Friday, August 5, 2016
Fool's Views (7/1 - 7/31) (Part 2)
As promised, here is the rest of the bunch, comprised of one lovely day at the multiplex where all the schedules lined up like constellations in the sky and my Civilian proclivities for the month. Hope you dig.
TERROR IN THE AISLES: SUMMER 2016
The Conjuring 2 (2016) d. Wan, James USA (1st viewing)
While I couldn’t deny the fact that Wan’s 2013 smash hit about real-life spiritualists Ed and Lorraine Warren (who came to the public eye as a result of their Amityville Horror investigation) was a capable enough haunted house tale, I was genuinely surprised by the amount of love it received by the general public and horror fans alike. Well, he’s back at the Warren Well, and once again, he’s created – alongside screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes and David Leslie Johnson – a perfectly adequate (if overlong at 134 minutes) spookhouse rollercoaster ride that has generated positive notices and boffo box office, so I assume we can expect more of the same in the not-too-distant. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are fine as our paranormal-seeking pair, but the real discovery here is Madison Wolfe as a young Brit girl possessed by a malevolent spirit – even though she’s assisted by a multitude of special effects both visual and aural, Wolfe displays real moment-to-moment authenticity as she descends down the otherworldly rabbit hole.
The Neon Demon (2016) d. Refn, Nicolas, Winding USA (1st viewing)
Even though his international hit Drive was itself a defiant slap to action/thriller conventions, Refn continues to confound expectations. Here, he offers up a slippery horror effort that follows similar terrain as David Lynch’s Mullholland Dr., with a smidge less dream logic and oodles more colored filters and lights, and instead of skewering the film world, it’s the surface chic of the modeling industry that comes under fire. With the distracting exception of Keanu Reeves as a skeezy motel owner, the casting is strong, with Elle Fanning’s transformation from shy newcomer to self-obsessed ice princess the engine that drives the nightmare bus. Fascinating, gorgeously photographed, and emotionally distant (all Refn hallmarks), this is a film easier to appreciate than love, but there’s so much of the former that the latter might easily follow.
The Purge: Election Year (2016) d. DeMonaco, James USA (1st viewing)
Writer/director DeMonaco’s unlikely franchise (about a bleak near-future where the U.S. government sanctions an annual night of unrestricted violence) has evolved in scope and budget over its three installments, as well as sharpening its satirical political knives. Here, a senator and presidential candidate (Elizabeth Mitchell) vows to eliminate The Purge, much to the consternation of the “New Founding Fathers,” a group of bitter old white men intent on retaining power and control. To no one’s surprise, our heroine becomes the target of an organized assassination attempt and her head of security (Frank Grillo, returning from Purge: Anarchy) must use his extensive skills and resources to keep her alive. There are several subplots woven in, including an African-American shop owner’s confrontation with a group of underage smartmouth sadists, as well as an underground political movement bent on taking out the NFF. The Purge mythology keeps expanding, but I’m hoping that DeMonaco is soon allowed to work outside of the nihilistic cinematic world he’s created before he finds himself well and truly trapped.
The Shallows (2016) d. Collet-Serra, Jaume USA (1st viewing)
Blake Lively (wet)suits up for this terrific survival horror effort, pitting her vacationing med school student character against a tenacious and ferocious Great White Shark. The exciting surfing sequences (I’m guessing Lively did her own board work) are great fun to watch, and the gorgeous ocean setting (Australia standing in for Mexico) are cleverly juxtaposed with scenes of violent, flesh-rending bloodlust. Intelligently scripted by Anthony Jaswinski and well paced by Collet-Serra (who made his genre bones with 2005’s House of Wax and 2009’s Orphan), this is a slice of summer fright that delivers the toothy goods.
The Intruder (1962) d. Corman, Roger USA (1st viewing)
Having viewed numerous documentaries citing this as the iconoclastic producer/director’s “only film that lost money,” I figured it was about time to stop fast-forwarding through those segments and finally check it off the list. William Shatner (genuinely impressive) stars as a sociopathic race-baiting newcomer who descends upon a small Southern town to stir up discontent following the Supreme Court’s decision to integrate minority students into public schools. Charles Beaumont, best known for several classic Twilight Zone episodes, adapted his own novel and, while simplistic in its resolution, the overall emotional impact remains impressive a half century on.
Junior (1994) d. Reitman, Ivan USA (1st viewing)
Following the success of 1988's Twins, Reitman reteamed with his two stars for this fanciful, occasionally politically incorrect yarn about a fertility expert (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who impregnates himself at the coaxing of his morally dubious partner (Danny DeVito). The Austrian Oak again proves himself willing to engage in vanity-free antics (even sporting a huge prosthetic belly), and Emma Thompson is delightful as a clumsy scientist who unknowingly provides the egg that Ah-nuld is incubating. Silly and spirited, if not entirely inspired.
