|Maybe we should open that one later....|
Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee, everybody!
End of the year, where I happily found myself with a bit more spare time; whilst others were scurrying around doing their last minute shopping, I tried to catch a few more flicks before the clock struck midnight. Even knowing that there was no way I was going to approach my former glory days of 400-500 films, it was nice that December afforded the femalien and I as many opportunities as it did (including a glorious screening of It’s a Wonderful Life at the Music Box Theatre that featured a pre-show caroling session and an appearance from St. Nick himself).
Observant readers will also note that the non-horror fare ruled the month, with a special nod toward to the good ol’ Chicago Public Library, so hopefully you’ll allow it.
Due to the lateness of the hour, we’ll endeavor to keep these brief, in order to get things up and rolling and launch into the Brave New World that will be 2017. As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.
Black Candles (1982) d. Larraz, Jose Ramon (Spain) (1st viewing)
One of the year’s most pleasant surprises, which I had unfortunately missed during Unrepentant Cinephile Jason Coffman’s Tomorrow Romance Halloween Marathon. (whew!) Having already seen two other Larraz movies in 2016, it seemed a shame to let the opportunity slip by, and boy am I happy that blood brother Tim stepped up in the nick of time. Holy Eurosleaze! An endless cavalcade of sex, nudity, bestiality, incest, Satanic panic, and more sex, with a well-paced narrative and a smashing performance by cult icon Helga Line.
Bone Tomahawk (2015) d. Zahler, S. Craig (USA) (1st viewing)
A great cast (Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, and Matthew Fox) dig out their spurs and best Western drawls in service of a dusty road movie that sees the quartet heading off to rescue Wilson’s bride (Lili Simmons) from a tribe of (perhaps supernatural) cannibal savages. Not bad, but boy does it take its time getting where it’s going.
Don't Breathe (2016) d. Alvarez, Fede (USA) (1st viewing)
I know this got a lot of love, and it’s certainly worthwhile, but when the whole twist on the home invasion thriller is the elevator pitch (“blind Army veteran targeted by a trio of hoodlums proves more than capable to defend himself”), some of the steam gets lost. There’s also the issue that no one, but no one, is a likeable character, which left me a little cold, and Stephen Lang’s sightless avenger proves a little TOO capable at times. However, the performances are all strong, especially Lang and Jane Levy (looking completely different from her Evil Dead turn, also directed by Alvarez), and the pacing swift, so nitpicking is just that. Bonus: you’ll never look at a turkey baster the same way.
Frostbitten (2006) d. Banke, Anders (Sweden) (1st viewing)
Pleasant enough Swedish horror/comedy where a cache of “vampire pills” are mistaken for recreational drugs and passed around at a “month of no sun” party. Convenient, no? Thanks to good buddy David Schmidt for introducing it (and Filipino food!) to me during a last-minute Share-the-Scare.
Rare Exports (2010) d. Helander, Jelamari (Finland) (5th viewing)
This awesomely dark fantasy film about the origins and resurrection of that not-so-jolly old Christmas elf from within the bowels of the frozen Finnish tundra belongs on the same cult holiday counterprogramming shelf as Silent Night Deadly Night, Gremlins, and Christmas Evil. A feature-length follow up/prequel to Helander’s festival fave short films (available on YouTube HERE and HERE or as special features on the RE disc) about domesticating wild Santa Clauses, with a great cast and some impressive special effects on a relatively small $4 million budget. Now children of all ages can experience the holiday wonder of nightmarish bearded naked old men year after year.
Tusk (2014) d. Smith, Kevin (USA) (1st viewing)
I know this met with a ton of flak when it came out two years back; as a result, I decided to take a pass. But, since it was sitting on the CPL shelf, I figured I’d give it a spin and, well, I didn’t hate it. In fact, until a certain unbilled movie star shows up in heavy makeup and takes things off the rails with an utterly indulgent performance, it’s pretty damn good, primarily due to the glorious presence of Michael Parks, who almost surpasses his performance in Smith’s Red State. The monster makeup by Robert Kurtzman is also worthy of mention. I’m not going to go into the outlandish premise, because I liked the fact that I knew very little and would like to preserve the experience for others, but I’m happy to discuss more in the comments or offline.
