Monday, October 31, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/31


Vampyr (1932)
(2nd viewing) d. Dreyer, Carl Theodor (Germany) 74min
With Hollywood having discovered the vein of horror gold that was Dracula and Frankenstein the year before, pioneering German filmmaker Dreyer unveiled this remarkable tale of vampirism and the occult. Following young traveler Julian West, we arrive at a quiet village that has come under an attack from the undead and the strange adventure unfolds with the feel and tempo of a waking dream. Bold roving camerawork combine with exquisitely crafted visuals (a shadow that leaves its owner, a grave being dug in reverse, characters that materialize from thin air) make this a revelatory cinematic experience especially when held alongside its more traditional, narrative-bound Tinseltown counterparts.

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/29 – 10/30


Scre4m (aka Scream 4
) (2011) (1st viewing) d. Craven, Wes (USA) 111min
15 years have passed since screenwriter Kevin Williamson and Craven teamed up to revitalize the horror genre and spawned an entire subgenre of knockoff slashers, but what once was clever now feels quaint and more than a little artificially hip. Series stalwarts Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette are all back, with new blood Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Marley Shelton and Rory Culkin dropping like flies under Ghostface’s latest reign of terror in Woodsboro. While there are a few bright spots in Williamson’s dialogue (the stream of horror remake titles in response to a telephonic pop quiz had me smiling) and Craven still knows how to tell a screen story, there’s very little inspiration on display. (A franchise reboot commenting on franchise reboot? No thanks, guys.) I’d say it’s a dead heat between Scream 3 and this “was anyone really clamoring for another Scream movie” installment.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/27 – 10/28


Thing from Another World, The (1951)
(3rd viewing) d. Nyby, Christian (USA) 87min
Along with The Day the Earth Stood Still, this represented the first wave of extraterrestrial visitor movies and with producer Howard Hawks standing behind longtime editor Nyby’s rookie effort (closely behind, some might hasten to say), a classic of sci-fi cinema was born. A team of military and scientific minds gather at the North Pole when a UFO is discovered in the ice, as well as an encased alien lifeform. As 60 years of creature features have taught us, that ice is gonna melt and “things” are gonna go crazy. There’s little I can add that hasn’t been said before and better, but I will say that I was struck on this viewing of just how much information – both plotwise and character – is packed into Charles Lederer’s dialogue (with uncredited assistance by Ben Hecht). The rapid-fire exchanges maintain a fever-pitch, keeping the early expository scenes humming until James Arness’ monster action takes over. Great stuff.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/26


Alien vs. Predator (2004)
(2nd viewing) d. Anderson, Paul W.S. (USA) 100min
Considering that the title conjures up images of a Japanese monster mash, any expectations of an intelligent sci-fi classic are ill-advised. And while the film bears little resemblance to its classic origins, if one can manage to switch off the brain and enjoy the mashing, this is an adequate popcorn burner. The film begins with the discovery of an Aztec pyramid buried deep in the ice of Antarctica, with wacky billionaire Lance Henriksen (smirking at his own presence in yet another Alien film) leading a group of archeologists on an exploratory expedition. Upon their arrival (and through some very sketchy translating), the team discovers that two thousand years ago, the pyramid served as an Alien hive for the extra-terrestrial race of dreadlock-wearing Predators, who would enter and combat the Aliens as a rite of passage. As the cinematic fates would have it, it’s time for the next Predator class to start and soon there are spaceships landing, Aliens bursting out of chests, and the clash of the sci-fi titans is on with the humans caught in the middle. With passable CGI effects, minimal character development, and yawning logistical plot holes, AvP only succeeds as the big, dumb fun that it intends to be. Purist fans of the originals will probably be horrified, but after numerous inferior sequels, how high could expectations be? Ultimately, the level of enjoyment will depend on the viewer’s mindset and preconceived notions. Rated PG-13, even though all of its predecessors were R-rated films – oh, how the times are a-changin’…

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/24 - 10/25


Black Torment, The (1964)
(1st viewing) d. Hartford-Davis, Robert (UK) 90min
Striking Gothic visuals, stellar cinematography and a wingding of a climactic swordfight elevate this oft-neglected Brit horror. 17th-century aristocrat John Turner returns to his country estate from London with new bride Heather Sears, where he encounters hostility and accusations from his servants and associates. Amidst rumors of witchcraft and long-kept family skeletons, a spate of rapes and murders have befallen a number of local lasses…with all reports stating that the perpetrator is none other than Turner himself…in spite of the fact that he has been visibly out of the county. Fans of Hammer, Amicus and especially Tigon (Tony Tenser was one of the producers) should be pleased with the results derived by director Hartford-Davis, screenwriters Donald and Derek Ford, and a solid production team.

