Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fool's Views (2/7 - 2/13)

Amigos del mios,

Welcome back! This week’s installment of the Views was made possible almost exclusively by the good graces of Netflix, the two exceptions being the 1968 kaiju piñata DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (apparently out of print) and a brief dip into Oscar territory courtesy of a SAG screener of THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. We continued our ongoing G-fest (though we certainly lost a bit of ground, only seeing 3 flicks this week – must needs pick up the pace) and banged out two more of Burt Reynolds’ oeuvre, as well as tagging two of 2010’s more notable horror releases. On the civilian side, it was essentially “independents week,” with features from auteurs Jarmusch, Araki, Cholodenko and Almereyda. Another wildly mixed menu, but enjoyable nonetheless.

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


I Spit on Your Grave (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Monroe, Steven R.
I’m going to come right out and say it: I think this is one of the best horror remakes in recent history. It retains the integrity of the 1978 rape/revenge classic, increasing production values without getting overly slick, with better acting and cinematography, tighter scripting and amped up violence and gore to match the tastes of horror fans over the course of 30 years. The rape scenes are fittingly graphic and off-putting, but they are matched (and exceeded) by the scenes of victim Sarah Butler’s vengeance upon her wrongdoers. Not for those with weak constitutions, but for fans of the original, this is a faithful and worthy update.

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) (1st viewing) d. Williams, Tod
It’s the age-old, “If you liked the first one, you’ll probably like the sequel” conundrum: The larger budgeted follow-up doesn’t really break any new ground in its exploration of ghostly goings-on in the California suburbs, but it also doesn’t jump the shark in trying to outdo its source material. In fact, if there is a weakness, it lies in the sequel’s attempt to link the two films when it probably would have done better to exist as a standalone narrative. But again, this is not a serious criticism, just an observation.

G-FEST 2011:
Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (aka Ebirah, Horror of the Deep) (1966)
(2nd viewing) d. Fukuda, Jun
The Big G tangles with an oversized lobster guarding an island frequented by slave traders abducting the inhabitants of Infant Island (home of Mothra, for the uninitiated). Definitely lighter in tone, with Fukuda taking over the directorial reins for the first time (he would direct four more Godzilla films for Toho, second only to Ishiro Honda).

Son of Godzilla (1967) (3rd viewing) d. Fukuda, Jun
Despite the roly-poly embarrassment that is Minya (or Minilla, depending on which version you’re watching), once viewers embrace the obviously juvenile tone, there are good times to be had. Sad that the mighty king of the monsters (in one of the worst Godzilla suits of the series) sires whiny offspring resembling the Pillsbury Doughboy by way of the reptile cage, but hey, what can you do? On the plus side, the giant mantises (Kamacuras) and spider (Kumonga) menacing the island are well articulated and the monster mashing plentiful.

Destroy All Monsters (1968) (3rd viewing) d. Honda, Ishiro
To celebrate the year of my birth (well, maybe not, but that’s the way I look at it), Toho decided to pull out all the stops, presenting an 11-monster menagerie once again helmed by the godfather of kaiju eija. Evil space aliens put the hypnotic whammy on all the giant beasties, sending them off on real estate-crushing rampages across the globe. An energetic blend of Bond-villain megalomania and monster on the loose goodness.

Doom Generation, The (1995)
(1st viewing) d. Araki, Gregg
Rose McGowan (wonderfully sour) and James Duval play a Gen-X couple who unwittingly hook up with Jonathan Schaech’s charismatic drifter for murder, crime and sex. Leonard Maltin hates this movie, saying it “makes Larry Clark’s KIDS look like THE LITTLE MERMAID.” Grow a pair, Lenny.

Kids are All Right, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Cholodenko, Lisa
Armed with its terrific screenplay and performances, this tale of a lesbian couple’s unexpected reunion with their two children’s sperm donor is the real deal, easily one of the finer comedy/dramas of 2010 and deserving of its Oscar nods. One small beef: where was all the awards push/love for Annette Bening’s co-star, Julianne Moore? As the earthier ying to Bening’s buttoned-down yang, Moore does just as much heavy lifting – seems odd to have showcased one over the other.

