Sunday, May 8, 2016
Fool's Views (4/1 – 4/30)
How do you, my friends?
Apologies for the delay in posting the April Views. My plan was to catch up on them during my overseas flight to Barcelona where I am currently serving on crew for the Enlightened Warrior Training Camp. However, as fate would have it, my international travels were equipped with a ton of in-flight flickers that I had more than a passing interest in, and so, instead of scribbling about the films I’d already seen that month, I decided to pack another quartet in. Such is the fate of the Obsessive/Compulsive Cinephile.
Speaking of the OCC, a goodly portion of the films consumed this month were spent in the company of Oshkosh blood brother John Pata who had come down to Chicago to catch Green Room on the big screen during its opening weekend… only to find out that “opening weekend” only included New York and L.A. I mean, come ON, what the hell???? Still, we made the most of it, tucking into five films on Saturday in the cinema and then another five at Chez AC for the monthly Share the Scare session. (Yep, four for four so far this year, with May’s date already penciled in.)
The impromptu Jason Bateman mini-festival was the result of my growing appreciation for the Arrested Development star, who knocked me out last year with his dramatic performance in the wildly underappreciated 2012 effort, Disconnect. Well, a random viewing of Bad Words – his directorial debut – during an out-of-town friend’s visit sparked my scouring of the public library shelves and Netflix offerings. I won’t say that JB has the most diverse of thespian skill sets, but when he’s in his zone, there’s no one who does what he does quite like he does. (Joel Edgerton somehow popped up in three movies as well, but that was unintentional, so he doesn’t get his own heading.)
As always, please feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Bite (2015) d. Archibald, Chad (Canada) (1st viewing)
Urgh. What could have been a fun indie gross-out flick turns out to be total drag in the hands of director Archibald. Jayme Laforest’s script about a bride-to-be bitten by a toxic insect during a "girls gone wild" trip to Costa Rica clearly has potential, but with no sympathetic characters (or characters at all, for that matter) or dramatic tension, her subsequent transformation into a low-rent, egg-spewing Brundlefly delivers no impact whatsoever. The sub-par performances and prudish framing (i.e. no nudity during the sex scenes, kiddos) don’t help matters.
Cherry Falls (2000) d. Wright, Geoffrey (USA) (2nd viewing)
This wannabe-ironic slasher movie manages to turn a genre convention or two on its ear, but ends up wandering very familiar blood-spattered roads. In the town of Cherry Falls, a homicidal maniac is targeting virgins as victims, flying in the face of the usual equation “sexuality = death.” To avoid ending up on the slab, the town’s adolescent community frantically looks to couple up, juxtaposing the apprehension of “the first time” with sheer survivalism. (If you can’t get a date in this town, you’re in big trouble.) Sad to say, besides Ken Selden’s few clever bits of dialogue, there is nothing distinctive about the film. The acting by unlikely virgin Brittany Murphy, concerned father/town sheriff Michael Biehn, and nebbish good-guy teacher Jay Mohr is competent enough, and there is a fair amount of splatter for the fans. There just doesn’t seem to be enough there there, doubly surprising for those who have seen the Australian helmer’s incendiary skinhead saga Romper Stomper. (Via the supplemental materials on Shout Factory’s recent Blu-ray release, we learn that a lot of the gore and sexuality hit the cutting room floor as a result of studio trims, but even so.) Had he and Selden explored, for example, the panicked parents’ conundrum of their children’s morality versus their mortality (as opposed to the convoluted “vengeance visited on sins of the past” storyline), a more substantial offering might have emerged. Instead, it slips from the brain before the credits have finished rolling, with only its sophomoric title lingering in the memory.
Destroyer (1988) d. Kirk, Robert (USA) (1st viewing)
Seriously, folks, how do you screw this one up? You’ve got ex-football great Lyle Alzado as a freakish serial killer back from the grave following his electric chair execution, haunting the very prison where he met his end. You’ve got Anthony Perkins as a frustrated low budget exploitation film director shooting his latest skin flick epic in said prison, bringing with him a load of comely cast and crew members to be offed. You’ve got '80s cuties Deborah Foreman and Clayton Rohner as the lead stuntwoman and screenwriter, respectively. And yet, by introducing random characters providing random backstories that never pay off coupled with (mostly) ho-hum kills, the whole enterprise limps along for an interminable 100 minutes. That said, watching Rohner’s unfortunate stunt double get mercilessly mauled by Alzado during a fight sequence is an unqualified highlight. Available now from Shout! Factory as a no-frills double feature with Perkins’ Jekyll/Hyde outing, Edge of Sanity.
