Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fool's View (11/14 – 11/20)

Yep, back again. Needed to get the table cleared before the assault that is the Revenge of the Gobblers aka "Turkey Day 2011" is upon us. (For a look at previous TD butterball gorgings, visit

Well, this week marked the re-emergence of Netflix into AC’s life, having put my subscription on hold during my time in West Virginia. Despite their recent public relations disasters, rising costs and plummeting stock, I’m still a huge fan of the purveyors of the Little Red Envelope and I thank them for making endless cinematic opportunities available to me for a fraction of their retail cost. Over half of the Views this time around are currently streaming on NF and without exception, all are recommended. And yes, we leaned a little heavier in the civilian quarter, but sometimes you just gotta wash the blood outa our eyes, right?

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



Human Centipede (First Sequence), The (2009)
(2nd viewing) d. Six, Tom
Presumably, many out there have already heard the jaw-dropping premise behind this notorious horror flick from the Netherlands. Roger Ebert felt it necessary to reveal the entire plot as a “public service announcement” to his readers in his attention-grabbing “un-starred” review, but I do not feel this is necessary and in fact, if someone could see this film without knowing anything about it, it would deliver the true impact that director Six deserves. Some critics have lazily dusted off the tired old “torture porn” label and slapped it on, but Centipede goes beyond that, and the intellect and skill on display are worthy of more than an easy dismissal or categorization. Six serves up a truly disturbing set piece that would ordinarily act as the crime to which the antagonist aspires, and which he nearly achieves before the heroes make their daring escape. But instead, Six allows the heinous act to occur…as the end of his first act. We, along with the hapless victims, are then forced to live within this nightmarish scenario for another 45 minutes. It is from this that the true nature of horror emerges – this is no easy jump scare nor gross-out tactic. Six is after something far more dangerous, and it’s no wonder that he has people scrambling for adjectives (or the exits). When I saw this last year, the audience sought escape through nervous laughter and catcalls at the screen, but it was clear they were attempting to avoid real contact with the subject matter. Those who are willing to sit and seriously commune with this brave new work will find something special, and though I can’t recommend this film to everyone, I do recommend it.

I first became aware of Adam Wingard’s name earlier this year, during my “seven Tiffany Shepis films in one day” festival (yeah, I know, I gotta work on a better name for that one), being that he was at the helm of her 2007 feature Home Sick. In my review, I called it an “ill-conceived gorefest with little to no plot or motivation,” so I wasn’t really in any big hurry to dive further into AW’s CV. But compadre (and indie filmmaker) David Schmidt gave a recommendation to the young writer/director’s follow-up, Pop Skull (streaming on Netflix), and when like-minded cinephile Jason Coffman dished a screener copy of Wingard’s most recent effort my way the same week that Rue Morgue featured an interview, it seemed the time was right…

Pop Skull (2007) (1st viewing) d. Wingard, Adam
The good news is that Wingard decides to work within rather than against his budgetary constraints, and his meticulous hyper-edited, shaky-cam sequences are intelligently combined with more lyrical passages, perfectly emulating pill-popping protagonist Lane Hughes’ mental state. Reeling from a recent romantic breakup, Hughes escapes into the haze of over-the-counter cold medications and booze, which may or may not account for his recent visitations by spirits from beyond the grave. As the viewer trapped in the junkie gaze, we’re never quite sure what is real, but the white-trash characters are compelling (if exhausting) and Wingard’s dynamic pacing and cinematic kinetics are flashy enough to keep us interested. It’s not surprising that the film picked up a number of grand prize awards on the festival circuit: it’s a show-offy showcase that never feels pretentious or precious.

Horrible Way to Die, A (2010)
(1st viewing) d. Wingard, Adam
What starts out as a fairly straightforward serial killer flick edges into an intriguing character study terrain, then unraveled by its own attempted cleverness. But that’s mostly the handiwork of screenwriter Simon Barrett, who deserves kudos for attempting to humanize A.J. Bowen’s psychopath without necessarily explaining him while at the same time exploring the emotional toll exacted upon Bowen’s unsuspecting girlfriend (Amy Seimetz) after learning what sweetie was up to while she was sleeping. The performances are relatively strong across the board, and it’s unfortunate that Wingard felt the need to distract from his cast and scribe’s clean lines by constantly shifting his lens and focus around to the point of madness (the director also served as camera operator). Presumably his purpose was to keep viewers as off-balance as the characters, but what worked with his previous feature (Pop Skull) achieves the opposite result here – it’s an annoying, attention-pulling stunt that undercuts the scenes’ dramatic power. Wingard’s careening camera smacks of unnecessary compensation – Barrett and the rest of the creative team deserved a little more trust.