Big Night (1996) d. Tucci, Stanley / Scott, Campbell (USA) (2nd viewing)
I hadn’t seen this since it played in the cinema 20 years ago, but remembered it quite fondly (it might have been my favorite movie of the year, in fact). So, with feel-good flicks on the menu and knowing that the missus hadn’t ever seen it, it was time for a revisit. Such a lovely concoction, with an outstanding cast having the times of their lives.
Conan the Barbarian (2011) d. Nispel, Marcus (USA) (1st viewing)
I confess, I had no idea who Jason Momoa was, but the former Baywatch/Stargate: Atlantis/Game of Thrones star and soon-to-be Aquaman had some Arnold-sized sandals to fill in this reboot of the famous Robert E. Howard character. Overall, it’s an enjoyable enough popcorn burner, with plenty of CGI splatter and Stephen Lang showing off his awesome 62-year-old bod as the evil overlord who killed Conan’s pop.
De Palma (2015) d. Baumbach, Noah / Paltrow, Jake (USA) (1st viewing)
It’s not flashy, but it does the trick. Baumbach and Paltrow sit the eponymous director down in front of the camera to dissect his entire filmmography, giving equal time to successes and failures. The journey proves an enlightening one, showing that even De Palma’s misfires make for interesting cinema (except for Redacted, because that movie SUCKED).
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) d. Kubrick, Stanley (USA) (2nd viewing)
Another revisit I felt was due, since I really couldn’t remember anything beyond a “meh” feeling… and that weird, completely non-sexy orgy ritual. Going back to it, it’s clearly a Kubrick piece, even if it’s not one of his strongest, and it does have worthy commentary about relationships and insecurity and jealousy, even if a lot of that get undermined by the bizarre conspiracy plot. Tom Cruise does his best, but seems a little out of his depth with the more emotional elements.
A Farewell to Arms (1932) d. Borzage, Frank (USA) (1st viewing)
Hemmingway’s classic story brought to the screen, but seen through modern eyes, Cooper’s initial wooing of Helen Hayes is a little, ahem, rape-y, and it’s a love story where our two lovers barely get a chance to love. The ending is a final shot to the nethers that leaves one whimpering.
The Final Option (aka Who Dares Wins) (1982) d. Sharp, Ian (UK) (1st viewing)
I recall the previews for this back in the day, consisting primarily of masked paratroopers smashing through windows, but what finally nudged me over the cliff to purchase the DVD was the presence of Countess Dracula herself, Ingrid Pitt, in a non-horror role. While Judy Davis and Lewis Collins are the ostensible stars of this “pacifists steal nuke to start a war for peace” thriller, it’s Pitt who steals the show as a terrorist as lethal with a spritzer of poisoned perfume as a Kalashnikov machine-gun.
Harold and Maude (1971) d. Ashby, Hal (USA) (3rd viewing)
I’ve come back to this one every 15 years or so, having first seen it in high school (where I was more interested in making out with the girl who rented it), then again as a thirtysomething (where I enjoyed the black comedy but found the joie de vivre a little forced), and finally as a middle-aged gent. I still can’t say I love the film the way others claim to, but I do enjoy how it marches to its own beat, much like Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort’s unconventional characters do, and Cort’s fake suicides are spectacular bits of performance art. Warning: Cat Stevens' songs will stay in your head for days.