Monday, October 24, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/23


Jigoku (1960)
(1st viewing) d. Nakagawa, Nobuo (Japan) 101min
After timid fiancé Shigeru Amachi runs down a gangster with his car and flees the scene, he enters a downward spiral of bad luck, with everyone around him meeting with horrible accidental deaths. Eventually, he meets his own demise and in the Underworld the film gearshifts into a 40-minute fever-dream visuals extravaganza, complete with pits of fiery despair, rivers of excrement, fields of human limbs, and horned demons doling out crime-fitting punishments. Certainly not for all tastes, but unquestionably original and boldly experimental, even a half century later.

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/22


High Tension (2003)
(4th viewing) d. Aja, Alexandre (France) 91min
Frenchman Aja burst onto the horror scene with this, his second feature film, which absolutely delivers on its titular promise. The premise is almost quaint in its simplicity: Two schoolmate chums (Cecilie de France, Maiwenn) get together for a weekend of study and relaxation at the brunette’s parents’ country home, only to come under the assault of marauding serial killer Phillippe Nahon. But it is the mayhem’s expert execution – literally and figuratively – that announced a major talent in the making. Combining forces with partner/producer Gregory Levasseur (with whom he wrote the script) and a terrific team of collaborators (the sound design deserves special note, as does the copious black-streaked bloodshed provided by longtime Fulci collaborator Giannetto de Rossi), Aja delivers perhaps the strongest slasher flick of the new millennium…right up until the 1:17 mark. It is here that he and Levasseur introduce one of the most wildly divisive plot twists in recent memory, and it is defiantly a matter of personal taste whether it enhances or diminishes what has come before. I reside resolutely in the latter camp, though, as evidenced by my repeated viewings, it hasn’t deterred my appreciation for the incredible sense of mood, atmosphere and, yes, tension generated. In hindsight, my deepest regret is not Tension’s twist, but the fact that Aja has never since exhibited the same feverish bravura, seemingly content to helm Hollywood horror remakes. Case in point…

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/21


Deaths of Ian Stone, The (2007)
(1st viewing) d. Piana, Dario (UK) 87min
The third of After Dark Films’ Horrorfest 2007 that I’ve seen this month, and probably the most successful of the bunch. (Jim Mickle’s Mulberry St. still takes the title as pick of the litter, however.) Confused young stud Mike Vogel continues meeting mortal ends, then awakening in a brand new life as though nothing had happened. As time passes, we learn that he is pursued by dark spirits known as “harvesters” who have a vested interest in Vogel and his relationship with comely blonde Christina Cole. Well paced and shot by Piana, with a legitimately interesting and original script by Brendan Hood (whose previous writing credits include the execrable Wes Craven’s They). Produced by Stan Winston, and created under his SW Studios’ roof.

Friday, October 21, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/20


Night of the Demon
(2nd viewing) d. Wasson, James C. (USA) 92min
Oh. My. God. This is one amazingly bad, amazingly bloody, amazingly twisted, amazingly brilliant little pic that even on the second go-round, I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. From the opening credits where a guy’s arm gets ripped off and a Bigfoot track fills up with blood, James C. Wasson’s trashy, flashback-filled hoot has low-budget charm to burn. Um, dual girl scout massacre? Inter-species rape? Biker stops to take a leak and gets his Johnson pulled off? Yes, yes, and YES!!! Plus, it contains one of the great onscreen sleeping bag kills, awesome red-tinged “Bigfoot vision” and the finale is a jaw-dropping slo-mo masterpiece of high impact, low grade gore f/x mayhem, and how about the crazy van lovin' gal with the scary boob job? Her proooooloooooonged screams of terror are the least convincing in the history of cinema outside of DePalma’s Blow Out. Only there, the cries are supposed to be unconvincing. Wow. For fans of tasty grilled turkey and cheese, this is a must-see.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/19


