Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fool's Views (1/24 – 2/6)

Hello, hello!

Being that last week was the great blizzard of 2011, it’s no real surprise that we got a few movies in. After all, what else was there to do? But it’s funny where inspiration for some of the viewing choices originates. Every 2010 pick this week came courtesy of the Little Red Envelope, one of those rare occasions where Netflix receives your returns the very day the new releases drop. Similarly, it’s often a matter of being in the right place at the right time, as a trip to the Chicago Public Library yielded the remainder of the civilian gems. Sometimes it’s as simple as glancing at your instant streaming queue and realizing that several of your potential Views all start with the same two letters, or it could be the late night screening of an exploitation class-sick (with director Bill Lustig in person!) And sometimes it’s the perfect storm of finishing a book on Toho sci-fi/fantasy flicks the last week in January, and a month-long kaiju festival suddenly programs itself (28 days hath February, 28 Godzilla films hath Toho).

Hope you enjoy the mumbling, jumbling ride – I know I did. As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.


Let Me In (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Reeves, Matt
I’ll admit it: I judged this remake of the acclaimed 2008 Swedish vampire flick long before I ever saw it, knowing it was going to be a lame Hollywood redux for the idjits who wouldn’t read subtitles, hellbent on sucking everything original out and replacing it with vacuous magazine cover-ready actors and goddawful CGI. And considering U.S. studios’ track record lately, who could blame me? But while there may not have been any truly sound reason for said remake to occur – especially not so soon – the newly revived Hammer Films and writer/director Reeves do their source materials (both book and film) proud. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz as the young misfit and the bloodsucker who befriends him are sublime, as are Richard Jenkins as Moretz’s worn down companion and Elias Koteas’ rumpled homicide cop. While there are occasions of computer generated mayhem, on the whole the picture is quiet, effective and perhaps most importantly…faithful.

Maniac (1980) (3rd viewing) d. Lustig, William
Renowned character actor Joe Spinell creates one of the most memorable (and certainly the sweatiest) psychopaths ever to grace the grindhouses. Constantly moaning, mumbling and crying, Spinell’s Frank Zito conducts a reign of terror on the NYC streets, murdering young women and tacking their bloody scalps onto his ever-growing collection of female mannequins. Working from a script by Spinell and C.A. Rosenberg and aided enormously by Tom Savini’s gut-churning and (literally) mind-blowing f/x, William Lustig directs this notorious bit of nastiness with the grime and degradation piled on an inch thick throughout. Gorgeous Caroline Munro also stars as a fashion photographer, although her attraction to and ensuing relationship with Spinell are the weakest elements in the film (not to mention the fact that his “normal” behavior is completely at odds with the remainder of his unhinged performance). Fans should also check out Spinell and Munro’s 1982 follow-up, THE LAST HORROR FILM (aka FANATIC) which reimagines the Zito character as a wannabe horror director chasing his starlet through the Cannes Film Festival.

Monsters (2010) (1st viewing) d. Edwards, Gareth
Considering its epic scope and superb execution, I can give nothing but praise to writer/director Edwards for realizing this astonishingly well-mounted feature on his threadbare $800,000 budget. The acting is sharp, creature effects convincing, production design meticulous, dialogue natural and motivated… But even for all that, the drama – cynical reporter (Scoot McNairy) escorts rich and entitled daughter of a faceless publishing magnate (Whitney Able) through an extraterrestrial “infected zone” in Mexico to the U.S. border – proceeds at such a glacial pace that little genuine tension is ever achieved. Even the rare appearances of the titular menaces are handled so flatly (with the exception of the final gas station moments) that they barely merit an eyebrow raising, much less a pulse racing. Highest marks for pulling off a great looking film on a pittance, but I needed a little more heat to stoke my fires.

Shiver (2008)
(1st viewing) d. Ortiz, Isidro
A photosensitive youth travels with his mother to a remote mountainous village that only affords a few hours of sunlight per day, only to find himself caught up in a series of savage murders. This atmospheric, well-paced Spanish chiller starts off so strongly with its wealth of engaging ideas, viewers will probably be inclined to forgive the fact that it ultimately satisfies less than it originally promises.

Shutter (2004) (1st viewing) d. Pisanthanakun, Banjong/Wongpoom, Parkpoom
Proficiently made Thai ghost story commits the sin of utilizing every J-horror cliché in the book, especially when arriving late to the party. By the time SHUTTER hit screens, the American remakes of RINGU and JU-ON: THE GRUDGE were already busy turning vengeful long-haired female ghosts with bizarre movement patterns, photos that blur and smear upon developing, protagonists whose friends are bumped off while they attempt to uncover the mystery amidst aural jump scares galore, etc. into tiresome tropes – all of which are on full display here. (Not that I blame the filmmakers for trying to catch the wave; lord knows everyone else did.) If you’ve never seen an Asian horror film before, or if you’re such a fan that you rush out to see every spooky dark-haired specter that comes down the pike, you might want to give this a try. Otherwise, it’s a bit of same old, same old.

Shuttle (2008)
(1st viewing) d. Anderson, Edward
Watching the trailer on a multitude of horror DVDs, I found myself constantly asking, “How are they going to pad out the story of a hijacked airport shuttle bus for 107 minutes?” I mean, there are only so many opportunities available within the vehicle confines and only so many times that said vehicle can halt its forward motion before ludicrousness creeps in. However, while far from a perfect film (and probably 15 minutes longer than it needs to be), I was pleasantly surprised at how many twists and turns writer/director Anderson was able to incorporate into his high concept plotline, as well as the levels of nastiness explored. Above average performances throughout, especially from Tony Curran as the mysterious man behind the wheel and Peyton List as the pluckiest of potential victims.

