Sunday, January 6, 2019

Fool's Views (12/16 - 12/31)

"I can't feel my legs, my vision is blurry, and I can't use my words."
"Oh, that's right, it's January..."

And that, my friends, is that.

Ended the year in fine fashion, clocking an additional 25 films during the final two weeks, including bagging my last letter of the alphabet (“Y” for YellowBrickRoad) and the missing pieces in the chronology sweepstakes (1949, 1951, 1952, 1969, 1979), as well as a last-minute Share the Scare with the gang, adding another half-dozen flickers to the grand totals.

I won’t spend a lot of time chatting here – as per usual, it’s time to get to the Year-End Recap Madness – and as you’ll soon discover, you have some reading to do, Faithful AC-olytes! Let’s get to it, shall we?

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



Calvaire (2004) d. du Welz, Fabrice (Belgium) (4th viewing)

This rare genre offering from Belgium presents a few novel twists on the well-worn “travelers off the beaten path” trope. After his car breaks down en route to the next holiday gig, low-rent crooner Laurent Lucas stumbles into a backwards backwoods community devoid of women. Taking shelter at Jackie Berroyer's nearby inn, he soon finds himself captive in a nightmarish scenario that manages to surprise and unnerve without resorting to eviscerations. Kudos to director du Welz, who co-wrote the script with Romain Protait, for his skillful evocation of dread-filled atmospherics, as well as one of the strangest dance sequences ever to pass through a camera lens. Watch for appearances from Eurobabe Brigette Lahaie and High Tension’s Phillipe Nahon.

Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966) d. Fisher, Terence (UK) (5th viewing)

Following the triumph of Horror of Dracula, Christopher Lee avoided donning the fangs again for fear of typecasting (witness Bela Lugosi). He was eventually lured back into the cowl eight years (and a pile of guilt and cash) later for this rather predictable tale of two vacationing English couples (Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Charles Tingwell, Barbara Shelley) who wander into the Count’s almost-but-not-quite deserted castle in search of a good stake dinner. Andrew Kier’s gruff Father Sandor respectably takes up the vampire hunting duties in place of the absent Cushing, and Shelley’s vivid character arc from priggish prude to prowling predator is a distinct highlight. However, Lee’s dialogue was reputedly so clumsy that he refused to utter a word of it, reducing his performance to a series of hisses, stares, and gestures. Even so, his substantial screen presence resonated with audiences, the film was another gigantic hit, and he eventually returned to the role four more times under the Hammer banner.

Full review of Shout! Factory's new blu-ray release is on its way - in the meantime, here's the link:

Lady Terminator (1989) d. Djalil, H. Tjut (Indonesia) (3rd viewing)

I decided to spin this November Turkey Challenge standout one more time before the year was out, this time in the company of fellow gobbler-loving fiends. (My lovely bride reported that she had never heard such prolonged bouts of laughter from the TV room before.) More fun than any unabashed Terminator rip-off ought to be, our muscle-bound cyborg killer from the uncertain future is transformed into a beautiful lady possessed by the spirit of the Queen of the South Seas, but beyond that, James Cameron’s script and storyboards are readily identifiable and that’s half the fun. Watching the frequently nude Barbara Anne Constable shoot up a discotech, chase her quarry down a highway in a cop car, turn a police station into a slaughterhouse, perform makeshift surgery on her own injured eye, etc. is one of life’s great joys, matched only by the robust-yet-tone-deaf line readings of our hero Christopher Hart (doing his best Michael Biehn) as he attempts to rescue damsel-in-distress Claudia Angelique Rademaker. “Get the Panzer!” Hell, yes.

Revenge (2017) d. Fargeat, Coralie (France/Belgium) (1st viewing)


YellowBrickRoad (2010) d. Holland, Jesse / Mitton, Andy (USA) (2nd viewing)



Instead of writing movie reviews, I sometimes feel I should be telling the stories of how the heck I came to be watching them in the first place. For example:

With five days left to go in 2018, I tallied my year-end totals in usual OCD fashion and realized I had seen movies from every year between 1944-2018 except 1949, 1951, 1952, 1969, and 1979.

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952) d. Beaudine, William (USA) (1st viewing)

I decided to fill the first gap, 1952, with pal Mike Murdock's vote, primarily because it's one of those infamous "Bela in decline" features just before he headed into Ed Wood terrain and I had never seen it before. As one might suspect, it features a guy in an ape suit (as well as the "how did this ever happen" comedy team of Sammy Petrillo and Duke Mitchell who were literally impersonating Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis' act wholesale) trading time with Lugosi. At the end of the day, I'm not sorry I saw it because now I can say I have after years of hearing about it.

Next, I had already pulled up one of those "best of" lists from 1979 and among the usual suspects (Apocalypse Now, Kramer v. Kramer, Alien, Breaking Away) was John Huston's little-discussed Wise Blood starring Brad Dourif, Harry Dean Stanton, Ned Beatty, Amy Wright, and Dan Shor. Having not seen it before, my curiosity was piqued and it was available at the local library, so that was easy enough. (review below) Wouldn't you know it... a guy in an ape suit figures prominently in the narrative. I mean, what are the odds?

