Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fool's Views (12/19 – 12/25)

Hey kids,

Welcome to 2012! But, before we dole out the year-end goodies, we need to commune with the remaining 2011’s Views. Wouldn’t you know it, since they were the final weeks, and since I had little to do after placing my meager offerings to the femalien under the tree, I dug out the eyelid toothpicks and again drank deeply from the cinema pools. The Chicago public library continued in my catch-up of notable civilian films gone by, Netflix kept the horror blood pumping, and the penultimate Cronenberg features in our year-long examination unfurled before us. Good stuff.

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


Apollo 18 (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Lopez-Gallego, Gonzalo
I missed this “period found footage” flick this Fall due to its excoriating critical savaging. However, I have a feeling that a lot of people are going to be pleasantly surprised once they finally check it out this purported expose’ of the fateful “final” moon landing. For starters, the look of the film is (ahem) stellar, with that weird early 70s color correction adroitly setting the mood, and the unfamiliar cast playing the astronauts are appropriately rugged and believable. Sure, there are a few logistical glitches here and there, but overall, this proved to be an adequate time-waster and much better than early reviews would lead one to believe.

House of Fears (2007)
(1st viewing) d. Little, Ryan
This is one of those flicks that you’ve never heard of before, but you watch anyway because your friend likes the plot description on Netflix. In this case, the friend shall remain nameless (but you know who you are, Tery), and the synopsis that suckered us in was “When a group of teenage friends breaks into a carnival-style haunted house before it opens on Halloween, they unwittingly unleash a hellish power that animates the attraction's sinister clowns, killer scarecrows and other monsters.” Sounds awesome, right? But it became clear within 15 minutes that this one was gonna leave a mark on our souls. Stooooooopid. Little’s sole horror outing leaves the distinct impression that his heart was not in it. Leave indie fright flicks to those that care, my friend – we’ve got enough pretenders to the throne in Hollywood.

Psycho Legacy, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Galluzzo, Robert V.
Pleasantly exhaustive documentary on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic as it terrified people out of their showers, opened the door to the modern day slasher flick, and eventually spawned three sequels of its own. Chock full of interviews from all the main players, highlighted by a second-disc 60-minute horror convention Q&A with star Anthony Perkins. Even the most seasoned veteran is sure to pick up something new here.

Spell, The (1977) (1st viewing) d. Phillips, Lee
Amusing little Carrie-inspired TV-movie has Susan Myers in the misfit telekinetic teen shoes, terrorizing little sis Helen Hunt, fattie-hating father James Olson, and anyone else who crosses her path. Lee Grant stars as her blinkered mom, who refuses to believe her troubled offspring is responsible for the recent spate of “accidents” (such as the jaw-dropping octogenarian inferno sequence). Starts off slow, but builds to a dandy finish.

Breach (2007)
(1st viewing) d. Ray, Billy
Chris Cooper turns on the surly as a malcontent CIA agent who may or may not be a spy for the Soviets. Solid political thriller based on a true story, with Ryan Phillipe and Laura Linney.

Four Seasons, The (1981) (1st viewing) d. Alda, Alan
Alda wrote, directed and stars in this charming ensemble comedy about three married couples (Alda-Carol Burnett, Jack Weston-Rita Moreno, Len Cariou-Sandy Dennis) who go through massive upheavals over the course of four group vacations. Recalls Neil Simon at his best.

Strange Brew (1983) (1st viewing)d. Moranis, Rick/Thomas, Dave
Yep, finally caught up with this SCTV-inspired 80s comedy starring Moranis and Thomas as Bob and Doug Mackenzie, a pair of beer-guzzlin’ hockey-lovin’ Canadian-stereotypin’ siblings caught up in brewmeister Max Von Sydow’s nefarious scheme for world-domination. Good-natured juvenilia abounds.

Talk to Me (2007) (1st viewing) d. Lemmons, Kasi
Well-crafted biopic about legendary Washington D.C. radio DJ Petey Green, who emerged from a life of petty larceny and incarceration to become one of the most influential voices of the 60s/70s black movement. Don Cheadle inhabits Green with a finessed balance of rage, joy, insecurity and chutzpah, alternately infuriating and inspiring boss/manager Chiwetel Ejiofor. Taraji P. Henson (so good in Hustle & Flow) shines in a different light as Cheadle’s sassy, sexy mate.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) (1st viewing) d. Allen, Woody
Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson play two vacationing Americans who both fall into relationships with Javier Bardem’s impossibly charismatic painter. Not really complaining that Penelope Cruz took home the Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as Bardem’s tempestuous ex-wife, but she’s done better work and I’d like to think this was a combo award for her nuanced performance in the same year’s Elegy.


