Monday, July 3, 2017

Fool's Views (6/1 – 6/30)

And we’re halfway through the year!

Considering that we’re just about on pace with last year’s totals, it’s shaping up to be another less-than-average year for the Doc, numbers-wise – a tally that was not helped by a cinema-free week in Colorado visiting Mom and the dogs (turkeys, chickens, random elk, etc). But in terms of entertainment quality, I’d say we’ve been doing all right. Granted, this month’s horror totals were decidedly down, but we did manage some worthwhile Civilian first-time views (and revisits), as well as delving into several bona-fide classics from the Kurosawa Kanon.

We’re about to head into rehearsals for Oak Park Festival Theatre’s production of Fair Maid of the West, which might stymie my couch time considerably (see Jan/Feb from earlier this year), but we’ll keep struggling through, my friends. After all, these movies aren’t going to watch themselves, amirite???

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



Cathy’s Curse (1977) d. Matalon, Eddy (France/Canada) (2nd viewing)


Krampus (2016) d. Dougherty, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)

Dougherty, who gave us the marvelous Halloween anthology Trick ’r Treat, returns for another go at creating a holiday horror classic that blends dark comedy and darker themes. Emjay Anthony stars as the youngest child in a relatively functional family (Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Stefania LaVie Owen) whose Christmas cheer is curdled courtesy of a visit from the decidedly dysfunctional side, led by David Koechner (Anchorman, Cheap Thrills) and Allison Tolman, with legendary character actress Conchata Farrell as their batty aunt. As the arguments rise in volume and viciousness, Anthony wishes that the naughty bunch would simply be done away with… never realizing that the titular monstrous entity will happily oblige the young lad’s request. The interplay between the seasoned performers is top-notch, and the practical creature effects recall the high-spirited shenanigans of Gremlins and its ’80s brethren. While not as sly or playful as his previous outing, this should satisfy horror fans looking for something to place on the December watch-list alongside Rare Exports, Christmas Evil, and Black Christmas.

The Witch (2016) d. Eggers, Robert (UK/USA) (2nd viewing)

Brilliant and terrifying, artfully rendered and exquisitely performed, writer/director Eggers’ “A New-England Folktale” examines social paranoia and religious fanaticism through a supernatural lens, and the results are utterly breathtaking. Akin to watching a production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible where the unbilled supporting characters are actually witches, reducing the human characters to mere pawns that mistrust and accuse one another while the dark ones hold sway. Marvelously authentic production design, cinematography (much of it by natural light), and soundscapes support the award-worthy central turns by Anya Taylor-Joy (making her feature debut), Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, and young performers Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, and the excellent Lucas Dawson, with special notice for the menagerie of four-legged beasts stealing the show at every turn. Trivia: According to an interview with Eggers, the use of “VV” for the poster and title card is a period-correct spelling.


Becket (1964) d. Glenville, Peter (UK) (2nd viewing)

Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton headline as Henry II and his advisor Thomas Becket, happily boozing and wenching it up between more royal obligations. When the monarch butts heads with the Catholic Church, he hits upon the bright idea of making Becket the Archbishop, thinking that all will go smoothly from there on out. Unfortunately, his former pal in debauchery devotes himself entirely to the job, preferring to take his orders exclusively from The Man Upstairs, whereupon their relationship devolves from chummy to challenged. Glorious production values and stellar ensemble acting (with O’Toole and Burton tendering two of their finest screen turns) maintain viewer interest throughout the substantial running time and Becket’s unexplained spiritual epiphany.

Hell in the Pacific (1968) d. Boorman, John (USA) (1st viewing)

Having seen Toshiro Mifune onscreen multiple times over the past few months, I felt the time was finally right to check out this two-hander (which I had first become aware of decades ago via a 1998 Lee Marvin documentary directed by Boorman, detailing his relationship with the actor with whom he had also teamed for 1967’s electrifying Point Blank). Watching the two stars square off against each other (and Mother Nature) as military officers marooned on an island, playing out WWII in miniature, is the film’s primary appeal, based almost entirely on their considerable combined charisma. Amidst some beautifully shot tropical exteriors, we see their relationship move predictably from antagonistic to captor/captive to reversal of same to a grudging truce to a deep emotional bond by the final reel, with a finale that evokes more “huh?” than “mm-hm.” A worthy experiment, if not a wholly successful one.

Lucy (2014) d. Besson, Luc USA (1st viewing)

I’d heard that this big budget effort about a woman who – through some mysterious brilliantly blue-hued crystals – is empowered with the ability to utilize 100% of her brain capacity was decidedly wanting. But since I’m a fan of Ms. Johansson and Mssr. Besson, when it crossed my path at the local library, I decided “what the hey” … which rapidly became “What the hell?” Turns out the reports were correct: It’s a muddled mess that plays at a sci-fi premise for the sole purpose of ho-hum action sequences and CG nonsensery. I’ve heard people suggest that it could have made for an interesting superhero origin story, but even that’s a stretch. Yawn.

The Nice Guys (2016) d. Black, Shane (USA) (1st viewing)

Watching the rollicking trailers last spring, I had a good feeling about writer/director Black’s return to the big screen and I was not disappointed. Grooving comfortably within his patented mismatched male odd-couple formula (Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), we are graced with Russell Crowe’s gruff and paunchy small-time enforcer crossing paths with Ryan Gosling’s even-smaller-time private detective, both following the thread of an adult film star’s bizarre death (a dazzling opening sequence involving a car, a midnight drink of water, and a house). There is plenty of snazzy dialogue and action, with Crowe having the most fun he’s had in years, but it is Gosling’s goofy cowardice and physical comedy that quickly becomes the film’s raison d’etre. After years of bearing witness to the star’s effortless cool (most recently put to good use in La La Land), watching him channel Lou Costello when discovering a corpse or the priceless bathroom stall door/cigarette/magazine lazzi had me laughing out loud and re-estimating an actor I already revered. Highly recommended.