Gigantis the Fire Monster (aka Godzilla Raids Again) (1955)
(2nd viewing) d. Oda, Motoyoshi
Quickie sequel loses pretty much all the politics of the original and sets its sights on giant monster battles and destruction of miniature real estate. Anguirus and Godzilla’s frantic high-speed battles are highly entertaining, even if the human drama comes up short.

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) (4th viewing) d. Honda, Ishiro
Unabashedly goofy flick pits the “American” giant monster against Japan’s reigning kaiju eija. Not a serious bone in its body, which could account for its being the most successful G film every produced, in terms of tickets sold. Those who decry Godzilla’s lack of gravitas in the 70s would do well to realize the tone was set right here, on the big fella’s third screen outing.

Godzilla vs. the Thing (aka Mothra vs. Godzilla) (1964) (4th viewing) d. Honda, Ishiro
Slightly less bonkers than the previous installment (KKvG), this sequel to 1961's MOTHRA sees a giant egg wash up on the shore and immediately laid claim to by nefarious entrepreneurs. While Godzilla defeats Mothra proper (a subject of much discussion on school playgrounds everywhere), he is overwhelmed by her twin offspring and sent tumbling into the ocean in the final reel.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) (3rd viewing) d. Honda, Ishiro
Like the Universal monster mashes of old, Toho brought out the whole gang for the 10-year anniversary of their original box office smash. Rodan, Godzilla and Mothra join forces in a giant smackdown against the titular hydra-noggined space creature. The monsters’ “summit meeting” scene is a classic.

Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (aka Invasion of Astro Monster) (1965) (4th viewing) d. Honda, Ishiro
Earth “loans” Rodan and Godzilla to the inhabitants of Planet X, who are suffering under attacks from Ghidorah, only to discover the aliens’ true plans are to brainwash the two bruisers into unleashing their full force upon the hapless Earthlings. Nick Adams stars, becoming the first Caucasian actor to appear in a Godzilla film from the outset (as opposed to the American release-dictated insertion of Raymond Burr or the newcasters from KKvG). This is the one where G does his infamous “victory jig.”

Catfish (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Joost, Henry/Schulman, Ariel
Intriguing documentary about a relationship begun and perpetuated via Facebook, where illusion is everything. Potentially prurient material evolves into something far more surprising and emotionally resonant.

Downfall (2004) (1st viewing) d. Hirschbiegel, Oliver
Final 48 hours of the Third Reich are brilliantly dramatized, from the battle-torn streets of Berlin to the bunker where a weary, deranged Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz, flawless here) raves and sulks as he bids farewell to his loyal staff and followers. As we watch the Nazi “dream” gutter out like a candle, via Hirschbiegel’s canny direction we experience the most unexpected of emotions: Empathy for the monsters.

Elevator to the Gallows (1958) (1st viewing) d. Malle, Louis
Malle's first non-documentary film as a director is widely regarded as both one of the best noirs and one of the best French New Wave films ever made. A man (Maurice Ronet) and woman (Jeanne Moreau) plan to murder her husband, but fate intervenes, complicating what should have been the "perfect crime." Miles Davis recorded the legendary score with a quartet of French musicians in one evening, improvising each number whilst sipping champagne with Moreau and Malle.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) (2nd viewing) d. Anderson, Wes
Seriously clever and unique animated film, based on the story by Roald Dahl, sporting razor-sharp vocal performances by George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and Michael Gambon and superb stop-motion effects by Indian Paintbrush. Though nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, it had the misfortune of being released the same year as Pixar’s UP.

2011 totals to date: 59 films, 36 1st time views, 26 horror, 3 cinema


  1. Glad you liked Let Me In. Talk about a movie in an untenable position. Poor bastards. That car wreck scene is amazing! And while I don't like the CGI in Let Me In, I don't think I can fairly criticize this movie for it when the ham-fisted CGI cat scene from the original has been shrewdly omitted.

    Re: Mr. Fox. Is it fair to say that we are living in a golden age of animation? Because of the three movies nominated for Best Animated Feature last year, The Fantastic Mr. Fox was the third best. Misfortune, indeed, to be up against Up, but I think it might have lost to The Secret of The Kells, too.

    Note, my capcha word is "glywala", which I swear sounds like some weird animal from Australia.

  2. When I was in college one of my professors ran the Cinemateque, which showed lots of foreign films, and Elevator to the Gallows was one of them. I saw every film that was shown the first semester of my freshman year, so I was invited to help pick the movies for the spring. Of course, I got cast in a play and had to miss pretty much all of them, but I made a point of getting out of one rehearsal so I could see The Seventh Seal. I should probably go back and see both of them again sometime. I'd say it's been long enough.

  3. Dr. Morbius - Too true, too true about LET ME IN.

    In fact, the CGI cat scene in LTROI is what originally kept me from *loving* it the first time around. But I've been able to forgive and move on.

    I've got SECRET OF KELLS in my queue, hoping to get to it soon. But yeah, seems like the animated features are yielding the strongest, snappiest screenplays these days. God bless 'em.

    Glywala to you, mate.

  4. Craig: I do miss the old college screenings. I remember seeing CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Herzog's NOSFERATU, THE OFFICIAL STORY, Cronenberg's DEAD RINGERS, JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN, SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT...

    Then again, in this day and age, they are less essential for cinephiles, since pretty much everything is out there and available. Still, when you have cool, esoteric programmers like the ones they currently have down at Univ. of Chicago Doc, it makes it all worthwhile.