Intruders (2015) d. Schindler, Adam (USA) (1st viewing)
Terrific indie twist on the home invasion subgenre, with wounded spinster Beth Riesgraf mourning the recent death of her brother, but due to her chronic agoraphobia, she is unable to leave the house to attend his funeral. Unfortunately for her, this means she is still home when a trio of thieves (Jack Kesy, Martin Starr, Joshua Mikel) breaks in to pillage the joint. Unfortunately for them, their potential victim has a few family skeletons in the closet that come out to play. Rory Culkin offers fine support as a sympathetic Meals-on-Wheels delivery driver. To say more would be a disservice to the surprises in store for the viewers and antagonists alike.
It Runs in the Family: Making of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (2006) d. Felsher, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)
For fans of Tobe Hooper’s divisive 1986 sequel to his own timeless classic, this feature-length collection of interviews with the cast and crew offers some enjoyable anecdotes and reflection, but it’s not so much a true cohesive documentary as it is ramshackle assemblage of featurettes and Hooper’s absence is more than a little conspicuous. The end result is casually enjoyable, but only true TCM2 fans need apply. Available as part of Shout! Factory’s recent two-disc Blu-ray release.
The Hallow (2015) d. Hardy, Corin (UK) (1st viewing)
When a London-based conservationist (Joseph Mawle) is sent to Ireland with his wife (Bojana Novakovic) and infant child to survey an area of forest believed to be hallowed ground by superstitious locals, his actions unwittingly disturb a horde of demonic creatures who prey upon the lost. I really enjoyed the use of practical creature effects and interesting spin on ancient curses, but the characters are thinly drawn with Novakovic’s doormat female presence especially off-putting. A mixed bag, but one that will probably go down easier upon subsequent viewings with expectations properly adjusted.
Heartless (2009) d. Ridley, Philip (UK) (1st viewing)
Amateur photographer Jim Sturgess has more than his share of issues: mourning his deceased father, living in gang-plagued East London, and bearing a heart-shaped birthmark that covers the left side of his face. He develops a crush on aspiring model Clemence Poesey, but his crippling self-doubt keeps him from approaching. After his mother is murdered by a group of hostile hoodies (who may or may not be demons), the young man contemplates self-slaughter whereupon he is visited by the mysterious Papa B (played by, coincidentally enough, The Hallow’s Joseph Mawle) who offers to remove the birthmark and bring happiness in exchange for a small, ahem, favor or two. Ridley is the writer/director of The Reflecting Skin, and while it never quite reaches the poetic heights of that singular effort, there’s no denying this as another brilliant example of intelligent and emotional genre filmmaking.
Hush (2015) d. Flanagan, Mike (USA) (1st viewing)
The creator of Absentia and Oculus re-teams with Blumhouse for this not-bad home invasion thriller that offers the novelty of a deaf protagonist, played by co-screenwriter Kate Siegel. She and Flanagan get a lot of details correct, such as the use of flashing alarm lights and relay phone services, which adds an air of authenticity to the proceedings. That said, it’s just another home invasion thriller set in the boonies, with just another no-reason nihilist killer (John Gallagher Jr.) doling out the intermittent carnage. Effective but nowhere near as innovative as Flanagan’s first two features – here’s hoping that a) his next film explores more original terrain and b) that it earns a wider theatrical release.
HAPPY LV-426, EVERYONE
Alien (1979) d. Scott, Ridley (USA) (6th viewing)
The unforgettable tag-line “In space, no one can hear you scream” heralded the arrival of this masterpiece of sci-fi/horror. When the commercial space vessel Nostromo responds to a distress signal on an unknown planet, one of their crew is attacked by a bizarre, crab/octopus-like life form. Over the course of several hours, the seemingly indestructible creature threatens all of their lives, evolving and exhibiting horrifically distinctive characteristics: acidic blood, rows and rows of retractable teeth, white-hot intelligence, and a fierce predatory instinct. Combining the “Boo!” factor of a suspenseful haunted house story with the dread of an unstoppable psychopathic slasher, Scott ratchets the tension up to a heart-stopping level that is often sought but rarely achieved. With the elements of a superlative cast (including newcomer Sigourney Weaver), Dan O’Bannon’s unrelenting screenplay, astonishing scenic design, Oscar-winning special effects, and H. R. Giger’s nightmarishly original alien design, the film delivers dramatic scenes and gory images that sear the viewer’s mind, lingering long after the final reel unspools. Unveiled in the wake of Star Wars and Close Encounters’ fuzzy, friendly extra-terrestrials, the film knocked audiences for a loop, and has lost none of its power after nearly 40 years and multiple sequels and spin-offs.