My Mom’s a Werewolf (1989)
(1st viewing) d. Fischa, Michael (USA) 90min
Frustrated wife/mother Susan Blakely gets nibbled on by dashing mystery man John Saxon and soon she’s sprouting fur and fangs in most inappropriate fashion. No way this dumb-dumb 80s comedy should have been this entertaining, but it breezily sails along thanks to the oh-so-very-game performances of Blakely and Saxon (the hand-licking scene alone, folks). John Schuck, Tina Caspary, Ruth Buzzi and Marcia Wallace all lend able support. No classic, perhaps, but surprisingly funny and good-natured, especially for fans of that decade’s particular brand of goofball laffs.

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/18


Killer Tongue (1996)
(2nd viewing) d. Sciamma, Alberto (Spain) 98min
Bank robbin’ lovers Jason Durr and Melinda (Return of the Living Dead III) Clarke pull a double cross on their partners, only to have all kinds of unholy and extraterrestrial karma come back and bite them…literally. While Durr sits out his prison sentence, Clarke and her color-coordinated poodles have a close encounter with a bit of space droppings (via a bowl of soup, no less) that transforms the pooches into a quartet of flamboyant drag queens and her tongue into a weapon of mass destruction. Courtesy of Image Animation’s worthy f/x, the titular premise lives up to its promise, with la lengua loca ramming, ripping and rending everything within reach – and considering its elastic properties, that’s covering some ground. Robert Englund devours the scenery as a tight-assed prison captain, while Doug Bradley (credited as “Dough Bradley”) lends able support as Durr’s fellow inmate. Alternatively deliriously madcap and batshit bonkers, this under-the-radar gem deserves some attention, in particular by fans of Clarke (who spends the majority of the film in a skintight black latex bodysuit).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/17


Live Feed (2006)
(1st viewing) d. Nicholson, Ryan (USA) 81min
Nicholson toiled for years as a Hollywood makeup special effects artist before striking out on his own, and so it’s no mistake that the highlights of his films tend to be the wetter moments. And while his DIY spirit is laudable, the sheer unpleasantness of his characters (see Gutterballs for further evidence) makes the rest of the jagged SOV production values that much tougher to sit through. When a quintet of self-centered bar-hopping “Ugly American” tourists in China find themselves as the main feature in a closed circuit snuff film within a house of ill-repute, one would hope that we might root for them to survive…just a little? But when the victims are just as repellent as the torturing sadists, all we can do is sit back and take what pleasure we can from the bloodletting, which is likely Nicholson’s nihilistic intent. Tons of sex, nudity and gore are plusses for any hardcore horror fan, but minus any sense of context or relatability, it all feels empty and vacant. Co-written by Nicholson with brother Roy.



Nightmare on Elm Street, A (1984)
(5th viewing) d. Craven, Wes (USA) 91min
Horror Hall-of Famer Wes Craven created this hugely successful fright flick, which spawned multiple sequels, launched New Line Cinema, and introduced the moniker of “Freddy Krueger” into pop culture consciousness. Attractive (if acting-talent-challenged) Heather Langenkamp plays a teenager plagued by dreams of a horribly scarred figure wearing a distinctive red-striped sweater, battered fedora, and a glove with knives attached to the fingers. Robert Englund, in the role he would forever be identified with, creates an original and frightening villain in Freddy, an executed child-murdering psychopath who has found the means to keep up his gruesome work by entering his prospective victim’s dreams. Not yet the wisecrack-spouting centerpiece of future installments, Englund’s minimal appearances pack a darkly effective punch. As Langenkamp and company (including Johnny Depp, in his feature film debut) struggle to stay awake, Krueger’s sinister history is gradually revealed, along with the small town’s dark and horrifying secret. There is certainly much to applaud in the film’s fiercely innovative concept, nightmare imagery, and gory special effects; but the line between Craven’s real world and dream counterpart becomes so blurred in the end, there is no logic remaining except dream logic. Consequently, it often feels like the viewer is being cheated of a legitimate story for the sake of some “really cool kills,” (many of which are admittedly memorable, particularly one in which a character is swallowed and regurgitated by their own bed). This aspect, along with stiff performances and a really weak ending, lands Nightmare on a slightly lower rung than other modern horror classics.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/14


