Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fool's Views (1/1 - 1/9)

Howdy, troops,

Welcome to the first FVs of the New Year. After the madcap flurry of the last few weeks, it's a bit of a relief to only have to weigh in on a mere seven films at a single sitting. Here's hoping we can keep that schedule intact, eh?

Couple new horror flicks this week, both of the vampiric variety, as well as a glance back at one of the genre's legends in a less-than-legendary outing. As well as sci-fi ventures large and small, musicals and documentaries, there's something for everyone!

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


Daybreakers (2009)
(1st viewing) d. Sperig, Michael/Sperig, Peter
The boys from Down Under follow up their high-energy, low-budget zombie flick Undead with a vampire epic that starts off with such promising and well-developed mythology that it’s more than a little disappointing when it devolves into “small band of rebels vs. the all-controlling corporate powers” action clichés, complete with predictable last minute double crosses and irksome jump scares (in this case, in the form of annoying vampire bat shrieks). Which is not to say Daybreakers is a bad movie, because it isn’t – filled with capable performances from Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Claudia Karvan (the Famke Janssen ringer who appeared in last year’s Long Weekend update) and an especially enthusiastic Willem Dafoe, as well as gorgeously stylized cinematography and production design, there’s a lot to admire from the Sperig Brothers in terms of presentation. But with two variations on all-too-familiar themes under their belts, one hopes that their next venture exhibits more than just inspired repackaging.

Madhouse (1974) (2nd viewing) d. Clark, Jim
Vincent Price takes center stage as a hammy horror star sidelined when someone lops off his fiancée’s head at a fancy dinner party (rude, that), resulting in a decade-long rest in the booby hatch. When sleazy producer Robert Quarry decides to resurrect Price’s “Dr. Death” character in a new series of films, the aging icon returns…only to encounter his cast and crew being mysteriously murdered one by one – with himself the prime suspect. Director Clark struggles to find an appropriate tone, attempting to play the terror straight, then detouring into the campy macabre fun of the successful Phibes series. The result is a meandering, languorous and predictable programmer, mechanically punctuated by not-gory-enough set pieces. While it’s a treat to see Price sharing screen time with Peter Cushing, their scenes are few and far between, with the real surprise Adrienne Corri’s go-for-broke performance as a faded starlet gone bananas – her scenes of dallying with tarantulas whilst fingering her pancaked features seem transported from another movie, one you may wish you were watching instead. With Linda Hayden.

New Moon (2009) (1st viewing) d. Wietz, Chris
Hardcore genre fans are already bristling to see this latest screen version of novelist Stephanie Meyer’s wildly successful Twilight book series (dis)gracing the covers of blood-soaked movie mags (hello, Fango). Being that the main characters are in fact vampires and werewolves, I suppose one must extend a little professional courtesy, although to refer to the moody, mopey goings-on as “horror” is quite a stretch since there are both good and bad bloodsuckers and shapeshifters on hand, reducing them to mere fantasy characters, and angsty, whiny lovestruck teen variants at that. The direction and performances are fine, and Weitz puts the atmospheric north Pacific Coast landscape to good use here. Plotwise, however, very little to speak of actually happens onscreen, leaving the non-Meyer-versed adrift in a two hour-plus sea of expository character/relationship development, establishing the emotional stakes over and over and over again. Honestly, we get it; now get on with it. When we’re legitimately thrilled to witness a stupendously cheesy CGI-rendered lycan presto-chango for its own break-in-the-monotony merits, there’s something fundamentally flawed on a dramatic level, regardless of personal tastes.

Avatar (2009)
(1st viewing) d. Cameron, James
It’s unfortunate that the Cliff’s Notes version of a review (“Effects Great, Story Lame”) is so accurate. Cameron provides plenty of visual feasting, and the last 45 minutes are among the most visually spectacular I’ve ever witnessed in the cinema, but there’s no end of nitpicking to be done on a dramatic level with his neverending barrage of tried-and-true-blue tropes. At once amazing and appalling.

Burden of Dreams (1982) (1st viewing) d. Blank, Les
Hypnotic documentary of Werner Herzog’s frustrating (and oft self-inflicted) trials while filming his epic Fitzcarraldo. It’s a fascinating dichotomy, watching a fanatic make a film about a fanatic, hearing the director espouse the needs to leave the natives and environment “unspoiled” by Western philosophies while at the same time watching him bulldoze sections of mountain forestry to pull his full-size steamship through. Biggest complaint: Blanks’ hasty wrap-up, turning what should have been a satisfying triumphant climax into little more than a footnote.

Girl from Monday, The (2005) (1st viewing) d. Hartley, Hal
The NYC indie darling’s venture into sci-fi fails miserably, with sledgehammer social commentaries and allegories overwhelming his quirky characters (which, surprisingly, are hardly quirky at all – even in a world of taxable sex and space aliens). Sarah Cawley’s blurry, smudged-color cinematography doesn’t do any favors either.

Nine (2009) (1st viewing) d. Marshall, Rob
Setting aside the perpetual distraction that Daniel Day-Lewis, while a terrific actor, is not and never will be Italian, the biggest problem with the musicalization of Fellini’s is that with huge, splashy and undeniably impressive solo vocal numbers taking the place of dramatic scenes establishing the relationships between Day-Lewis’ director and the women in his life, we never get to know, like or care about him – problematic when one’s main character is already callow and self-centered to begin with. Great cast and songs, better suited to a concert than a movie.

2010 Totals to date: 7 films, 6 1st time views, 3 horrors, 3 cinema

TV: 14 episodes of The Twilight Zone

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


  1. First off, we're starting the year on somewhat equal footing -- I've also seen seven films so far, but only one of them (Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which comes highly recommended if you're a fan of his work) has been in the theaters.

    Second, I can't believe you put yourself through New Moon. I'm a werewolf lunatic of the first order and even I can't stomach those movies.

    Third, are you as excited as I am that The Wolfman is only a month away? How long have we been waiting for this puppy to come out? Seems like forever!

  2. I will indeed be seeking out PARNASSUS, though it will have to wait until February, as my work schedule has gotten a little tight. Off to see CRAZY HEART and SHERLOCK HOLMES (hopefully) tonight, then it'll be a while before I make it back to the movies.

    Yeah, NEW MOON was a long haul, but I'm always curious to see the "phenomenon" movies and being that it contains both vampires and werewolves, it technically falls under our domain, doesn't it?

    I so want WOLFMAN to be good. The trailers have been promising, but then again, that's their job, isn't it?

  3. Haven't seen either of those, but I'm planning on catching The Lovely Bones this weekend.

    As for The Wolfman, my doubts were completely assuaged when I saw the trailer for it in front of Inglourious Basterds. My only fear now is that with all the delays and reshoots and rumors about editors being brought in to "fix" it, that means it's in danger of being test-marketed to death.

    I'm also miffed that Danny Elfman has been replaced as composer, but I'll get over that.