Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fool's Views (1/11 – 1/17)

Hey kids,

Wow, almost on schedule and all first time viewings! Sometimes I even impress myself. This week, we take a look at a couple of lesser-known horror items and a recent sci-fi programmer, alongside flicks with chicks on skates, kicks with big dicks, Sherlocks with six-packs and a double barreled blast of Italian gunpowder. Enjoy!

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

10 Rillington Place (1971) (1st viewing) d. Fleischer, Richard
Richard Attenborough’s chilling, soft-spoken turn as real life English serial killer John Christie is the centerpiece of this pitch black docudrama, but the supporting cast (including Judy Geeson and John Hurt as a troubled young couple) are just as impressive, as is director Fleischer’s well-cultivated mood of constant dread throughout and sparing use of John Dankworth’s musical score. Many scenes were actually filmed on location at the titular London address (changed to “Ruston Place” following Christie’s conviction due to the understandably negative press). A hard-to-find item recently made available through Netflix’s “Instant Viewing” program – let’s hear it for the Little Red Envelope.

Pandorum (2009) (1st viewing) d. Alvart, Christian
Awakening from suspended animation during their epic “locate alternate home planet” mission (Earth having become uninhabitable), astronauts Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid discover their memories virtually blanked out. To further complicate matters, bloodthirsty humanoid creatures (resembling armor-clad versions of The Descent’s “Crawlers” in both appearance and ferocity) are marauding the ships’ labyrinthine corridors, feasting on helplessly slumbering crew members. A not-bad little sci-fi/horror thriller with solid production values that would likely have functioned better in truncated form – the fundamental ideas of Travis Milloy’s script make for intriguing entertainment, but when padded out to sustain a feature’s running time, his plot twists become easier to anticipate. Still, a decent time-waster.

Crimes of Stephen Hawke, The (1936) (1st viewing) d. King, George
Maria Marten, or The Murder in the Red Barn (1935) (1st viewing) d. Rosmer, Milton
A British stage actor given to florid, extravagant performances, Tod Slaughter found his way onto the silver screen in 1935, basically recreating roles that he had given life to on the boards, including his first outing as the outrageously villainous Squire Corder in Murder in the Red Barn, followed the next year by possibly the most famous (pre-musical, of course) film incarnation of the demon barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd. His scenery-chewing, full-blooded characterizations remain reliably entertaining, given Slaughter’s zestful penchant for playing scoundrels – his role as Stephen Hawke in The Crimes of __________ (living a double life as notorious murderer “The Spine Breaker”) is no exception. With hands so powerful their very grip leaves vicious bruises, it’s clear that Slaughter is enjoying his work. Considering both films clock in at a little over an hour each, it should be added that neither outstays its welcome – no melodramatic malaise here, just corn-through-a-goose plot and expansive emoting from Slaughter & Co.

Kansas City Bomber (1972)
(1st viewing) d. Freedman, Jerrold
Raquel Welch continues to rebound from her disastrous 1970 star vehicle Myra Breckinridge – which I actually kinda like – with this energetic drama about the cinematically underexplored sport of roller derby, playing a single mom who also happens to be a terror on the track. Terrific skating sequences (for which Welch did much of her own stunts) and fiery catfights are among the highlights, with Kevin McCarthy offering glorious support as a slithery broker of shady trades and deals.

Medium Cool (1969) (1st viewing) d. Wexler, Haskell
Haskell’s vitriolic, provocative, feverishly paced tale of Chicago news cameramen in and around the 1968 Democratic Convention, with cunningly interspliced documentary footage accenting his fictitious narrative and characters. Robert Forster turns in an astonishing early-career best performance alongside Peter Bonerz (best known to viewers as “Jerry the Dentist” from The Bob Newhart Show). Important, significant and highly recommended for fans of edgy and raw cinema.

Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy (2001) (1st viewing) d. Gill, Scott J.
I had to check the date to see which came first, this or the similarly titled Will Ferrell comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (the latter came out in ’04). I wouldn’t say that we get much closer to understanding why the overweight pudgy fella is the world’s most popular adult film star (his everyday Joe qualities seem to be as close as anyone gets to an answer), but we do get to know Jeremy a little better – turns out he’s a pretty decent guy, well-liked by pretty much everyone he spends time with, but also a wildly insecure individual whose cravings for attention and recognition feed his passion to work every room to its fullest, on or off camera.