Aliens (1986) d. Cameron, James (USA) (7th viewing)
What could be more nail-biting than Ridley Scott’s Alien? More Aliens, of course. What could easily have been an exploitative disaster turns into cinematic gold in the hands of writer/director James Cameron, who delivers that rare and wonderful thing: a sequel that actually rivals its source. The action picks up fifty-seven years later, with Nostromo’s lone survivor, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), found drifting in suspended animation. Upon awakening, she reveals her encounter with the creature, only to discover that industrious business types have colonized the planet in question. When contact with the colonists is lost, a gung-ho group of space Marines (including a star-making turn from Bill Paxton, alongside Jenette Goldstein and Michael Biehn) is sent to assess and rectify the situation, with Ripley reluctantly accompanying as advisor. The sharply directed film places its emphasis on explosive action and suspense, and the memorable heroes and villains (human and otherwise) in Cameron’s script are colorfully fleshed out by his game and willing cast. Weaver returns to the role with a vengeance, creating a multi-layered character that believably evolves from frightened victim to machine-gun toting heroine, and her efforts earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (astounding not only for the genre, but for a sequel, no less.) Special effects whiz Stan Winston pulls out all the stops, giving us hordes of ill-tempered aliens that assault the human infantry with breath-taking ferocity, and the climactic showdown between Ripley and the mother of all Aliens is one for the ages.
Criminal (2016) d. Vromen, Ariel (USA) (1st viewing)
Special agent Ryan Reynolds’ memories get implanted into career criminal Kevin Costner’s mind to recover the details behind an international plot, while Gary Oldman cashes his check by screaming every single line. A serviceable enough action drama, with Costner enjoying his new career track as a crusty old badass.
Eliminators (1986) d. Manoogian, Peter (USA) (1st viewing)
“Mandroid. Mercenary. Scientist. Ninja. Each one a specialist. Together they are...” This low budget Charles Band adventure yarn has its charms, not least of which being the awesome “mobile unit” and Roy Dotrice dressed as a proto-Iron Man.
Everybody Wants Some (2016) d. Linklater, Richard (USA) (1st viewing)
Great little comedy that examines the weekend prior to the first day of classes in 1980 at a smallish college campus, focusing primarily on a dozen baseball players and their shifting alliances and petty squabbles. Linklater brilliantly nails the masculine dynamic, and the cast of mostly unknowns instantly creates memorable characters that stick in the mind and heart.
Eye in the Sky (2016) d. Hood, Gavin (UK) (1st viewing)
This military thriller poses the question of whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one (especially if the one is a cute little village girl selling bread next to a safe house for suicide bombers), but poses it soooooo many times in so many iterations that despite a stellar cast (Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Jeremy Northham) that it can’t help but get a little tedious. That said, Hood manages to maintain tension throughout, and prompts a few questions from the viewer as to what the “right” thing to do might be along the way.
Hardcore Henry (2016) d. Naishuller, Ilya (Russia) (1st viewing)
The gimmick of having an entire film shot from the literal POV of a resuscitated grunt-turned-cyborg is intriguing enough, and it’s realized in fierce and fiery form with explosive blood splatter and a body count in the zillions. Sharlto Copely is having waaaaaaaaay too much fun as a series of avatars of the inventor of the supersoldier technology. Some have complained that the whirling camerawork sometimes diminishes any sense of spacial awareness, but I never had that problem.
Green Room (2015) d. Saulnier, Jeremy (USA) (1st viewing)
The director of Blue Ruin is back, and damn if he doesn’t do it again. Another brilliant script unfolding slowly, giving the audience just enough information to keep following, but also adding in little touches that expand our understanding of the situation piece by piece. Specificity is the name of the game, and Saulnier nails the punk rock microverse as well as the small town tyranny of Patrick Stewart’s backwoods gangster. I’m eager to see it again, preferably at a different venue to determine if it was the film’s sound mix or the Music Box Theatre’s sound system that rendered approximately 15% of the dialogue unintelligible.
Midnight Special (2016) d. Nichols, Jeff (USA) (1st viewing)
Michael Shannon has a problem – his son may not be human or might be a special kind of human (a la Jesus), hence the reason religious zealot Sam Shepard is all sorts of bent out of shape when Shannon spirits the little tyke away with the help of lawman Joel Edgerton. Nichols, the mind behind Take Shelter and Mud, delivers another winner; like those two, the impact is a way-homer, with the images and characters deepening and expanding hours after the credits roll.
