Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fool's Views (12/20 – 12/26)


My first week of freedom from the day job. So, where do I head? To the cinema, of course, to take in the current crop of Oscar bait. Meanwhile, at home, I decided to ring in the solstice with an all-night viewing of Storm of the Century, as well as catching up with some long-neglected, highly recommended features atop the to-watch shelf. All in all, a reasonably satisfying sojourn within the celluloid.

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


After.Life (2009)
(1st viewing) d. Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Agnieszka
After a horrific car accident, Christina Ricci wakes up on the slab at the local funeral home. Confused and feeling still very much alive, Anna resists the notion that she’s shuffled off this mortal coil, despite funeral director Liam Neeson's reassurances that she is merely in transition to the afterlife. Director/co-writer Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s ambitious feature debut is well made, with ample scare scenes intertwined with intriguing questions about life, death and the slender line betwixt them. Unfortunately, the scenario seems better suited to a short film, as the same unhallowed ground is repeatedly trod over…until even the novelty of Ricci’s unadorned flesh loses its appeal. A fine idea needlessly padded.

Black Swan (2010) (1st viewing) d. Aronofsky, Darren
Despite showing up on the cover of Fangoria, I wiffle-waffled for a good long time trying to decide whether Aronofsky’s latest feature, a ballet-thriller starring Natalie Portman, belonged in the “horror” or “civilian” section. After all, there’s not a lot of explicit gore, but there is some truly discomfiting imagery and the overall tenor is rife with tension. What ultimately tipped me over the scale was that I unreservedly refer to Polanski’s Repulsion as a horror film, and seeing as how Swan echoes its predecessor’s theme of spiraling insanity as seen through a beautiful, sexually repressed female character’s increasingly unreliable POV, there seemed little room for debate. Oh, and it’s pretty freaking brilliant, which makes me all the more eager to keep it on the dark side.

Coraline (2009) (1st viewing) d. Selick, Henry
No lighthearted kids movie, this. Don't get me wrong: I loved Selick’s (of Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach fame) nimble stop-motion adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved tale. However, I might have been a little concerned had I seen it with a theater full of youngsters used to Disney or Dreamworks fare, on their behalf, right or wrong. However, what really works is that Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) takes all the weird freaky stuff in stride - all the bizarro imagery becomes a little less scary and a little more magical when your main character - a mere child herself - is intrigued and accepting of the strangeness around her. As adults, we disconnect and think, “Oh, man, that is messed up.” Kids just say, “Ah, this is how it is in this story. Moving on...”

Storm of the Century, The (1999)
(1st viewing) d. Baxley, Craig R.
I liked this Stephen King miniseries well enough, although it's a bit talky for a one-shot viewing. Broken up over a couple nights (which is, after all, how it was intended) it might not have felt so. But as it stood, it seemed like there was a lot of repetition, reminding us who characters were, reminding us of what happened before, reminding us of who's dead, etc. Could have probably accomplished the same thing in 3 hours as opposed to 4 – and while it felt faithful to King's vision, as we've seen, faithful doesn't necessarily equal high entertainment. Also, this habit of calling everybody by their full names over and over and over again - do Maine island people really talk like that? I'd be handing out knuckle sandwiches right and left.

Fighter, The (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Russell, David, O.
What’s oddest to me about this based-on-a-true-story feature is that it was a pet project for Mark Wahlberg for years, and yet he has the least interesting performance in the film. Instead, it serves as a showcase for the terrific ensemble, three of whom (Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo) will likely receive Oscar nods. Wahlberg is physically astute, looking and moving like a boxer, but emotionally comes up just the tiniest bit short – not enough there there.

Killer Inside Me, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Winterbottom, Michael
Holy dark, violent and bleak. Casey Affleck is about the least likely brutal homicidal maniac you’d expect…and that’s why he’s so darn good at it. The logic police had to write a couple tickets at the end, but still, a pretty amazing noir. Based on the novel by Jim Thompson.

