Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fool's Views (8/1 - 8/7)

Howdy folks,

Yep, it’s been a spell since the Doc got in the saddle to round up the Views. As the workload lightened on the Shakespeare front, I must confess to being more inclined to continually and vigilantly visit the multiplexes, whittle away at the Netflix queue, and pillage the public library than wax rhapsodic about said viewing experiences. However, now that we’re once again a month behind and since things are going to go predictably off the rails with the October Horror Movie Challenge and the second annual Scare-a-Thon, I figured I’d better put fingers to keyboard before I was lost completely.

The first week of August yielded another all day stint at the cinema, with seasoned flixster friend Toy and I taking in a varied but worthy quartet of summer flicks (three of which, oddly enough, featured aliens in one form or another). Back on the home front, it was a medley of horror docs, Oscar knocks, dramatic licks and action flicks. 14 in all. Good stuff, Maynard.

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


King Kong (2005)
(2nd viewing) d. Jackson, Peter
There’s no faulting Jackson’s admirable aim to give fans and cinema history the quintessential telling of the Kong story, with all the advantages that modern technology can offer. There’s also no denying that the CGI Kong, complete with motion capture performance by Andy Serkis, is an astonishing creation. But sadly there is so much fat, juicy and tasty as it might be, on this beast (each set piece is astounding, but there is such a thing as TOO MUCH, Pete) that the three-hour enterprise ultimately topples under its own weight. Logic, even in a story as fantastic as this, is stretched to the breaking point time and again, and while Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody do fine in their roles of ape-crossed lovers, Jack Black rings false in the pivotal role of fearless, gung ho movie director Denham. More exhausting than exhilarating.

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) (1st viewing) d. Farrands, Daniel/Kasch, Andrew
While the term “landmark” might edge toward hyperbole, it is difficult to find anything negative to say against this documentary’s exhaustive reflection on the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Freddy fans will delight at the attention paid to each installment, and the candor expressed by the players involved is refreshing and delightful. Without pulling punches (although for my money, Freddy’s Dead still comes off looking better than it should), countless production stories are delivered with deep affection and twinkling eyes from major players (Wes Craven, Robert Shaye, Robert Englund) to the dozens of one-off victims of everyone’s favorite dream demon. At four hours long, it’s a bit much for any one sitting, but structured as it is in movie-by-movie format, it’s easy to break up into installments to suit each fan’s particular stamina level. A welcome improvement over Farrands’ previous attempt with the Friday the 13th series doc, His Name was Jason.

When a Stranger Calls (1979)
(3rd viewing) d. Walton, Fred
The opening 20 minutes, playing upon the infamous urban legend about a frightened babysitter plagued by mysterious phone calls asking, “Have you checked the children?”, is a master class in ever-escalating suspense. Carol Kane’s bulging eyes and baby doll voice serve as perfect counterpoints to Walton’s creeping camera and Dana Kaproff’s THX sound-bite inspiring soundtrack, with a climax that rivals many features’ third acts. Honestly, the film never really reaches those dizzy heights again, though its evolution into a worthy “on the trail of the psycho” thriller with Charles Durning’s ex-cop trailing Tony Beckley’s strangely sympathetic mental case is hardly a demerit. A minor classic.

Arrival, The (1996)
(1st viewing) d. Twohy, David
Charlie Sheen stars as an astrophysicist who finds sonic signs of extraterrestrial life, only to discover that the interstellar interlopers are already here, well-entrenched and plotting with baddie executive Ron Silver to suck our planet dry. Despite some charming low-grade CGI effects, writer/director Twohy generates a fair amount of suspense and tension, as well as getting solid performances from his cast, including the underrated (at the time) Sheen.

Attack the Block (2011) (1st viewing) d. Cornish, Joe
When a group of teen East London thugs capture and kill a gremlin-like monster, they find themselves the targets of an aggressive herd of vengeful hungry beasts. While the reductive “Shaun of the Dead meets Critters” equation is a minor disservice to the skill displayed by Cornish and crew, there’s no denying it’s an accurate description of the raw energy, vibrant screen personalities and imaginative creature design introduced in this low-flying sleeper hit from across the pond. Easily one of the best genre films of the year, and one that hopefully will be rediscovered on home video following Sony’s bungled theatrical release.