Nature of the Beast (1995)
(1st viewing) d. Salva, Victor (USA) 91min
Salva, who would later direct the Jeepers Creepers pictures, makes an impressive showing with this genuinely thrilling thriller that pits the wits of traveling salesman Lance Henriksen against Eric Roberts’ cool calculating psychopath. Conjuring shades of The Hitcher (and anyone who’s seen the opening 30 minutes of the first JC flick knows that the writer/director knows his way around a suspenseful automotive sequence), this two-hander continues to crank the tension right up until its sterling climax. The final (and grin-inducing) twist is but the topping on the cake.

Friday, October 14, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/13


Corpses (2004)
(1st viewing) d. Kanefsky, Rolfe (USA) 90min
Star Tiffany Shepis and writer/director Kanefsky teamed up again after banging out The Hazing earlier the same year for this quickie undead comedy. Zombies recruited by ill-tempered funeral home owner Robert Donavan to rob jewelry store. Headliner Jeff Fahey stars as a police captain dealing with the complications of rebellious daughter Shepis and Donavan’s hot-pants ex-wife (Melinda Bonini). Kanefsky’s tried-and-true formula of blood and boobs is in full flower here, and really, if you’re not up for that and some mindless yuks and yucks, keep on moving down the line.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/12


Lunacy (2005)
(1st viewing) d. Svankmajer, Jan (Czechoslovakia) 118min
Animated sequences featuring renegade disembodied beef tongues, entrails, and other fleshy bits running amok trade turns with live action scenes of Marquis de Sade (an unhinged Jan Triska) tormenting grieving mourner/asylum incident Pavel Liska. The haunting and repetitious calliope refrain keeps the mood light in the face of such transgressions, the final result feels inspired if a little disconnected. But then again, considering the subject matter, who’s going to complain?

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/11


Undertaker and His Pals, The (1966)
(1st viewing) d. Swicegood, T.L.P. (USA) 63min
Taking a page from H.G. Lewis’ Blood Feast, writer/director Swicegood dishes up a juicy black-and-blood-red comedy featuring a trio of mysterious motorcycle thugs who choose their random murder victims from the phone book. After the deaths, friendly undertaker Ray Dannis extorts the grieving mourners with exorbitant burial fees whilst two café owners serve up daily specials, such as “leg of Lamb” after dear Sally Lamb meets her untimely end or “breast of chicken” following Ms. Poultry’s demise. Lots of pretty girls meeting their demise at the hands and knives of the three hard working stiffs, although even for a comedy, things get a little grotesque at times (such as the gore-strewn lovely whipped to death with a chain to the face). Even so, there’s little doubt about the harmless intent of Swicegood and his pals and a valuable lesson is learned via this cozy 63-minute fable: There’s no honor among thieves – or psychopaths.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/10


Halloween (1978)
(11th viewing) d. Carpenter, John (USA) 91min
From its shocking opening reveal to jaw-dropping climax, this low-budget masterpiece instantly announced itself as a modern day horror classic, shattering box-office records and inspiring the modern-day slasher genre. Nearly twenty years after Psycho terrified viewers out of their showers, director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill co-wrote the brilliantly minimalist script of an escaped lunatic terrorizing the small Illinois township of Haddonfield. Trick-or-treating would never be the same. Donald Pleasance shines as frantic psychiatrist Sam Loomis, the only one who comprehends the extent of the evil that has been unleashed. Jamie Lee Curtis (in her film debut) provides the film’s emotional center as a bookish babysitter who, alongside fun-loving friends Nancy Loomis and P. J. Soles, unwittingly becomes the target of the masked boogeyman. Like Spielberg’s giant shark, Halloween’s unstoppable antagonist reaches near-mythic status, pursuing his prey with placid yet ferocious determination. Carpenter’s repetitive synthesizer and piano score heightens the tension, then shatters it with chilling efficiency time and again. In addition to inspiring a throng of “holiday-themed” horror offerings, the indie blockbuster spawned its own inevitable sequels (seven, plus Rob Zombie’s regrettable remakes), which contain nary a fraction of the original’s enduringly effective impact between them.