The Legend of Tarzan (2016) d. Yates, David USA (1st viewing)
In an effort to present a 21st century telling of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic tale, director Yates pulls out all the CGI jungle tricks he can think of, but the result is a big fat yawn. Regardless of how buff star Skarsgard’s personal trainers got him, his civilized, well-spoken Lord Greystoke isn’t a compelling central presence and Margot Robbie’s Jane is straight out of the “feisty independent wise-cracking modern woman” playbook. Christoph Walz plays comfortably in his bemused villain wheelhouse and Samuel L. Jackson’s crusty hunter is there for easy laughs that die on the vine. Let’s not even get into the swinging silverbacks, especially since no one will be talking about this movie five minutes from now.
Manhunter (1985) d. Mann, Michael USA (3rd viewing)
Forever to be known as “the film that introduced Hannibal Lecter to the world,” with all the ensuing caveats that the role was originally played by Brian Cox instead of Anthony Hopkins and that “Lecktor” is a near cipher compared to his expanded backstory in The Silence of the Lambs six years later. William L. Peterson stars as Will Graham, a criminologist with a knack for getting inside a psychopath’s mindset (he’s the one who captured Lecter), being pressed back into service to track down a serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy (Tom Noonan, utterly creepy and fantastic). Sadly, in spite of numerous stellar moments, the film never realizes its full potential, due in large part to Peterson’s muted portrayal and Mann’s predilection for stylistic flourishes over emotional connection. That said, there’s still plenty to appreciate and most viewers would still place it higher on the scale than 2002’s belated Hopkins-starring Red Dragon (Thomas Harris’ source novel’s title). Available now in a deluxe two-disc Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory that includes Mann’s extended director’s cut.
Swiss Army Man (2016) d. Kwan, Dan / Scheinert, Daniel USA (1st viewing)
Co-directors Kwan and Scheinert shared the Best Director prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for their singularly bizarre yet supremely accessible fable about a stranded young introvert (Paul Dano) who finds companionship and salvation in the form of a corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) that washes up on the island shore. What could have simply been a headier updating of Weekend at Bernie’s emerges as an eye-opening examination of madness, loss, grief, and friendship through a hilarious body function-centric filter. Both stars are marvelously invested in their physically demanding roles, playing off one another with the timing of a classic comedy team. This one will stick with you.
The Trouble with Titian Revisited (2016) d. Lucas, Tim / Agnew, James USA (1st viewing)
Fascinating documentary about the evolution and repurposing of Yugoslavian mystery Operation Titian into no less than three other titles. Produced by Roger Corman, the savvy filmmaker quickly realized that the picture was a non-starter and ordered reshoots that transformed it into a more sordid but equally unbankable thriller known as Portrait of Terror. Corman protégé Jack Hill was then tapped to create a horror version (Blood Bath) by shooting even more new scenes with star William Campbell, which was then further tweaked to include a bloodsucker (Track of the Vampire) at the urging of New World upstart Stephanie Rothman (The Student Nurses). The doc is available on the magnificent two-disc Arrow presentation of all four features, and is easily the highlight of the bunch. No director is credited, which leads me to believe that the lion’s share of the credit goes to writer/narrator Lucas (who originally wrote about Blood Bath and its zany history in Video Watchdog magazine) and editor James Agnew, who creates some lovely scene-by-scene comparisons between the different versions. Well worth tracking down.
A Walk in the Woods (2015) d. Kwapis, Ken (USA) (1st viewing)
Sentimental, soft-boiled adaptation of Bill Bryson’s bestseller about hiking the Appalachian Trail has all the depth of a cheapie Hallmark Channel programmer with saltier language. Robert Redford (who also produced) stars as Bryson, a successful but laurels-resting writer newly inspired to embrace the adventure that 2000+ miles of wilderness has to offer. When his sensible wife (Emma Thompson, squandered) insists that he not do the trek alone, he ultimately settles on an old acquaintance, Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), profoundly unfit but game for the journey. Considering the rich subtext of men exploring their mortality in the face of majestic yet unforgiving nature, it’s disappointing to see how director Kwapis squanders opportunity after opportunity in favor of goofy grumpy grandpas grousing and growling. The characters are so flat and clichéd that I found myself time and again thinking about the actors’ finer career hours and wondering how they ended up here, looking so tired and straining so hard. (Nolte is an absolute physical wreck at this point and looking at Redford’s weathered 80-year-old face, I kept wondering what hair color he’s using to stave off the gray and why.) Kwapis even fails to do the incredible scenery justice, with a few generic helicopter shots stuck in amidst endless close-ups on the trail. Walk on by.
2016 Totals to date: 144 films, 109 1st time views, 68 horror, 21 cinema