Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Fool's Views (12/1 – 12/31)



Howdy folks!

I’ll get all reflective and introspective in a bit when I do the year-end recap, so for now we’ll just address the month at hand. Very little horror, even of the seasonal type, which is unfortunate since I would have liked to tackle Shout! Factory’s new BR release of Silent Night, Deadly Night or Red Christmas in a more timely fashion, but it just didn’t work out that way.

Instead, my viewing time was taken up with the remainder of Akira Kurosawa’s filmography that was available to me, a number of revisits to high octane/high profile action flicks of yore, several new releases, and a number of foreign language films and overlooked gems that had been lingering on the to-watch list that ended up falling into my grip during December’s visits to the Chicago Public Library. Bottom line, it was an eclectic mix as per usual, but very few that I imagine are lighting up anyone’s else’s Christmas tree but mine. Sometimes you just gotta dance to your own jingle beat, right?

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

Enjoy!

HORROR:


It Comes at Night (2017) d. Shults, Trey Edward (USA) (1st viewing)

Well-realized spin on a well-worn subject (infection horror), with the emphasis placed where it belongs: the evil that humans do in the name of their own self interests. Joel Edgerton is the main “name” of the cast, but it is very much an ensemble piece with stellar atmosphere generated by writer/director Shults (who gave us Krisha two years back). Hardly the groundbreaking terror-fest it was marketed as, but a worthwhile entry nonetheless.





Killing Ground (2016) d. Power, Damien (Australia) (1st viewing)

By contrast, I heard next to nothing about this splendid slice of vacation horror from Down Under, only becoming aware of it when it showed up on my doorstep from IFC Midnight/Shout Factory. A young couple (Harriet Dyer, Ian Meadows) head off for a little escape from the big city and set up tent on a beach down the way from another campsite. Little do they know, the pair of ruffians (Aaron Glenane, Aaron Pederson) who directed them to the spot has less-than-neighborly designs. Delivering white-knuckle suspense in equal measure with gut-punching incidents of brutality, this recalls Eden Lake minus the “youth vs. adults” angle. Satisfyingly dark and dangerous. Available now from Shout! Factory.

https://www.shoutfactory.com/product/killing-ground?product_id=6393




CIVILIAN:


Air Force One (1997) d. Peterson, Wolfgang (USA) (2nd viewing)

This is a very silly movie with a very silly script (and dodgy CG effects), made watchable by Harrison Ford’s grounded man-of-action POTUS facing off against Gary Oldman’s unhinged Russian terrorist. Nevertheless, I had remembered it being better.





The Darjeeling Limited (2007) d. Anderson, Wes (USA) (1st viewing)

Mean-funny and sharp-witted tale of three brothers (Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody) traveling across India as a means of coping with their father’s death. Not sure why it took me so very long to catch up with this, but I’m glad I did. Only have Bottle Rocket left to see.





The Princess Bride (1987) d. Reiner, Rob (USA) (5th viewing)

Such a perfect film. Of course, it promptly got me wondering what the hell happened to Rob Reiner after his incredible run in the 1980s and early 90s that concluded with the critical and commercial failure of North (1994). Since then, he’s continued to work sporadically, but has never even come close to recovering his footing. I mean, has anyone ever raved about The Story of Us, Alex and Emma, And So It Goes, Rumor Has It, or The Bucket List? Hell, I didn't even realize that he'd directed an LBJ biography (called LBJ) starring Woody Harrelson. How did he fall so far?





A Touch of Class (1973) d. Frank, Melvin (USA) (1st viewing)

Glenda Jackson won the Best Actress Oscar (over Ellen Burstyn for The Exorcist, it should be noted) playing a divorced London fashion designer open to having an tryst with jaunty (and married) American businessman George Segal, but their romantic escape to Spain is beset by an onslaught of obstacles, not least of which being that he’s a complete egomaniac covering up a simmering cauldron of insecurities. I was never really rooting for them to succeed as a couple, so their ups and downs during their mishap-laden holiday and subsequent return home didn’t carry much heft for me. Jackson is terrific in her dour, droll way, but Segal is such a jerk that it undermines the whole enterprise. Ah, romantic comedies in the 1970s.





Very Bad Things (1998) d. Berg, Peter (USA) (3rd viewing)

Berg made his directing debut (as well as writing the script) with this awesomely vicious black comedy about a Vegas bachelor party gone supremely wrong and the escalating array of fallout that follows. Fantastic cast (Jon Favreau, Christian Slater, Leland Orser, Jeremy Piven, Daniel Stern, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and a never-better Cameron Diaz as the bride-to-be from hell) goes all the way without a second’s hesitation, embracing the insanity and nihilism with glee. Yes, that is adult film star Kobe Tai (billed as Carla Scott) playing the sassy prostitute in the bathroom with Piven.




LAST GRASP AT 2017 IN 2017:


Beatriz at Dinner (2017) d. Arteta, Miguel (USA) (1st viewing)

Salma Hayek plays a body worker/reiki practitioner whose car dies in the driveway of affluent client Connie Britton the night that amoral businessman John Lithgow is coming for dinner. What could have made for an interesting examination of the price of capitalism becomes a one-sided screed with Hayek’s character fruitlessly attempting to get Rich White Privilege to look in the mirror and find itself wanting. The performances are all engaging, even if everyone is stuck playing within the caricature lines.





I, Tonya (2017) d. Gillespie, Craig (USA) (1st viewing)

Margot Robbie (as figure skater Tonya Harding), Sebastian Stan (as her husband Jeff Gilhooly), and Allison Janney (as Harding’s monster mom) are the main names who deliver big time, but it’s Paul Walter Hauser who nearly walks off with the film as Gilhooly’s delusional childhood friend and “bodyguard.” It’s a fine story well told, one highly sympathetic to the disgraced athlete who probably deserved better than to be forever painted as a villain in the history books.





Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House (2017) d. Landesman, Peter (USA) (1st viewing)

Conventional but effective biopic of the FBI’s second-in-command who, when ordered to shut down the Watergate investigation, continued dig and subsequently feed information to Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of The Washington Post as “Deep Throat.” Liam Neeson seems genuinely invested in the role, despite a somewhat distracting wig.





Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) d. Johnson, Rian (USA) (1st viewing)

The last movie we saw in the cinema, and we both enjoyed it quite a bit. Not sure what all the "controversy" is about and not sure I would even bother to seek out an explanation. I was far more entertained by this than Force Awakens.




SUBTITLES, PLEASE:


Ida (2013) d. Pawlikowski, Pawel (Poland) (1st viewing)

Best Foreign Film Oscar winner is a gorgeously rendered black-and-white tale of a young nun on the verge of taking her vows who goes on a road trip with her aunt to find the parents who abandoned her. Deeply affecting and contemplative.





The Intouchables (2011) d. Nakache, Olivier / Toledano, Eric (France) (1st viewing)

The highest-grossing French film of all time when it was released, it’s a rather conventional, if pleasant, story (based on real events) of a quadriplegic music critic (Francois Cluzet) and the former convict (Omar Sy) who ends up his caretaker.





OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) d. Hazanavicius, Michel (France) (1st viewing)

Admirably energetic spoof of the various James Bond rip-offs that populated the ’60s and ’70s, starring Jean Dujardin and directed by Hazanavicius (who would guide the actor to an Oscar for The Artist five years later). Followed by a sequel.





Wetlands (2013) d. Wenendt, David (Germany) (1st viewing)

Naughty and raunchy art-house fare, with frank discussion of taboo subjects (everything from hemorrhoids to toilet seats to pubic hair shaving to semen-splattered pizza pies) as seen through the lens of an anarchic young fraulein (Carla Juri). Like the main character, beneath the intentionally shocking outer layer lies an appealing sweetness and joy.




HOLIDAY FARE:


Die Hard (1988) d. McTiernan, John (USA) (5th viewing)

I used to think this was the perfect action movie, but on this most recent revisit I found myself wishing that the authority figures (LAPD chief, FBI) weren’t quite so ineffectual and problematic for Bruce Willis’ soon-to-be-iconic John McClane. It’s still a fun ride; I just didn’t remember it being quite so cartoony. That said, it’s also the film that introduced us to Alan Rickman (the best Hans Gruber that ever Grubed).





Die Hard 2 (1990) d. Harlin, Renny (USA) (3rd viewing)

Now, this one, on the other hand, I absolutely remember being brazenly cartoony and setting the “bigger is better” tone for a decade of action sequels to come, with Joel Silver and Jerry Bruckheimer paving the way for Michael Bay. Um, thanks???





Flash Gordon (1980) d. Hodges, Mike UK/(USA) (6th viewing)

This has become our annual Christmas morning tradition, and this year we decided to watch it with French subtitles. “Cela doit être un enfer d'une planète à partir de laquelle vous les hommes viennent.” “Pas mal.” (“That must be one hell of a planet you men come from!” “Not too bad.”)





Office Christmas Party (2016) d. Gordon, Josh / Speck, Will (USA) (1st viewing)

Raucous comedy about, well, an office Christmas party, one led by Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, and T.J. Miller and opposed by Jennifer Aniston. Courtney B. Vance, who I had just seen as the cocky safecracker in Die Hard, delivers a fantastic vanity-free performance responsible for every laugh-out-loud moment. Breezy and quick of wit and pace.




SAYONARA, SENSEI:


Scandal (1950) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (1st viewing)

Wonderful melodrama about a painter (Toshiro Mifune) who offers a popular singer (Yoshiko Yamaguchi) a ride down a mountain path on his motorcycle to the nearby hotel; when they are photographed together by the local tabloid rag and made out to be having an affair, the outraged pair hire a sad sack attorney (Takashi Shimura) to sue the publication. Surprised this one doesn’t get talked about as much, but then again, it did come out the same year as Rashomon.





The Idiot (1951) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (1st viewing)

Based on Dostoyevsky’s classic novel, Kurosawa spins the story of a simple-minded war veteran (Setsuko Hara), driven partially mad, who travels to the snowy island of Kameda and finds himself in a sticky web of love involving his best friend (Toshiro Mifune), a rich man’s mistress (Masayuki Mori), and an attorney’s daughter (Yoshiko Kuga). The snow-covered scenes are gorgeous to behold and the story maintains interest even as it goes back and forth over similar ground for nearly three hours (trimmed down from the director’s original 4.5 hour cut).





I Live in Fear (1955) d. Kurosawa, Akira Japan (1st viewing)

Toshiro Mifune convincingly plays a 70-year-old patriarch whose family tries to have declared insane after he announces his intentions to sell the family business and move everyone to South America to escape potential radioactive fall-out from a hydrogen bomb. A bit on the preachy side, but the drama still packs a punch.





Madadayo (1993) d. Kurosawa, Akira Japan (1st viewing)

A beloved professor (Tatsuo Matsumura) retires from school, and his adoring students keep his legacy alive through a series of annual “Not yet” (the literal translation of the title) parties. Even as hardships fall (house burning down, losing a family cat), the quartet of pupils are always there in support. Sentimental to be sure, but somehow a fitting final film for the Kurosawa canon.

2017 Totals: 251 films, 179 first time views, 111 horror, 52 cinema


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