Cowboys & Aliens (2011) (1st viewing) d. Favreau, Jon
Yes, there is truth in advertising, as both spurs and spaceships occupy the same screen, but one can’t help but think that the whole affair maybe should have been a bit more fun. Amnesiac cowpoke Daniel Craig awakens with a strange, laser-shooting device clamped to his wrist, and before long, he’s wandered into cattle baron Harrison Ford’s town and a whole mess of trouble when a squadron of alien crafts begin buzzing the joint. Bells, whistles and Olivia Wilde galore, but without a lighter touch from either of his leads (Craig and Ford seem to be having a “grim-off” contest), the flick doesn’t soar like Favreau’s Iron Man…and one gets the feeling it should have.

Agony and the Ecstasy, The (1965)
(1st viewing) d. Reed, Carol
Charlton Heston takes up the paintbrush as Michaelangelo facing off against Rex Harrison’s demanding, penny-pinching Pope over the painting of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Regally photographed with solid production values, though lacking in any genuine emotional heft.

Another Earth (2011) (1st viewing) d. Cahill, Mike
An extraordinary sci-fi/drama humdinger, one that fully exploits a brilliantly simple premise without ever exceeding the reach of its meager budget. One singular day, an identical planet inexplicably appears in our sky, evoking fear, wonderment, mystery and exultation. Against this backdrop of phenomena, a young ex-con attempts to amend for her crimes by insinuating herself into a grieving widower’s life. Narrative levels and symbolism abound, but unobtrusively so as to heighten the experience rather than muddying it – well worth seeing.

Captain America (2011) (1st viewing) d. Johnston, Joe
In a summer jam-packed with Marvel superhero movies, this was easily the most handsomely produced and the most all-around satisfying on both artistic and entertainment levels. Chris Evans’ inherent goodness may come off a little square at times, but it absolutely fits the WWII setting, and Johnston has assembled a terrific ensemble of veterans (Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving) to anchor the fanciful story.

Drive Angry (2011) (1st viewing) d. Lussier, Patrick
When Nicolas Cage can’t ruin his own movie, that’s a worthy achievement. Back from the dead to protect his grandchild from an evil cult, Cage tones everything down, allowing Lussier’s whizbang camerawork and his supporting cast (particularly William Fichtner’s priceless incarnation of “The Accountant”) to provide the fireworks. I’m still not convinced Amber Heard is the face of the future, and some might raise an eyebrow at Lussier’s cartoon sexual politics, but overall this is a frills n’ thrills treat.

Half Nelson (2006) (1st viewing) d. Fleck, Ryan
Ryan Gosling earned his first Best Actor nod here as an inspiring and effective high school teacher/coach who hides his crack addiction from the rest of the world. But as he begins to allow a certain student and a fellow instructor into his insulated world, the façade begins to crumble. A superb character study that never resorts to cliché or caricature (the handling of Anthony Mackie’s drug dealer character is particularly laudable).

Sentiment of the Flesh, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Garzelli, Roberto
A French psycho-drama that follows the increasingly twisted relationship between two medical students in love, so much so, that frustration soon arises with the barrier the skin, muscles, etc. presents to their quest for intimacy. Suffice to say, things soon get clinical and messy, on both the physical and emotional level. Were David Cronenberg to make a dark romantic comedy, it might look something like this.

Serious Man, A (2009) (1st viewing) d. Coen, Joel/Coen Ethan
Supposedly autobiographical in nature, this modern-day Job fable stars Michael Stuhlbarg as a bumbling but good-natured teacher whose life unravels in spectacular fashion, with extramarital affairs, criminal charges and wavering television signals assailing him at every turn. Light-hearted and quirky, just like one might expect a Coen Brothers downward spiral comedy to be, although like The Hudsucker Proxy before, it failed to connect with audiences.

State of Play (2009) (1st viewing) d. MacDonald, Kevin
A effectively solid thriller with Russell Crowe as a scruffy newspaper journalist uncovering the dirty details behind the death of politician Ben Affleck’s aide. A great cast (Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams) helps sell the goods.

2011 totals to date: 314 films, 195 1st time views, 149 horror, 28 cinema

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