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
(4th viewing) d. Spielberg, Steven
As someone who never had the chance to see this on the big screen as a youngster, it’s nice that the Fates (and the Music Box) finally allowed this 30-years-older kid to experience the wonder of Indy and his cohorts in all its widescreen majesty. That said, my tolerance for John Williams’ particular brand of musical overexertion has certainly diminished over the years – many was the time I thought to myself, “Shhhhhh, shhhhhh, not so much, not so loud.” Ah well.


Dark Knight, The (2008)
(2nd viewing) d. Nolan, Christopher

Inception (2010) (2nd viewing) d. Nolan, Christopher

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? I enjoyed both of these mightily the second time around (yes, I had only seen TDK once before, in the theater), and as someone who enjoys less and less of what Hollywood chooses to spew at its so-called public, I’m pleased at Nolan’s propensity towards legitimately engaging and well-executed popcorn blockbusters that are dense, action-packed, skillfully performed, and gorgeous to look at. It’s worth noting that the stylish Brit got his start doing small, character-based films like Following and Memento before exploding into the eye candy and action set pieces. Take note, studio execs: It ain’t all in the CGI Ka-Pow!


Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The (2009) (1st viewing) d. Oplev, Niels Arden
Girl Who Played with Fire, The (2009) (1st viewing) d. Alfredson, Daniel
Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, The (2009) (1st viewing) d. Alfredson, Daniel
After spending a little over 7 hours in the company of novelist Stiegg Larsson characters, I can understand the excitement in literary and cinematic circles alike. I haven’t done enough backward reading to learn what the alleged “controversies” might have been, but Lisbeth Salander is a fascinating character and in the inspired hands of actress Noomi Rapace, her damaged but resilient nature crackles with danger and pain. It will be interesting to see what David Fincher and Co. do with the same material later this year. I was struck by how conclusively the first film ended, and the effort to resuscitate the characters and plot was temporarily felt, but the story woven was engaging enough that I was happy to follow.


Big Fan (2009)
(1st viewing) d. Siegel, Robert
Young Adult (2011) (1st viewing) d. Reitman, Jason
I had been meaning to catch up with Big Fan (the directing debut of The Wrestler screenwriter Siegel) ever since seeing the trailer a couple years back, but opportunity and inspiration had yet to combine to make that happen. Thankfully, I was privy to a sneak preview screening of Young Adult, the new Charlize Theron film which follows an unpleasant, divorced, alcoholic ghost writer of children’s books as she returns to her small Minnesota hometown with machinations to steal her former high school sweetheart Patrick Wilson away from his wife and newborn. While I was less than wowed by the caustic comedy, I fell hard for Oswalt’s sterling turn as a man trapped – within his own body, within his own nerdish desires, within his blinkered burg, within people’s misconceptions – and yet despite the anger and frustration that simmer beneath the surface, he has remained a funny, charming and good person. YA is not a bad film, but were it not for the presence of Oscar-bait Theron and Reitman, there would be no way that this should be receiving the critical attention/anticipation it is – feels to me like a high-falutin’ version of this summer’s Cameron Diaz vehicle Bad Teacher aka “Watch how awful the hottie can be and still (*giggle*), you just gotta love her, right?”

All of which leads me back to Big Fan, writer/director Siegel’s brilliantly personal character piece, featuring Oswalt as a parking garage attendant who, along with knucklehead buddy Kevin Corrigan, live their lives for the Sunday matchup between the New York Giants and their weekly gridiron opponents. With his squat face and body, Oswalt perfectly captures the associative enthusiasm of the social misfit, the idea of belonging to a community even as it rejects him (in spite of their common interests, he fails to click with the parking lot tailgaters). He writes out his “spontaneous” calls to the local sports-talk radio shows, while his family barely conceals their contempt for his passions. The worm turns after Oswalt tails his favorite player to a strip club and, after a horribly uncomfortable exchange, is mercilessly beaten up. The emotional drama that subsequently plays out is sharp, honest and perceptive in a way that few indie dramas are, and how ironic that a performer generally recognized as a stand-up comedian (his “Death Bed” routine is a riot) is the one who tears your guts out. After nearly two decades of bit parts and supporting roles, Oswalt breaks out as the perfect leading man for Siegel to hang his story on. Highly recommended (and currently streaming on Netflix).

2011 totals to date: 536 films, 328 1st time views, 307 horror, 47 cinema

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