Monday, October 10, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/9


Hole, The (2001)
(1st viewing) d. Hamm, Nick (UK) 102min
Set in an exclusive UK boarding school, where Thora Birch pines for the attentions of an American exchange student (Wrong Turn’s Desmond Harrington). Four classmates (including a young Keira Knightley) go for an outing in a small bunker where they are abandoned and locked in by a classmate. What follows is a series of Rashomon-like versions of what transpires over the next week as hunger, dehydration and desperation set in. Reasonably suspenseful and well-acted, despite a twist ending that becomes fairly evident early on.

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/8


It’s Alive (1974)
(3rd viewing) Cohen, Larry (USA) 91min

It Lives Again (1978) (2nd viewing) d. Cohen, Larry (USA) 91min

It’s Alive 3: Island of the Alive (1987) (2nd viewing) d. Cohen, Larry (USA) 95min

Q (1982) (2nd viewing) d. Cohen, Larry (USA) 93min

“There’s only one thing wrong with the Davis baby…”

Saturday, October 8, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/7


Species (1995)
(2nd viewing) d. Donaldson, Roger (USA) 108min
The recollections from my initial theatrical encounter held true: Natasha Henstridge looks great in the buff and Steve Johnson’s makeup f/x are enjoyable indeed, but they hardly compensate for the sheer boneheadedness of writer Dennis Feldman’s facepalm plotting and lack of characterization. (H.R. Giger’s creature design, on the other hand, ends up looking disappointingly like an early draft of his Alien work.) Despite a capable cast (Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley, Marg Helgenbarger, Alfred Molina, Forrest Whitaker) assembled to track down Henstridge’s randy alien/human hybrid “Sil” loose in L.A., each is given a limited number of notes to play – they are “types” rather than people. Whitaker’s unbearably melodramatic “empath” comes off worst, a combo psychic/expository device there to tell the group, “She went that way,” or “She’s angry,” or “She’s looking to breed.” (It works great as a drinking game, less so as a narrative device.) The early scenes, featuring Michelle Williams as the young Sil, succeed best, before the unrepentantly stupid dialogue and poorly thought out plotlines require so much suspension of disbelief you could sprain something.

Friday, October 7, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/6


Perfect Creature (2006)
(1st viewing) d. Standring, Glenn (New Zealand) 88min
There are days when I wish Dougray Scott had ended up playing Wolverine in the X-Men movies, if only so we could have seen what his career might have been instead of seeing him mope around in non-starters like this. To be fair, it’s a mature “vampire crime drama,” one with a lot of style and decent acting, but for crying out loud, does that also mean it has to bore me to undeath? The plotline about genetic engineering creating vampires (dubbed “the Brotherhood”) who work in tandem with mankind, being the benevolent superheroes that they could be, is an interesting one – as is the notion of one of the bloodsuckers going rogue and looking to dominate the weaker species via a rampant plague introduced into society. But everything is done with such solemnity, such joylessness, that the coulda-been cracking adventure yarn of good vamp Scott tracking down his rebellious bro (the Klaus Kinski-looking Leo Gregory) instead lurches and slogs its way through 88 minutes that feel like a whole lot longer.

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/5


Freeway Killer (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Murlowski, John (USA) 85min
Biopic on titular serial killer William Bonin who, after murdering numerous young men in late 70s/early 80s SoCal, became the first person to be executed by lethal injection. The film succeeds largely thanks to a genuinely unnerving lead turn by Scott Anthony Leet, who plays Bonin as a social misfit, charismatic without being charming (though a little “Hollywood crazy” at times). While the performances tend to be a little rough and/or mannered, but it’s the awkward, unschooled nature of things that hits closest to the bone. It’s clear that they’d like to emulate Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (even to the point of securing Michael Rooker for a cameo), but it’s closer in tone to that film’s less-realistic, more movie-like sequel. The main narrative focuses on Bonin’s schooling of young recruit Cole Williams in his murderous ways, then forced to choose between his new protégé and old partner Dusty Sorg. Eileen Dietz shows up as Bill’s mom, talking about her “demons.” (Cute, guys.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/4


