Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fool's Views (6/13 – 6/19)

Greetings, true believers,

Yes, it’s true I’m a month behind again with the Views. Chalk it up to rehearsing and/or performing two Shakespeare shows, a wealth of copyediting assignments and composing an epic article for the next issue of HorrorHound. However, as the temperatures rise and the schedule slightly clears, it’s time to return fingers to keys and nose to proverbial grindstone. (If, by the way, you ever hear of my putting my nose to a literal grindstone, please contact the authorities.)

This week represented my last great viewing buffet prior to being overwhelmed, so you’ll notice a wealth of themes and a bevy of flicks, everything from Brit plague epics to Tiffany Shepis horror/comedies, soggy creature features to a quintet of Cronenberg, edgy docudramas to not-so-edgy Tom Cruise vehicles. Hopefully something for every taste, and if not, we’ll be back with more in a jiff.

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


Black Death (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Smith, Christopher
Solid Medieval horror, following Sean Bean’s group of witch hunters in plague-ravaged England as they seek out a village which has somehow remained immune. Great mud-and-blood-soaked atmosphere combined with stellar performances easily makes this Smith’s (Creep, Severance) most accomplished work to date.

Bonnie & Clyde vs. Dracula (2008) (1st viewing) d. Friend, Timothy
Full review available at Short version: Must-see for Tiffany Shepis fans.

Shout, The (1978) (1st viewing) d. Skolimowsky, Jerzy
Bizarre and hypnotic tale of a mysterious stranger (Alan Bates) who insinuates himself into a young English couple’s (John Hurt, Susannah York) lives, empowered with dangerous gifts including the titular sonic assault. Appearing in Fangoria’s 300 top horror films and Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, this is hard as hell to find (bit torrent sites seem to be the only resource), but well worth the search.

Big Alligator River, The (1979)
(1st viewing) d. Martino, Sergio
“A blood-soaked tale of greed, Third World exploitation and karmic comeuppance…” When construction workers encroach onto sacred jungle ground in Southeast Asia to break ground for a swanky resort, the local natives summon their giant alligator god Kroona to put its big scaly feet down and open its mouth wide. The none-too-realistically realized chomping machine (“floating log-like” is a fair assessment) then proceeds to menace everyone and everything in its path, including Italian hunk Claudio Cassinelli, buxom beauty Barbara Bach, as well as imported Italian-cinema vets Mel Ferrer and Richard Johnson. Loaded with tons of red paint gore and gratuitous nudity, and highlighted by a massive third act massacre that rivals Pirahna’s in terms of body count and splashing.

Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011) (1st viewing) d. Lambert, Mary
Even with both former teen pop idols-cum-schlock movie staples Tiffany and Debbie Gibson on board and a seeming knowledge that no “art” was being created here, I still find it hard to derive any true pleasure from these SyFy CGi-fests. Maybe it’s the fact that they elect to use the same renderings over and over again, or maybe it’s that I’d much rather see some budget-strapped property designer’s crappy snake/gator/rat/monster costume or prop and watch an actor try to sell the hell out of a scene in which they’re being devoured by a Styrofoam head. Bottom line, this was fine for what it was, but it’s never going to be my favorite brand of creature feature cheese.

Stereo (1969)
(2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Crimes of the Future (1970) (2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Shivers (aka They Came from Within) (1975) (3rd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Rabid (1977) (4th viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Brood, The (1979) (3rd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
I’ve been meaning to sit down with the Canadian auteur’s body of work en toto for a while now, having seen all of his feature films to date at least once (but sometimes only once, hence the desire to revisit). Though I consider myself a card-carrying D.C. aficionado, I still find his early avant-garde Stereo and Crimes more of interest to those curious to see an artist in his developmental stages, as I’d be hard-pressed to consider them “entertainment.” Even the writer/director himself considers Shivers his first real movie, and I’m once again struck by the raw power of his imagery, where even the amateurish efforts of most of his cast (Barbara Steele and Joe Silver notwithstanding) cannot detract from the ultimate effectiveness of his “slugs & sex-zombies” opus. By contrast, girl-next-door porn star Marilyn Chambers is surprisingly convincing as Rabid’s “patient zero,” spreading a new brand of infection via a phallic needle concealed in her armpit. Cronenberg made the leap to using established stars with Brood, pitting Oliver Reed and Art Hindle against Samantha Eggar’s snowsuited “rage children,” thus continuing his brand-specific type of “body-horror.” Cronenberg would find critical and commercial success in the next decade, but the 70s represent a unique, uncompromising artist sharpening his cinematic sensibilities.

Bloody Sunday (2002)
(1st viewing) d. Greengrass, Paul
Electrifying you-are-there immediacy and stellar turns from the entire ensemble (particularly James Nesbitt as civil rights leader Ivan Cooper) result in a wrenching, riveting portrayal of Ireland’s Londonderry protest march and subsequent massacre by British troops on January 30, 1972.

Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The (2008) (1st viewing) d. Fincher, David
This Oscar-winning adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story is a master class of visual effects and cinematography – elegiac and gorgeous, yet somehow remaining emotionally muted (much like Brad Pitt’s backward-aging protagonist).

Days of Thunder (1990)
(1st viewing) d. Scott, Tony
Top Gun with race cars. Yep, that’s about the size of it.

Legend (1985) (2nd viewing) d. Scott, Ridley
Having not seen the “director’s cut” before, I decided to revisit Cruise’s snaggletoothed wild boy adventure fantasy despite the fact that I wasn’t a big fan the first time around. It works better as a visual feast (Norman Dorme’s art direction, Rob Bottin’s stellar makeups) than as a dramatic narrative, though I can’t recall Tangerine Dream’s synth score – featured in the U.S. theatrical release well enough to weigh in on its worthiness compared to Jerry Goldsmith’s more traditional brass-and-strings arrangements. Still not a big fan.

Knight and Day (2010) (1st viewing) d. Mangold, James
This was a ton of fizzy fun, utilizing the superstar’s effortless charisma and physicality to full effect as a rogue undercover operative who kidnaps Cameron Diaz’s everyday gal after she inadvertently becomes involved in an elaborate superspy game of cat n’ mouse. McGuffins, live-wire stunts and snappy comic interplay abound.

Valkyrie (2008) (1st viewing) d. Singer, Bryan
While the “based on true events” tale of an undercover group of Nazis attempting to assassinate Hitler plays out like a well-oiled action/drama, with an all-star cast that includes Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson and Eddie Izzard, I could never stop wondering, if someone was truly serious about ending the life of Der Fuhrer, why they didn’t just step up and put a bullet in his brain, seeing how often they were all in the same room.

2011 totals to date: 254 films, 153 1st time views, 123 horror, 14 cinema


Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

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