I had already settled on the original Mighty Joe Young for 1949 (suggested by Scott Bradley), partly because I hadn't seen it in about 15 years and partly because I'm reading Scott's book, Screaming for Pleasure, right now and he's mainlined right into my brain.

Mighty Joe Young (1949) d. Schoedsack, Ernest (USA) (3rd viewing)

As many of you might know or guess, the plot focuses on... a giant Willis O'Brien/Ray Harryhausen stop-motion gorilla running rampant in Los Angeles while future Oscar nominee Terry Moore (Come Back, Little Sheba) plays scolding older sister (and “Beautiful Dreamer”) to the big galoot and future Oscar winner Ben Johnson (The Last Picture Show) tries to keep up . The red-tinted finale where Joe and his human friends, on the run from the law, take time out to save a burning orphanage still packs a wow factor.

You're sensing a pattern here, aren't you? Completely unintentionally, I had programmed three consecutive movies with artificial gorillas running around onscreen. I glanced at my handy copy of Phil Hardy's Overlook horror reference book for the year 1951. Guess what was the first entry?

I mean, come ON. I had no choice.

Bride of the Gorilla (1951) d. Siodmak, Curt (USA) (1st viewing)

Raymond Burr, foreman for a rubber plantation in deepest, darkest Africa, lusts for gorgeous blonde Barbara Payton and winds up accidentally killing her husband Paul Cavanaugh in a jungle scuffle. An elderly native servant decides to put a curse on Burr, making him transform into a savage brute at the most inopportune times… like his wedding night. Enjoyable man-beast hokum, written and directed by Siodmak and co-starring Lon Chaney (The Wolf Man, which Siodmak scripted) and Tom Conway (Cat People, which The Wolf Man directly inspired).

With only one gap left to fill, my search became more intentional. There **had** to be an ape-centric movie from 1969. Unfortunately, the original Planet of the Apes was released in 1968 and the sequel, Beneath the POTA, in 1970. I was just beginning to lose hope when I googled "Sci-fi Movies from 1969" and the heavens opened wide....

The Mighty Gorga (1969) d. Hewitt, David L. (USA) (1st viewing)

With its 3.0 IMDb rating, here is a profoundly inept outing about a circus owner (Anthony Eisley) who needs a new blockbuster exhibit to keep his big top open for business. He heads off to Africa to bag a legendary beast (I'll let you guess what variety) and along the way crosses paths with a British (and female!) big game trapper (Megan Timothy), treasure hunters, wobble-jawed dinosaur puppets on sticks, stop-motion dragons stolen from Vengeance of Hercules aka Goliath and the Dragon, and the most Caucasian tribespeople you've ever seen. Oh, and a guy in a gorilla suit (or it could have just been a gorilla mask and chest, since we never seen him from the waist down). Thankfully, I didn't have to watch this slogfest solo - five brave souls sat alongside for our final Share the Scare of 2018. Thanks Tim, Dan, Jason, Neil, and especially Jon for providing the aforementioned slogfest. Remember: Friends don't let friends watch bad movies.... alone.

Mission. Accomplished.


Almost Human (1974) d. Lenzi, Umberto (Italy) (1st viewing)

Ultraviolent Italian crime drama follows an amoral lowlife small-timer (Tomas Milian) who cooks up a kidnapping scheme and then proceeds to murder everyone in his path, always one step ahead of the flinty detective (Henry Silva, cast against type in a heroic role) on his trail. Never a dull moment, but you might want to take a shower afterwards.

First Reformed (2018) d. Schrader, Paul (USA) (1st viewing)

Ethan Hawke is Oscar-bound as a minister struggling with his faith and his dwindling flock at a quaint tourist attraction church. Things get dark and sad because Paul Schrader.

Madame O (1967) d. Fukuda, Seichii (Japan) (1st viewing)

Fascinating drama about a successful doctor who spends her evenings seeking out men to seduce and infect with syphilis as revenge for her teenage rape.

Starman (1984) d. Carpenter, John (USA) (2nd viewing)

It’s easy to fall into the trap of buying the popular mythology of The Thing (1982) having destroyed Carpenter’s Hollywood career, but it’s worth remembering this little sleeper hit starring Karen Allen and Charles Martin Smith which scored Jeff Bridges an Oscar nomination for his quirky turn as a friendlier breed of extraterrestrial visitor. Newly released to Blu-ray by Shout! Factory with commentary by Carpenter and Bridges, as well as numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes and newly recorded interviews with the cast/crew.

T2: Trainspotting (2017) d. Boyle, Danny (UK) (1st viewing)

All sequels should be this belated and unexpected, born of a simple nostalgic desire to get the band back together for another run. Was it necessary? No. Was anyone asking for it? No. Was it entertaining and respectful to the original? Yes. Was it fun seeing the Scottish lads knocking about, all of whom went from unknowns to medium-to-big Hollywood names due in large part to the 1996 original? Absolutely.

