-hunky youth escapes and embarks on a bloody rampage, prompting the local under-Slue’s-thumb populace into vengeful retaliation. Carradine in a wig and dress is the catnip luring you to the party, but this is pretty much WTF-fuel from start to finish. Not to be missed and available now from Shout! Factory.
The Trip to Italy (2014) d. Winterbottom, Michael (UK) (1st viewing)
British TV personalities Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon gallivant around Italy, “reviewing” restaurants in this hugely enjoyable follow-up to their hugely enjoyable 2010 outing, The Trip. As before, Coogan and Brydon play themselves (or at least wickedly funny versions of themselves); bickering, riffing, spontaneous sing-offs, and celebrity impersonations abound, with a great deal of warmth and human foibles lending weight to the proceedings.
2016 Totals to date: 38 films, 29 1st time views, 15 horror, 3 cinema