Thursday, July 7, 2016
Fool's Views (6/1 – 6/30)
Hola, mis amigos!
Well, birthday month came and went, and I found myself spending even less time in front of the tube (or the computer) than before, resulting in one of the lowest June totals I’ve logged in years: A mere dozen flickers, only a handful of which could really be counted as horror. (A week into July, I think I’ve already hit that number, so fear not, true believers.) Additionally, the films themselves were a decidedly mixed lot, with no real breakout first-time Views in the mix. Still, you take the good, you take the bad, you take the so-bad-it’s-good, and there you have the Facts of Life.
As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Maggie (2015) d. Hobson, Henry (USA) (1st viewing)
This bleak, low-budget character study might have made a huge splash, say, 15 years ago, treating the zombie apocalypse as a backdrop for an intriguing conversation about euthanasia and coming to terms with human mortality. Unfortunately, the story has since been told and told well via innumerable features and shorts, not to mention everyone’s favorite ubiquitous undead soap opera The Walking Dead. So, the story of a rural farmer’s infected daughter’s slow descent from bitten victim to bloodthirsty monster is too familiar and inevitable to create any legitimate drama, despite handsome production values and worthy performances. In fact, if not for the casting coups of Arnold Swarzengegger and Oscar-nominee Abigail Breslen, it’s unlikely anyone would have been interested in seeing it at all. Ironically, the presence of our ever-craggier T-1000 may have proven confusing for both the film's and his own target audience as we’re a far distance from any quippy one-liners and heavy artillery – this is no “Arnold vs. The Undead” popcorn burner. That said, it bears stating that the big guy is more than up to the task; tears roll steadily down that huge bearded landscape and genuine emotion fights its way through the heavily accented, oft-imitated Teutonic tones. One can see why he might have been attracted to the small project, as it provides a genuine thesping opportunity, likely the most sensitive and “real” performance he’s ever offered onscreen. Had it been in service of fresher material (or, to be honest, a non-genre project), there might have been some critical accolades in store.
Rabid Dogs (2015) d. Hannezo, Eric (France) (1st viewing)
The notion of remaking Mario Bava’s cult classic crime thriller about a kidnapping gone awry – one that plays out almost entirely within the confines of an automobile – almost certainly raised a few eyebrows when the idea was first floated. Only hardcore fans of El Maestro are even familiar with the title, so it’s not like there was any guaranteed brand recognition, and the single-set “stunt” presents more challenges than opportunities. Still, director Hannezo and his team of screenwriters manage the task admirably, updating the yarn whilst dressing it in less melodramatic tones. (George Eastman’s sweaty, raging criminal from the 1974 original is undeniably memorable, but hardly a realistic portrait.) As the panicked father trying to get his ailing daughter to a hospital despite the trio of crooks who’ve hijacked his car, French star Lambert Wilson is utterly riveting, and the humdinger twist ending still delivers a wallop. Available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and IFC Midnight.
Sssssss (1973) d. Kowalski, Bernard L. (USA) (2nd viewing)
Veteran character actor Strother Martin (Cool Hand Luke, Slap Shot) tackles a rare leading role as a once-respected snake expert who now cold-bloodedly (heh) focuses his estimable mental gifts toward transmogrifying human beings into slithering beasts. Dirk Benedict (aka Starbuck from the original Battlestar Galactica) is given the unfortunate task of playing Martin’s latest lab assistant who, after a few injections, is slowly slathered head to toe with green body paint and makeup legend John Chambers’ scaly latex panels. Heather Menzies (The Sound of Music, Piranha) appears as the mad doc’s comely daughter, while B-movie legend Reb Brown (Howling II, Yor) makes his film debut as the local jackass jock who meets up with a passel of venomous shower buddies. On the new Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory, both Menzies and Benedict deliver spirited retrospective interviews, with numerous entertaining tales of the set, their co-stars, and director Kowalski (Attack of the Giant Leeches).
Dangerous Men (2005) d. Rad, John S. (USA) (1st viewing)
(Full disclosure: In lieu of a review, I am simply cutting/pasting the back jacket notes from the Drafthouse Blu-ray because they say it all. You will know if this is your cup of poison. Personally, I’ve seen bigger – and more entertaining – train wrecks in my time, but bad movie completists should probably seek this one out.)
“In 1979, Iranian filmmaker John S. Rad moved to the U.S. to shoot his dream project, a rampaging gutter epic of crime, revenge, cop sex and raw power. Just 26 years later, he completed an American action film masterpiece that the world is still barely ready for today. After Mina witnesses her fiancé's brutal murder by beach thugs, she sets out on a venomous spree to eradicate all human trash from Los Angeles. Armed with a knife, a gun, and an undying rage, she murders her way through the masculine half of the city's populace. A renegade cop is hot on her heels, a trail that also leads him to the subhuman criminal overlord known as Black Pepper. It's a pulse-pounding, heart-stopping, brain-devouring onslaught of '80s thunder, '90s lightning, and pure filmmaking daredevilry from another time and/or dimension. Blades flash, blood flows, bullets fly and synthesizers blare as the morgue overflows with the corpses of Dangerous Men.”
The Normal Heart (2014) d. Murphy, Ryan (USA) (1st viewing)
Larry Kramer’s incendiary stage play about the early days of the AIDS crisis is considerably muted in this small screen adaptation, with Mark Ruffalo far too civil and well behaved to properly inhabit the Ned Weeks character (i.e. Kramer). Everyone in the cast is adequate, including Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, and Julia Roberts, but Murphy gives everyone their close-up and then holds it until the drama is sucked out of the scene. Well intentioned, but a shadow of what it could have been and about 25 years too late. You’re better off checking out the Oscar-winning documentary, How to Survive a Plague.
Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (2011) d. Penso, Gilles (France) (1st viewing)
A loving tribute to the late stop-motion animator, but one that doesn't offer much on the subject that 1998’s The Harryhausen Chronicles didn’t already bring to light. Granted, Penso has the advantage of having access to the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Museum and its many artifacts, but seeing close-ups of decaying armatures and models doesn’t necessarily make for scintillating screen action. What the new documentary, available now from Arrow Video, does have are tons of new interviews from biographer Tony Dalton, directors Peter Jackson, Nick Park, Terry Gilliam, John Landis, Guillermo Del Toro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron, and Steven Spielberg, and effects men Dennis Muren, Phil Tippet, and Rick Baker, as well as the great man himself (although Harryhausen fans will likely have already heard most of these stories). Edifying for newcomers, but hardly essential for the well-traveled. Available now from Arrow Video (and watched on what would have been Harryhausen's 96th birthday, June 29).
The One and Only (1978) d. Reiner, Carl (USA) (2nd viewing)
In between the hits of Oh God! and The Jerk, legendary comedy writer/director/producer Reiner helmed this stupendously strained and unfunny dud about narcissistic actor Andy Schmidt (Henry Winkler) who mugs, bullies, and snarks his way through life, relationships, and a professional wrestling career. Perhaps the prevailing wisdom was that The-Man-Who-Still-Was-Fonzie was so effortlessly appealing that he could somehow make this self-centered loser endearing, but boy, were they wrong. To his credit, Winkler plays the part to the hilt and never softens the edges, which doesn’t make Schmidt any less of a prick. Kim Darby plays his long-suffering bride, Herve Villachaize (just launching his own hit TV career as “Tattoo” on Fantasy Island) is his long-suffering wrestling partner, and Gene Saks (director of several Neil Simon film adaptations) fares best as his long-suffering agent, with cameos from Harold Gould, William Daniels, and Polly Holliday. Even as a huge Fonzie fan, I remembered it being pretty bad when I saw it back in the day and it still is.
This is Where I Leave You (2014) d. Levy, Shawn (USA) (1st viewing)
A “comedy with serious leanings” about a dysfunctional family called together to sit shiva to honor their father’s passing. (Never mind that no one in the family is Jewish.) Predictably, everyone’s life is in turmoil and a forced week in each other’s company is not anyone’s winning formula for happiness, but darned if there aren’t more than a few dark comic smiles to be had along the way. Credit the winning cast, headed by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Adam Driver, Kathryn Hahn, Corey Stoller, Connie Britton, and Timothy Olyphant, and a deft script by Jonathan Tropper, adapting his own novel.
DIRTY AND DEADLY ALDRICH
The Dirty Dozen (1967) d. Aldrich, Robert (USA) (4th viewing)
A secret military unit comprised of court-martialed convicts is offered the promise of clean records in exchange for participating in a behind-enemy-lines raid on a German chateau chock-full of SS officials. Ridiculously entertaining WWII fantasy still holds up nearly 50 years later due to Aldrich’s zippy pacing and a cast of screen veterans and screen veterans-to-be. Check out this testosterone-laden role call: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Richard Jaeckel, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Robert Ryan, George Kennedy, Jim Brown, Clint Walker, John Cassavetes, and Robert Webber. Numerous memorable training sequences, as well as the staged war games and the raid itself. An undisputed classic.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) d. Aldrich, Robert (USA) (3rd viewing)
Wow. Mix Mickey Spillane with a little atomic paranoia and it’s a recipe for fast-paced, two-fisted, tough-talking thrills, with a climactic sock to the jaw that rivals anything you’ve seen in a long, long time. Ralph Meeker, who would wind up his career fighting aliens and giant rats in Without Warning and Food of the Gods, is outstanding as taciturn private eye Mike Hammer. One catches glimpses of Jack Nicholson and Kevin Costner in his performance – the nice looking guy who’s revealed to be a hardened heel through and through, yet always seems to be fighting the fight worth fighting. Shot like a horror film with dark shadows and a darker underbelly, a palpable sense of dread hangs over the proceedings like a damp overcoat, a quality that Aldrich would bring to his 1960s gothic efforts, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte. Even if you think you don’t like detective stories or noir, check this one out. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Hired to Kill (1990) d. Mastorakis, Nico / Rader, Peter (USA) (1st viewing)
The Zero Boys (1986) d. Mastorakis, Nico (USA) (1st viewing)
From the guy who gave us the memorably depraved Video Nasty Island of Death comes a pair of less skeezy but entertaining efforts, both given the loving Blu-ray treatment by Arrow Video. Of the two, I much preferred the survival horror thriller Zero Boys, which combines slasher conventions with a Most Dangerous Game aesthetic, all set to a nerve-twitching synth soundtrack composed in part by future Oscar winner Hans Zimmer. Plus it’s got Kelli (Night of the Comet) Maroney on hand, and my buddy Gert had already included it in his awesome cinematic care package, which is recommendation enough. By contrast, Hired to Kill has much bigger marquee names, including Oliver Reed, George Kennedy, and Jose Ferrer propping up unlikely leading man Brian Thompson in what I’m sure he hoped was to be his big break as an action star. (Granted, the Fright Night 2 star has the requisite dead-eye stare and the muscular physique, but, I mean, that face. It was never going to happen, my man.) The ludicrous plot, with Thompson posing as a gay fashion designer and five hot mercenary chicks posing as his models, could and should have been more fun in its execution. Instead, Mastorakis plays it straight, the result being no more notable than any other cheap 90s slice of late-night Cinemax.
2016 Totals to date: 123 films, 92 1st time views, 56 horror, 15 cinema