Stranger Than Paradise (1984) (1st viewing) d. Jarmusch, Jim
Jarmusch set the independent film world on fire with this deceptively simple black and white film (composed of single-take vignettes) featuring an aimless young Manhattan resident (John Lurie), his dim-witted buddy (Richard Edson) and the changes wrought when his 16-year-old cousin (Eszter Balint) comes to visit from Hungary. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Sundance and the Golden Camera at Cannes.

This So-Called Disaster (2003) (1st viewing) d. Almereyda, Michael
A meandering and disappointingly surface look behind the scenes of the rehearsal process of Sam Shepard’s all-star L.A. stage production of “The Late Henry Moss,” which he wrote and directed. While there is some entertainment value to watching Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, Sean Penn and Cheech Marin sitting around a table discussing character and trying to remember lines, Almereyda shies away from anything that might appear unflattering to his subject (such as the fact that the production was excoriated by the critics).

City Heat (1984)
(1st viewing) d. Benjamin, Richard
Depression-era action/comedy that throws together two of the biggest box office draws of the time, with Clint Eastwood as the taciturn cop and Burt Reynolds as the wily, wisecracking private dick. Easy and breezy, riding on the charisma of its veteran cast (that also includes Rip Torn, Jane Alexander, Madeline Kahn, and Tony Lo Bianco).

Sharky's Machine (1981) (1st viewing) d. Reynolds, Burt
Reynolds steps behind the camera for the third time in this adaptation of William Diehl’s novel about a mismatched team of vice cops out to nail Vittorio Gassman’s evil crimelord. Armed with a sterling ensemble (Charles Durning, Bernie Casey, Earl Holliman, Henry Silva, John Fielder and Brian Keith) and some remarkable stuntwork that includes a then-record 220-foot fall from a building, this engaging thriller also “introduced” the stunning Rachel Ward, despite the fact that she had already appeared in the slasher flick NIGHT SCHOOL released earlier that year.

2011 totals to date: 70 films, 44 1st time views, 31 horror, 3 cinema

Down & Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film by Peter Biskind


  1. My dad took me to see SHARKY'S MACHINE in the theater back in '81. I think he was a little embarrassed by the cavalcade of gritty, sleazy onslaught of hookers, killers, druggies, shotgun murders, torture, etc. I was totally blown away. In a career of over-the-top performances, I think Henry Silva really out does himself here.

  2. As far as Godzilla flicks go, Destroy All Monsters is probably my second favorite after the original Gojira (which I got to see when it was re-released in theaters for its 50th anniversary). Godzilla Vs. the Sea Monster is also a fun one, but I've only seen that on MST3K.

    If you can track it down, there's a book called Godzilla on My Mind by William Tsutsui which is about his personal history with the big guy and the impact he had on the culture in general. Well worth seeking out.

  3. Tom - I clearly remember the trailer for it, although it might as well have been a radio commercial since what rings through is that awesome drive-in voiceover saying, "Nobody leans...on Sharky's Machine." And hell yes, Henry Silva is tearing it UP. Bernie Casey saying, "Guy's a ghost..." Classic.

  4. Craig - This next week will be when we get into my personal fave G period; basically everything from GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971) on. You know, when things got really silly. DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is relatively straightforward by comparison, but I feel like that is Ishiro Honda taking back the series after a few goofy installments. No doubt about it, the original GOJIRA is probably the *best* G film (which I also got to see onscreen during its 50th anniversary tour), but as far as the ones that made me a G-fan? It was the wacky 70s all the way.

    I've read Tsutsui's book - good stuff. I think I actually wrote him an email as well, which he was kind enough to respond to. He occasionally comes to Chicago for G-fest, but I've never been in town for it, oddly enough. There's another author, David Kalat, who wrote the book A CRITICAL HISTORY OF TOHO'S GODZILLA FILMS, who actually lives in the Chicago suburbs. Don't think I won't be tracking him down at some point.

  5. When you do track David Kalat down, make sure you thank him for his awesomely informative Fritz Lang commentaries.