Battle Royale (2000)
(3rd viewing) d. Fukasaku, Kinji (Japan) 122min
Due to its taboo subject matter (organized competition featuring kids killing kids killing kids), it’s unlikely we’ll see a legit North American release of Fukasaku’s astounding futuristic vision anytime soon. Too bad, as this stellar thriller is a superb arterial spray flick as well as a haunting social satire. A random class of 15-year-olds are chosen to battle each other to the death on an island fortress, armed with an assortment of weapons ranging from AK-47’s to crossbows to tazers to pot lids, forming alliances and magnifying adolescent rivalries to their natural, lethal conclusions. A winner from start to finish.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/3


Borderland (2007) (1st viewing) d. Berman, Zev (Mexico) 105min
After kicking off with a gruesome torture sequence, flick settles into its central narrative of three fun-seeking males down in Mexico looking for some way-down-Southern hospitality. Which they do, if hanging with human-sacrificing Nganga cults is what you call a good time. Sean Astin as a freaky, woman-hating cult member is an interesting change of pace for all the Frodo/Sam lovers out there. The Achilles tendon continues to be the frontrunning onscreen point of pain, with Cabin Fever’s Rider Strong on the receiving end this time around. Satisfyingly brutal and splattery KNB finale.

Monday, October 3, 2011

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/2


Host, The (2006)
(2nd viewing) d. Bong, Joon-ho South Korea 119min
When an arrogant US scientist/bureaucrat orders his Korean counterpart to dump gallons of chemicals down the drain – and into the Han River – merely because the bottles are dusty, the results are one of the best giant monster movies to come along in ages. The CGI creature, an ingenious mix of amphibious ooginess, hasn’t aged terribly well in this age of SyFy but it’s far from distracting. But the best news is that the “in-between-monster-attack” scenes, rather than a fine time to scoot out to the refreshment stand, are just as entertaining, thanks to a zippy script and the game cast. We’ve got social commentary to spare, and the dysfunctional family in Little Miss Sunshine has nothing on the Park brood, with its slacker father, spunky daughter, activist uncle, archery champ aunt and wise, weary patriarch, all of whom are given their due moments of failure and heroism. An unqualified triumph.

October Horror Movie Challenge 10/1


Silent Scream, The (1980) (2nd viewing) d. Harris, Denny (USA) 87min
The costume designer must have thought that putting everyone, especially the boys, in tight pants was a good idea. Great atmosphere and score, a good classic well-made indie flick. Barbara Steele totally steals the show with her wordless second-act performance. Rebecca Balding is c-u-t-e, and the way to her heart is via a bunch of soft, slow kisses. Good cinematography prowling around the seaside mansion where the college co-eds are rooming. Totally underrated flick, with solid pacing, and interesting (if sometimes clichéd) characters.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fool's Views (9/19 – 9/30)

Hey kids,

Well, in preparation for the upcoming 31 days of madness known as the October Horror Movie Challenge (and the accompanying Scare-A-Thon 2011), it was Civilian Central, courtesy of the Lewisburg Public Library. Managed to catch up with a few flicks that had yet to pass my hand, several of which because I wasn’t really inclined to actually shell out money for them. But in this case, it was the equivalent of borrowing them from a friend, and I thank LPL for the loan.

These will be quickies, as the month of darkness is already upon us, and I must needs return to my labors…

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


Naught. But I think we’ll be okay, he smiled knowingly…

Alfie (1966)
(1st viewing) d. Gilbert, Lewis
With last week’s Michael Caine double feature, my interest was piqued to finally check out his breakthrough role as a right perfect bastard whose a charmer in spite of his self-serving ways and overt chauvinism. As expected, the Caine charm makes this odious creature bearable, and a lesson is learned indeed.

Black Dahlia, The (2006) (1st viewing) d. De Palma, Brian
Wow, there are De Palma flicks that are masterpieces, there are exercises in style…and then there are ones that feel like he directed in his sleep. Seriously, this noir should have been much more, and what the hell accent is Hillary Swank trying out anyway? Just a dull bummer.