Titus (1999) d. Taymor, Julie (USA) (2nd viewing)

I’m playing the bloody Roman general accursed with a particularly tragic run of luck for The Shakespeare Project this month, so I figured I’d revisit Taymor’s enormously stylized production to see what there was to see. It’s ambitious to be sure, but it never really stays tethered t’ th’ earth long enough to emotionally resonate. Fine scenery-chewing cast, with Harry Lennix a standout as Aaron the Moor.

Wise Blood (1979) d. Huston, John (USA) (1st viewing)

“...the Church of Christ Without Christ. Where the blind can't see, the lame don't walk, and the dead stay that way. Your conscience is a trick; it don't exist, and if you think it does, then you had best get it out in the open, hunt it down, and kill it.” Brad Dourif tears up the screen in a rare lead role as Hazel Motes, a disillusioned war veteran who rages against God and his followers until God rages back. Willfully strange and ruggedly faithful adaptation of Flannery O’ Connor’s novel, with marvelous support by Harry Dean Stanton, Ned Beatty, Dan Shor, and a deliciously wackadoo Amy Wright.


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) d. Helander, Jelmari (Finland) (6th 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 counter-programming shelf as Silent Night Deadly Night, Gremlins, and Christmas Evil. A feature-length follow up/prequel to Helander’s festival fave short films 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.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) d. Selick, Henry (USA) (2nd viewing)

Upon learning that the femalien hadn’t ever seen this stop-motion extravaganza (which I hadn’t viddied since it first screened in the cinema), it seemed like a perfect time to trot out ol’ Jack Skellington and his pals to see how they held up. Answer? Just dandy.

The Ref (1993) d. Demme, Ted (USA) (5th 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.


Endless Love (1981) d. Zefferelli, Franco (USA) (1st viewing)

I was not prepared for the level of adolescent insanity that goes both unchecked and unjudged, nor the inordinate amount of disbelief suspension demanded to keep shucking this corn. I understand the source novel is quite good, so maybe it’s seeing it all brought to lifeless life by Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt. Tom Cruise makes his 45-second film debut as a high-pitched former arsonist (he’s terrible) and James “Jimmy” Spader tenders his second film appearance as Shields’ arrogant brother.

The Firm (1993) d. Pollack, Sydney (USA) (2nd viewing)

John Grisham’s breakout legal thriller delivers the goods with an all-star cast jockeying for screen time. As the idealistic young hotshot lawyer lured into dirty dealings by the siren call of money money money, Cruise does fine if shallow work, but so does pretty much everyone else.

The Last Samurai (2003) d. Zwick, Edward (USA) (2nd viewing)

Keeping his famous grin in check, the superstar makes a noble attempt at nobility, rendering perhaps his most subdued and mature role to date. Good thing, because he’s nearly outclassed at every turn by co-stars Ken Watanabe and Hiroyuki Sanada. Gorgeously shot with flawless production design, accented by impressive action sequences, many of which the stars performed themselves without stunt doubles.

Magnolia (1999) d. Anderson, Paul Thomas (USA) (2nd viewing)

Anderson’s masterful, Oscar-nominated kaleidoscope of (white) humanity brought to life by a brilliant cast. Cruise is undeniably memorable as the misogynistic “Seduce and Destroy” seminar leader T.J. Mackey (earning a Golden Globe and an Oscar nod in the process), but I was struck more by Jason Robards’ ailing patriarch and Melora Walters skittish addict this time around.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015) d. McQuarrie, Christopher (USA) (2nd viewing)

The franchise that keeps getting better with every installment. While I was supremely bummed to see Jeremy Renner’s character brought back from Ghost Protocol while Paula Patton was left behind (would it have killed them to have a woman on the core team? Would it?), we are quickly introduced to the ass-kicking magnificence that is Rebecca Ferguson who proves to be Ethan Hunt’s equal and the two spend the rest of the movie saving each other’s lives. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames are back as well, while Alec Baldwin is introduced as prickly CIA chief Alan Hunley and Sean Harris provides his special brand of whispery menace as baddie Solomon Lane. Breathtaking stunt work, including the curtain-raising cargo plane lifting off with Cruise clinging to the side, though the underwater sequence comes off as a little too CG-sweetened despite the fact that Cruise and Ferguson were actually down there holding their breath for up to four minutes at a time!

Tropic Thunder (2008) d. Stiller, Ben (USA) (3rd viewing)

Top-billed Stiller co-writes, co-produces and directs this guns a-blazin’ satire on the excesses of Hollywood with mostly favorable results. Whether skewering egomaniacal stars, blustering producers, or prestige biopics, Stiller and Co. take big risks, go for big laughs and blow things up real good. Did Robert Downey, Jr. really deserve an Oscar nod? Maybe not. But it’s a brave, nervy performance in a film filled with them, so I’m okay with letting it slide. That said, he’s a total knob for pulling the same shtick on the commentary track, shutting down Stiller and Black as they try to actually offer information that listeners might want to, oh, LISTEN TO. (**gets up, walks around for a minute, sighing heavily to calm down**) As quick-tempered Hollywood exec Les Grossman, Cruise is an utter zany delight – even hidden beneath a bald cap, fat suit, and enormous prosthetic hairy hands and forearms, his megawatt laser-beam personality blazes through.

2018 Totals: 347 films, 211 1st time views, 173 horror, 41 cinema


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