Hell or High Water (2016) d. Mackenzie, David (USA) (1st viewing)
Hot. Damn. Taylor Sheridan’s (Sicario) script is so enjoyably spiced with great lines for its actors to spit out, one can’t help but laugh and cheer. Jeff Bridges rolls out his time-honored mumbly mushmouth cowpoke coot once again (True Grit, RIPD), but it’s used to wonderful effect, and Chris Pine and Ben Foster are outstanding as a pair of siblings with a few banks to rob. One of the best of the year.
High-Rise (2015) d. Wheatley, Ben (UK) (1st viewing)
I fell hard for Wheatley after his one-two punch of Kill List and Sightseers, but this feels like a big swing and miss for the Brit filmmaker, despite the presence of A-list stars like Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons. A lot of great ideas and visuals being floated amidst social commentary galore, but ultimately it’s just too messy to make an impact.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946) d. Capra, Frank (USA) (5th viewing)
It really is, you know.
The Night Listener (2006) d. Stettner, Patrick (USA) (1st viewing)
Fascinating story from novelist Armistead Maupin and former partner Terry Anderson about a radio disc jockey (Robin Williams) who befriends an abused young man (Rory Culkin) and his caretaker (Toni Collette) over the phone, but starts to have doubts about the stories being told and whether his new pals are who they say they are. This showed up on a lot of “check this out” lists after Williams’ passing in 2014, and it’s a rec I endorse.
The Ref (1994) d. Demme, Ted (USA) (4th viewing)
While it occasionally succumbs to cheap sitcom gags, there’s a lot to like about Denis Leary’s breakout screen role as a beleaguered thief who kidnaps bickering couple Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey on Christmas Eve. Snark and snarls prove the perfect counter-programming to saccharine schmaltz.
Stray Dog (1949) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (1st viewing)
One year before Rashomon made him an international star, this slippery tale about a police officer’s (Toshiro Mifune) lost pistol that falls into the hands of a desperate killer announced Kurosawa as talent to watch. So glad I finally caught up with it.
Snowpiercer (2013) d. Bong, Joon-ho (South Korea) (1st viewing)
Much like High-Rise, there is a lot of great social commentary and some set-pieces on display here, but while the action elements keep the narrative moving along like the great futuristic train on which the story is set, it never quite got my motor running. Good but not great, where the artistic effort is admired without making an emotional impact.
Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987) d. Mailer, Norman (USA) (1st viewing)
Twisty little murder mystery about functioning alcoholic Ryan O’Neal waking up from a blackout with dead bodies in his basement and a crazy cop (Wings Hauser) on his heels. One of Cannon Films’ final attempts at legitimacy that, like so many others, never quite takes off.
The White Ribbon (2009) d. Haneke, Michael (Germany) (1st viewing)
Winner of the Palm d’Or at Cannes, this searing examination of small town communities, the “innocence” of children, tension between social classes, and overbearing paranoia is beautifully shot in black-and-white (Oscar nominated Christian Berger) and flawlessly performed by its ensemble. Like most of Haneke’s works, it is not the feel-good movie of this or any year.
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) d. Tashlin, Frank (USA) (1st viewing)
Tony Randall plays an ad exec trying to woo Jayne Mansfield to promote his brand of lipstick, while she woos him to make her boyfriend (and real-life husband) Mickey Hargitay jealous. I realize that it’s all supposed to be high-spirited hijinks, but mostly I was just annoyed at all the high-pitched shrieking. Enjoyed Tashlin’s other teaming with Mansfield, The Girl Can’t Help It, much more.
IZ FRENCHE, YOU KNOW
Monsieur Hire (1989) d. Leconte, Patrice (France) (1st viewing)
Splendid mystery/thriller about a voyeur (Michele Blanc) who falls for the girl across the way (Sandrine Bonnaire), even after he sees things that he shouldn’t. Moments of aching and unrequited love expertly blended with the little betrayals that make fools of us all, with a net that closes ever tighter around these two characters that we have grown to care for.