Sherlock Holmes (2009) (1st viewing) d. Ritchie, Guy
Well, they could have called it “Movie in which Robert Downey, Jr. does his clever smart-aleck thing in turn of the century London while occasionally showing off his hot bod” and it probably would have sold just as many tickets. Somehow, for me, all the explosions and camera under/overcranking seem a little unnecessary, but it is a Guy Ritchie Film, so what can one expect? Entertaining to be sure, but overelaborate by half and instantly forgettable. Not to worry, Holmes aficionados: the deerstalker cap-wearing detective you know and love will not be eradicated from the public consciousness – no one could mistake this for anything other than the popcorn action flick that it is.

Surveillance (2008) (1st viewing) d. Lynch, Jennifer
Crackerjack, whipsmart crime drama investigating a series of crimes in Jerkwater, USA, where the crooked are even crookeder and even the straight arrows boomerang around the yard a couple times. Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond are FBI agents on the trail of a brutal killer, wearing down confessions from surly cops and obstinate witnesses. Everything is revealed through flashback testimony, said revelations being bloodsoaked, furious and plentiful, courtesy of Lynch and Kent Harper’s tightly coiled script. Check it out.

Unbelievable Truth, The (1989) (1st viewing) d. Hartley, Hal
Hartley’s debut feature packs oodles of oddball charm alongside nuggets of wry human observance – a winning combination indeed. When a convict returns to his former NY suburban home, his path collides with that of a doomsaying teen beauty with a passion for George Washington. The fresh-faced roster includes Adrienne Shelly, Robert John Burke, Edie Falco and Chris Cooke, all of whom live and breathe the writer/director’s idiosyncratic dialogue like they were born to it. Not sure if it’s currently available on DVD (or if it ever was – had to track down a VHS version courtesy of the Chicago Public Library). If not, it truly deserves to be reintroduced to the next generation. Someone get on that, okay?

Django (1966)
(1st viewing) d. Corbucci, Sergio
Great Silence, The (aka The Big Silence) (1968) (1st viewing) d. Corbucci, Sergio
In many ways similar to Sergio Leone’s “Man with No Name” epics, fellow countryman Corbucci often pits a lone, new-to-town gunslinging stranger against the incumbent and corrupt powers that be. However, “the other Sergio’s” quirky character touches are what elevate his output beyond the myriad Italian directors churning out oaters by the troughful. In Django, Franco Nero’s titular character first appears under the opening credits (armed with his own belted-out Elvis-like theme song) not on horseback, but on foot… dragging a wooden coffin behind him. Within seconds, the seeds of mystery are laid, continuing to flower as he integrates himself into the small community, culminating in several bloody, violent, vengeful encounters. Silence, on the other hand, concerns the impending conflict between Jean-Louis Trintignant’s mute gunman and stone cold bounty hunter Klaus Kinski. The desolate, snow-covered winter settings set a haunting mood singular among most westerns, but the real surprises lie in the dark, nihilistic plot twists and climax (an alternate “happy ending” conclusion was shot when distributors deemed Corbucci’s vision too bleak and unforgiving). Both films are terrific entertainment, with Django the crowd-pleaser and Silence approaching great art.

2010 Totals to date: 19 films, 18 1st time views, 7 horrors, 4 cinema

Monty Python’s Flying Circus – 7 episodes
The Twilight Zone – 14 episodes

Currently reading: THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY by Michael Chabon


  1. The only one in this lot that I've seen is Medium Cool, which I watched back in 2008 in tandem with the Democratic National Convention, which seemed appropriate.

    I hope to catch up with The Unbelievable Truth at some point this year since I'm really behind the curve when it comes to Hal Hartley's filmography. And if I can manage it, Trust should follow close behind.

  2. Honestly, I was surprised (after reading about it for years) that it had taken me this long to finally see MEDIUM COOL. Watching it alongside the 2008 convention would have been cool - was it on cable somewhere, b/c that just seems like programming that directs itself.

    I fell in love with Hartley's HENRY FOOL and TRUST back in the early 2000s, but for some reason had not made a concentrated effort to check out the rest of his stuff (although I had stumbled onto NO SUCH THING in 2004 not realizing it was the same director - I was just watching it b/c I had heard it was a movie about a lonely monster). Caught up with FAY GRIM, AMATEUR and SIMPLE MEN last year, all of which are great, but my top Hartleys to date would be UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH, TRUST and HENRY FOOL, the latter of which is my fave.

  3. Actually, I borrowed Medium Cool from my library, which has a very well-stocked video section. They only had it on VHS, though, which was something of a disappointment. (They have, of course, since sold off all of their old VHS tapes, which isn't too much of a blow since they've managed to replace most of their collection on DVD over time.)