King's Speech, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Hooper, Tom
Colin Firth might just stammer his way all the way to the podium this year with his well-inhabited turn as King George VI. Terrific performances all around, especially Geoffrey Rush as Firth’s unconventional speech therapist, with wonderful period feel and production design serving the drama instead of overwhelming it. Oddly enough, it's also strangely unmoving - we understand the character's struggles without truly empathizing.

Machinist, The (2004) (1st viewing) d. Anderson, Brad
While Christian Bale’s astonishing skeletal appearance is what folks generally remember, he also turns in a multifaceted and nuanced character study of a man’s battle for his own mind. What really kills me is that a skilled artisan like Brad Anderson (Session 9) can only seem to find work in television while money and film jobs get handed out to less deserving directors (I’m looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan). Here’s hoping that his upcoming feature, Jack, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Liev Schreiber, changes the course of things.

Memento (2000) (3rd viewing) d. Nolan, Christopher
“Remember Sammy Jankis.” My wife hates this film. And I absolutely do not understand how anyone can hate this film. Because it’s freaking great.

Promise: The Making of “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Zimny, Thom
On the other hand, my wife loves Bruce Springsteen. And she loves me for giving her the special edition 30th anniversary of DOTEOT box set, which includes a wealth of unreleased songs, concert recordings and this documentary showing the Boss at his control freak/genius best.

Zoolander (2001) (1st viewing) d. Stiller, Ben
Um. Hm. Nope, still don’t get it.

2010 Totals to date: 351 films, 236 1st time views, 237 horrors, 41 cinema

First 200 Years of Monty Python, The by Kim “Howard” Johnson
Twilight Zone Companion, The by Marc Scott Zicree


  1. Wow, great choices there. I thought THE MACHINIST was brilliant. How that got overlooked during that year's Oscars still eats at me a bit. It deserved a ton of nods. MEMENTO is excellent as well. I also like ZOOLANDER. It's really dumb, but that is the appeal.

    Still haven't seen AFTER.LIFE, even though I have here at home. I will definitely check it out. I really want to see BLACK SWAN as well.

  2. I'm really glad you liked Black Swan. I caught it over the holidays and thought it was simply phenomenal (and I must have that score!). I know some people weren't crazy about The Fountain, but as far as I'm concerned Aronofsky is five for five.

    For my part, I spent the week leading up to Christmas on a bit of a horror binge, watching The Eclipse (a chilling Irish ghost story), House of Voices (from the director of Martyrs, which I saw earlier in the month), Dead Silence, Wolf, Saw and Teeth in quick succession.

  3. Fred: I took in ZOOLANDER as a loaner from the same guy who told me that THE HANGOVER was the funniest film he'd ever seen. As I wasn't too wowed by that one either, I lowered my expectations, but still was fairly underwhelmed. The odd thing is, I can imagine how it would be funny, but it never really strikes me as being funny. It's like, "Ah, comedy. I get it." Which is not to say I don't laugh at a lot of things - just not at things that are trying SO hard to be funny.

    AFTER.LIFE is interesting, but never entirely successful at figuring out what kind of film it wants to be. All the performances are solid, direction is fine...just something missing.

    I think people saw THE MACHINIST as a stunt on initial viewing, missing the forest for the trees - almost as if Bale did his job *too* well. I liked it much more this go-round, perhaps because I wasn't distracted by trying to figure out the central mystery. I love MEMENTO, and it's so nice that Nolan is becoming a major player, because I think that guy has some serious stories to tell.

  4. Craig: I liked THE FOUNTAIN more than the femalien did, but it's a different animal than his other films - perhaps less emotionally affecting due to its time-tripping, multi-platformed story format. It's a gorgeous picture, and I know I'll be back to revisit it.

    BLACK SWAN was one that I was SO glad that I avoided reading anything about it before getting to the theater, which was no mean feat considering we didn't get to see it until 2 weeks after it had opened. Watching it fresh was like a wonderful mysterious nightmare unfolding before my eyes. Loved it.

    I've got THE ECLIPSE sitting here at home, and you are the 3rd person to recommend it. Guess I know what I need to see next.

  5. Yep, you've got your marching orders, Doc!