Spider (2002)
(2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
History of Violence, A (2005) (2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Eastern Promises (2007) (2nd viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Wrapping up the Canadian director’s CV is a bit bittersweet, not only because it means the end of the journey, but also because it takes us further and further away from his horror/sci-fi roots (where his innovation and intelligence strongly resonated in a genre often equated with dumbed-down gorefests). Even so, I was happy to revisit this dramatic trio, having only seen them each only once before. I watched Spider with the subtitles on this time, hoping to gather what I could from Ralph Fiennes’ mumbling emotional defective – basically all I remembered from the first go-round was that I couldn’t understand anything he said. While the performances are all strong, including Miranda Richardson’s triple-play, Fiennes’ remote character keeps viewers at a distance and the resulting drama fails to significantly impact. Of Cronenberg’s civilian fare, I’d say that History is probably the most accessible, with Viggo Mortensen’s everyday small-town family-man hero revealed to have a very dark past, to the consternation of his family and friends who thought they knew him. DC proceeded to cast Mortensen in Promises as a cryptic chauffeur to a London Russian mob family (a role which earned him an Oscar nod, a long-overdue first for the director’s performers) who becomes entangled in Naomi Watts’ quest to track down the father of a murdered prostitute’s baby. Much was made of Viggo’s naked bathhouse brawl (rightly so), but more impressive is his meticulous and understated collection of character traits that slowly reveal the man beneath the driving gloves.


Great Muppet Caper, The (1981)
(2nd viewing) d. Henson, Jim
Has it really been 30 years since I last saw Kermit & Co.’s madcap exploits in jolly olde England? This is the Muppets the way I likes ‘em: Unhinged silliness and calculated mayhem amidst truly astonishing instances of “how’d they do that?” puppet wizardry.

Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, The (1972) (1st viewing) d. Kaufman, Philip
Dirty, gritty, funny and cheeky yarn about the wild west James/Younger gang’s last big attempted bank robbery, with Cliff Robertson portraying Cole Younger as an easy-living, low-key bandit at odds with Robert Duvall’s playfully psychotic Jesse James.

Great Texas Dynamite Chase, The (1976) (1st viewing)d. Pressman, Michael
Jocelyn Jones (who would later star in David Schmoeller’s underrated Tourist Trap) teams up with wild gal Claudia Jennings for a spree of bank robberies across the Yellow Rose State. Unpretentious exploitation has nothing on its mind but good time explosions, nudity and car chases, yet also manages to present two liberated women living life by their own rules, using men as their sexual playthings and outsmarting male authorities with gusto.


Social Network, The (2010)
(2nd viewing) d. Fincher, David
In retrospect, it’s little wonder that this unflattering portrait of the rise of Facebook and its creators failed to take home Best Picture over the more sumptuous King’s Speech. In the end, it’s about Facebook, and we’d all like to categorically state (even as we post holiday photos and scramble for clever status updates) that The Great Time-Suck of Our Time doesn’t matter all that much to us. In the same way that FB feels slight, these characters’ fates and conflict likewise register as insignificant. The performances are all strong, Aaron Sorkin’s script is a wonder, and Fincher pulls off the magic trick of making it all seem relevant during the film’s two-hour running time…but then it all fades away, as unsubstantial as Jesse Eisenberg’s CGI winter’s breath.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The (2011) (1st viewing) d. Fincher, David
First off, this didn’t need to be remade. The original 2009 Swedish film starring Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace was a stellar screen version of Stieg Larsson’s novel, and I’ll argue that Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg’s adaptation blows Steven Zallian’s out of the water. Plus, without distracting celebrity faces (hello Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, et al) popping up throughout, Niels Arden Oplev’s vision was able to truly transport viewers into Larsson’s story. That said, Fincher’s redundant version is still worthwhile for the subtitle-phobic, and Rooney Mara’s damaged punk hacker Lisabeth Salander is a revelation, erasing nearly all my snarling venom aroused by her involvement in the execrable Nightmare on Elm Street reboot. Just a couple more nitpicks and I’ll walk away: a) what was up with that ridiculous opening credits sequence and b) why couldn’t Craig at least attempt a Swedish accent (or have Fincher nix everyone else’s)?

2011 totals to date: 621 films, 390 1st time views, 350 horror, 51 cinema


Black Adder’s Christmas Carol (1 episode)


  1. I wonder if the strength of the remake is only in Rooney's performance. I read in many places that she is superior to Rapace, though I wonder if that's a shade of thinly veiled xenophobia. It hasn't opened here, but what few I can gather from the trailer is what you just wrote: redundant. Looks and feels the same.

    Oh, to me "Spider" is a masterpiece, but that's just me :D

  2. It's funny, J-Lu, I was thinking of you while I wrote about (and watched, for that matter) SPIDER. I liked it a lot better this time around, but it's certainly one of my least satisfying Cronenberg experiences.

    I'd say that Rapace and Mara are evenly matched, but different. Rapace is a sexual being, whereas Mara is more of a cypher. They both have sex, but one gets the feeling that Mara is incapable of enjoying it, which is interesting.