Amelie (2001) d. Jeneut, Jean-Pierre (France) (2nd viewing)
In the spirit of the holiday season, we decided to treat ourselves to a viewing of this zany and wonderful exploration of love and life and joy and random acts of kindness. Audrey Tatou is breathtakingly charming and Mathieu Kassovitz (director of La Haine and The Crimson Rivers) is her match, with a sterling supporting cast and breathtaking cinematography by Oscar-nominated Bruno Delbonnel.
CAZALE PACINO...SEPARATE AND TOGETHER
The Conversation (1974) d. Coppola, Francis Ford (USA) (3rd viewing)
Gene Hackman is all tied up in knots as a emotionally stunted surveillance expert who fears he may have stumbled into an assassination plot. John Cazale gives excellent support as his partner, with early appearances by Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Allen Garfield, Teri Garr, and Frederic Forrest.
Serpico (1973) d. Lumet, Sidney (USA) (2nd viewing)
Looking to shake off his Michael Corleone persona, Al Pacino got down and dirty as true-blue cop Frank Serpico, the NYPD officer who couldn’t be bought or sold and who ended up blowing the whistle on the entire police force and its deep well of corruption. Terrific flick for idealists in these trying times.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) d. Lumet, Sidney (USA) (3rd viewing)
Following their teaming on the two Godfather films, Cazale and Pacino reunited once more as Sonny and Sal, two robbers who attempted to hold up a NYC bank only to have the event explode into a media circus that unfolded on TV screens in real time (back when that was an unusual thing, kids).
ALDRICH DOES BURT, BERYL, AND MORE BURT
The Longest Yard (1974) d. Aldrich, Robert (USA) (4th viewing)
Burt Reynolds was already a bankable star who had recently earned some critical cred with 1972's Deliverance, but this proved to be his most successful vehicle yet, marrying his quirky comic sensibilities and macho leanings. Great cast energetically directed by Aldrich, and the football game between the prisoners and the guards that serves as the film’s climax is bawdy and brutal and hilarious.
The Killing of Sister George (1968) d. Aldrich, Robert (USA) (1st viewing)
Beryl Reid stars as a frustrated, paranoid, alcoholic television star who fears her character is being written off the show, just as she suspects that her lover (Susannah York) is planning to leave her. Reid plays the part authentically, but unfortunately George is such a raging tyrant that it’s hard to work up much sympathy. Daring for its time in terms of handling the lesbian subject matter.
Hustle (1975) d. Aldrich, Robert (USA) (1st viewing)
Burt and Bob teamed up the following year for a less ribald tale, one of political corruption and the trials of being a “nobody” against whom a crime is committed, i.e. no one is going to dig too hard for the truth. Pretty dark and dire, with flawed characters doing their best to get through the day with their skin and humanity intact.
TERRORISTS BE CRYIN’, HERE COMES JACK RYAN
Patriot Games (1992) d. Noyce, Philip (USA) (2nd viewing)
I had remembered being less-than-wowed upon my initial viewing, but on a revisit, Harrison Ford’s first outing as CIA analyst-turned-action hero is actually quite good. Sean Bean steals the show, however, as a rogue IRA terrorist looking to avenge his brother’s death.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) d. Branagh, Kenneth (USA) (1st viewing)
Perfectly serviceable action vehicle, though I wasn't wild about how they turn Ryan (Chris Pine) into a younger, all-purpose action hero, able to drive cars and motorcycles and fight like a martial artist and so on. What I like about both Baldwin and Ford's interp is that Ryan is a capable man who – while he has had military training – is always a little out of his depth. Branagh is a ho-hum villain with no real menace or charisma (I'm guessing he had some kind of deal going with the director) and Keira Knightly is completely perky blah. That said, I really enjoyed the low-key badass quality that Kevin Costner brings to his role of CIA mentor, the best part of the movie for my money. I would rank this slightly higher than Sum of All Fears, but only slightly.
2016 Totals to date: 272 films, 183 1st time views, 131 horror, 31 cinema