Repo Man (1984) d. Cox, Alex (USA) (2nd viewing)

While I appreciate Cox’s accomplishment of successfully bringing a “punk” sensibility to the screen, simultaneously mocking and embracing the anarchic, pell-mell, anything-goes aesthetic of the movement, I never “got” it, nor understood the instant acclaim for a picture that goes out of its way to shove a middle finger in the faces of the very cineastes and critics celebrating it. Unpleasant characters and situations abound, all in pursuit of a Glowing Great Whatsit (a la Kiss Me Deadly) rolling around in the back of a ’70s sedan. Be that as it may, there’s no denying that there has never been a film like this before or since, and watching Harry Dean Stanton drive the pic (and the repossessed cars) with his trademark rumpled, blue-collar, F.U. attitude is a joy in and of itself.

Shakespeare in Love (1998) d. Madden, John (UK) (3rd viewing)

Following an impassioned (if oft-repeated) online discussion over whether this deserved to win Best Picture over Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (I believe it did, citing the latter as an undeniably impressive opening 30 minutes followed by a ponderous and clichéd second, third, and fourth acts), we decided to take Madden’s 1998 crowd-pleaser for another spin and see if it held up. It does. The screenplay by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman is light and spry, joyful and (deeply) romantic, served up with verve by the stellar, impeccably cast ensemble (Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Ben Affleck, Tom Wilkinson, Rupert Everett, and Oscar winners Gwyneth Paltrow and Judi Dench). A love letter to the Bard and theatre practitioners everywhere.

Wonder Woman (2017) d. Jenkins, Patty (USA) (1st viewing)

A more-than-serviceable big-budget superhero effort, notable for the fact that it focuses on a female protagonist (clearly long overdue, considering I’m already a decade into Marvel Cinematic Universe fatigue). Gal Gadot is terrific as our titular titan, her fabulous furrowed brow as dazzling as her bullet-bouncing bracelets, although she almost has her movie stolen away by Chris Pine’s winning charm as a downed World War One flying ace who lands on her secret Amazonian island. The moment where Gadot strides fearlessly onto the literal field of battle is as inspiring as it deserves to be (although my brain immediately piped up with, “It’s infinitely easier being a hero when you happen to be a superhero.”).


Ikiru (1952) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (2nd viewing)

Takashi Shimura, Kurosawa’s go-to character man, is given a rare shot at a leading role and delivers the groceries in a big way. As a career government office manager who learns he has terminal stomach cancer, Shimura encompasses an expansive array of emotions as he moves through the stages of loss and acceptance, discovering a new passion for his life in its final act thanks in part to a vivacious and eccentric young female co-worker (Miki Odagiri). Equal parts inspiring and devastating, this is perhaps Kurosawa’s finest hour in a modern-dress setting (with High and Low a close second) and must-see material for any film lover.

Seven Samurai (1954) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (2nd viewing)

I’m not versed enough in the world of samurai films (or Japanese cinema overall) to make any grand statements regarding this picture’s significance within the genre. What I can say is that the nearly four-hour running time flies by, feeling neither indulgent nor ponderous, and that it is a true ensemble piece, with every actor given a perfect moment in which to shine. In unfolding the story of a village of farmers who hire the septet of ronin to defend their community against nefarious bandits, the slow building of tension throughout the first two acts is punctuated by well-parceled scenes of action, until the epic climax arrives where everyone fights and no one quits. Toshiro Mifune, who by this time had established himself as Kurosawa’s leading man, is great fun to watch as the manic, loose-cannon swordsman, but it is Takashi Shimura – just two years after his triumphant turn in Ikiru – who truly impresses with his quiet dignity and power as the leader of the original wild bunch.

Throne of Blood (1957) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (2nd viewing)

The best screen version of Macbeth, full stop. In fact, in many ways, Kurosawa and co-writers Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Ryuzo Kikushima’s adaptation betters Shakespeare’s text by making the motivations and machinations of the Lady M character (played flawlessly by Isuzu Yamada) more accessible and convincing. Toshiro Mifune is astonishing in his virility and range, whether it be raging at the supernatural forces shaping his destiny or gazing vacantly at the ghost of his murdered friend. The arrow-riddled climax is nothing short of a miracle captured on celluloid.

Dodes'ka-den (1970) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (1st viewing)

Kurosawa’s first foray into color cinematography is flashy and dynamic in its presentation, even if its many characters aren’t quite as captivating as many of his other films. It’s certainly a quirkier, more lighthearted affair, intriguingly born out of his frustrations in realizing his dream project of Runaway Train (ultimately brought to the screen in 1985 by Russian director Andrey Konchalovskiy starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts). The title comes from the Japanese expression for the sounds that trolleys make (think “choo choo”).

Message from Akira Kurosawa: For Beautiful Movies (2000) d. Kurosawa, Hisao (Japan) (1st viewing)

This documentary (directed by his son) tracks the director’s career path from his early years as an assistant director to his penultimate film (much of the focus is placed on watching the 80-year-old auteur guide cast and crew on the Rhapsody in August set). A fine introduction, if hardly the comprehensive Kurosawa viewer’s guide.

2017 Totals to date: 118 films, 90 1st time views, 49 horror, 31 cinema


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