Spring Breakers (2013) d. Korine, Harmony (USA) (1st viewing)
I’ve been meaning to see this for years now, having seen the trailer on a half dozen DVDs and hearing Jason Coffman rave about it back upon its release. Well, thanks to the good ol’ Chicago Public Library, I finally got to see full-on weirdo, corn-rowed, silver-grilled, small-time arms-and-drug dealer James Franco entrancing the bikinied likes of Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine. Everyone is actually quite terrific right down the line, and writer/director Korine hired Gaspar Noe’s cinematographer Benoit Debie (Irreversible, Enter the Void); like the German auteur’s films, a sense of dread hangs over the proceedings, a world where slow-motion montages of naked chicks booby-bouncing cast an unpleasant pall rather than any kind of titillation. Um, thanks, Harmony.
JASON IS THE MASTER BATEMAN
Bad Words (2013) d. Bateman, Jason (USA) (1st and 2nd viewings)
In addition to making his directorial debut, Bateman plays a lovable jerkwad, bent on winning the national elementary school spelling bee championship with the help of a handy loophole in the rules. Racist, sexist, ageist, weightist, you name it, he’ll spew it. And you still love him for it. Special mention to Jessica Hahn for the most hilariously uncomfortable sex scene I’ve seen in a while. “Yep, yep, yep, yep, DON’T LOOK AT ME, yep…”
The Gift (2015) d. Edgerton, Joel (USA) (1st viewing)
Bateman is in dramatic mode here, and kudos to Edgerton for choosing him to play the part of a cold-hearted prick with a mysterious past, one that Edgerton’s character pops up to remind him of one day. Rebecca Hall plays the confused and fragile wife caught in the middle as things get darker and things get dirtier.
Extract (2009) d. Judge, Mike (USA) (1st viewing)
The creator of King of the Hill and Office Space is back with another top-notch ensemble, with Bateman playing the boss of a food additive company dealing with a potential buyout, a wrongful injury lawsuit, a comely con artist (Mila Kunis), a cheating wife (Kristin Wiig), a pill-pushing bartender friend (Ben Affleck), and a nightmare neighbor (David Koechner). It’s all pretty funny and pretty forgettable. (Admit it, you forgot it existed too.)
Identity Thief (2013) d. Gordon, Seth (USA) (1st viewing)
Yes, it’s Melissa McCarthy in her obnoxiobitch mode, which was why I avoided it based on the trailers. But I sucked it up for JB and well, it was certainly watchable enough. She steals his identity, he has to track her down and bring her in to clear his name, there are crazy road adventures and crazy road characters, and so on and so forth. It never feels real in the slightest, but everyone’s having a good time.
The Switch (2010) d. Gordon, Josh / Speck, Will (USA) (1st viewing)
Singleton Jennifer Aniston wants to have a baby. Best friend Jason Bateman thinks it’s a bad idea. Jennifer decides to do it anyway, and chooses Patrick Wilson to be the donor. Hijinks ensue and Bateman’s batter ends up in the baster. The comedy works better than it has any right to, mostly due to the innately likeable leads, and they ground the dramatic scenes deeper than one would imagine. Stellar support by Jeff Goldblum as JB’s boss and confidante.
THANK YOU, LUFTHANSA
Black Mass (2015) d. Cooper, Scott (USA) (1st viewing)
Better than I expected, considering how quickly it came and went. I can safely say that I like Johnny Depp much better in wackadoo freakshow mode (as Boston mobster Whitey Bulger) when he’s not being directed by Tim Burton, thank you very much.
Out of the Furnace (2013) d. Cooper, Scott (USA) (1st viewing)
I certainly wasn’t expecting to have a Scott Cooper double feature, but lo here it was. Like Black Mass, this one deals with low level criminals, but even lower and even scummier in the form of Woody Harrelson’s white trash kingpin, running bare knuckle boxing matches when he’s not pushing the toot powder. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck play disaffected brothers, both dealing with individual and collective trauma, and both coping with it in different and destructive ways. Willem Dafoe, Forrest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, and Zoe Saldana round out the excellent cast of this not-feel-good story of family and pain.
Concussion (2015) d. Landesman, Peter (USA) (1st viewing)
This was the movie that people were whining about Will Smith not being nominated for? Um, did they see it? Yes, he does an accent. Yes, he plays a noble doctor trying to reveal the effects of brain trauma on football players. But it’s a pretty ho-hum telling of what could have been a blistering expose, and Smith is fine at best. Sooooo, yeah.
The Peanuts Movie (2015) d. Martino, Steve (USA) (1st viewing)
I had my doubts about seeing my beloved Charlie Brown and Co. rendered in 3D as opposed to the classic flat line drawings, but the spirit and the heart of those TV specials is here in spades and I enjoyed it mightily. Granted, CB has far more successes than losses here, and Snoopy is more an enthusiastic ally to his owner than a beagle with a rich inner life, but I’m okay with that.
2016 Totals to date: 91 films, 70 1st time views, 41 horror, 15 cinema