Contagion (2011) (1st viewing) d. Soderbergh, Steven
A solid, well-executed what-if scenario that sees a hyper-contagious plague sweep over the U.S., and skillfully depicting an all-too-believable outcome on numerous fronts. However, if I had a complaint, it would be that Soderbergh serves our intellect and imagination but never engages our hearts.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The (2005) (1st viewing) d. Jennings, Garth
Funny and manic adaptation of Douglas Adams’ brilliantly absurdist novel with Sam Rockwell headlining as two-headed nutjob President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox, but it’s Martin Freeman (aka He Who Would Be Bilbo) as Arthur Dent that holds it all together, the straight man amidst the dolphins, sperm whales and manically depressed robots.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) (1st viewing) d. Zwick, Joel
Okay, really? Someone explain this one to me, because while it’s a serviceable enough comedy, it’s completely clichéd with its laughs “earned” from ethnic stereotypes. Not sure why it became such a superhit, although it does seem that America’s love affair with writer/star Nia Vardolos has ended as quickly as it began.

Transsiberian (2008) (1st viewing) d. Anderson, Brad
Not-bad thriller following an American couple returning from philanthropic mission on the Transsiberian express, only to get involved with drug running tourists on the run from Russian hardass Ben Kingsley. (For the other Anderson fans out there, it’s no Session 9, Next Stop Wonderland or The Machinist, but at least it’s no Vanishing on 7th Street either.) I will say, though, it’s hard to work up sympathy for a protagonist who refuses to admit to committing a crime when the cost seems so very minimal (and the expense for lying so clearly dear).

Tristam Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story (2006) (1st viewing) d. Winterbottom, Michael
Discovered Mr. Steve Coogan earlier this year in Hamlet 2, so I’ve been curious to see more of his particular brand of comedy. This wildly self-referential piece has Coogan playing himself playing the titular character in a troubled production of the titular “unfilmable” novel, and there are some solid laughs earned, as well as a few softballs. Fun to see Naomi Harris (28 Days Later’s Selena) and Kelly MacDonald (No Country for Old Men) getting work.

Without Limits (1998) (1st viewing) d. Towne, Robert
Long distance runner Steve Prefontaine apparently was a huge superstar in his late 60s/early 70s heyday, though I do have to wonder exactly why, based on the story depicted here. Clearly the man was a great natural talent, but he doesn’t seem to have been a very interesting person, inspiring presence, or devastating athlete, which doesn’t make for a great film subject.

Rambo III (1988
) (2nd viewing) d. MacDonald, Kevin
Revisited it to see if it was as silly and unmemorable as it first seemed when I saw it in the cinema. Yep, it is. The cornball dialogue and hambone politics ring even falser nowadays, and Stallone’s sculpted body and huge hairsprayed mullet are more freakish than imposing.

Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) (2nd viewing) d. Wise, Robert
Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster are superbly matched in this terrifically engaging yarn about a U.S. sub in enemy waters, testing their crew’s mettle and faith. Marvelous stuff.

Tigerland (2001) (1st viewing) d. Schumacher, Joel
It’s a bit unfortunate that this film has been reduced to “Colin Farrell’s breakout film,” since it’s a pretty worthwhile basic training drama in its own right, one that is much less slick and polished than we’re used to seeing from Schumacher.

Bone Collector, The (2000)
(2nd viewing) d. Noyce, Philip
Manchurian Candidate, The (2004) (1st viewing) d. Demme, Jonathan
Siege, The (1998) (1st viewing) d. Zwick, Edward
What’s nice about the big D is that while he does tend to play fairly close to the middle in terms of his onscreen personality, he also stretches and twitches his stock-in-trade edgy nobility. Cases in point, his acceptance of a role where he spends almost the entirety of Bone Collector lying in a hospital bed as a quadriplegic forensics wiz guiding young patrolwoman Angelina Jolie (back when she was still an actress and less a movie star) along the path of a serial killer. And his turn in the remake of Manchurian Candidate is probably the biggest surprise for fans as his character is almost never on steady ground, as close to a “weak” character as I’ve ever seen him play. The movie itself is not the heresy that it might have first seemed upon announcement, a polished but still serviceable political thriller. Watching Siege in a post-9/11 setting is a very strange experience, as it almost seems to foretell the terrorist attacks, the Anti-Arab sentiments struggled with, the shell-shocked NYC population and anger against a government more intent on sending a message to the attackers than tending to its own. As could be expected, the resolution is far too simple, far too Hollywood, far too falsely satisfying, but for its first act, it dares to ask questions that probably should have been asked when the film first non-opened in 1998.

2011 totals to date: 385 films, 242 1st time views, 170 horror, 32 cinema