Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fool's Views (2/20 – 3/4)

Hello my friends,

Didn’t forget about you last week, it was just that come the final tally, I’d only amassed a half dozen flicks – only two of which were vaguely horrific in tone (although The Help was pretty damn horriBLE).

So, we dived back in the oceans to see what else we could harvest, emerging with bushels overflowing with pearls, seaweed, an old boot and the occasional pirate’s doubloon. Needless to say, we’re now saddled with an embarrassment of riches, so I hope you’ve brought your appetites. Before you lies a banquet of ghostly lasses, Hammer classes, glitzy disco glasses, and a wealth of other tasty treats. Hope you like.

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



Chronicle (2012)
 d. Trank, Josh (USA) (1st viewing)

I know it’s early in the year, but this sci-fi winner has already emerged as one of the most pleasant surprises of 2012 and it’s clear by its box office superiority over the higher-profile Woman in Black redux that I’m not alone in my appreciation. The story is fairly standard stuff – three teens encounter a strange vessel interred deep below the ground and subsequently find themselves endowed with ever-increasing telekinetic powers – but it is director Trank’s handling of Max Landis’ material that surprises time and again with its emotional heft and legitimacy. The “found footage” angle requires substantial suspension of disbelief (and also seems to be abandoned completely in the final reel), but the performances by the trio of young performers (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan) and the fantastic subject matter eases the load considerably.

Next of Kin (1984) d. Williams, Tony (Australia) (1st viewing)

This Aussie haunted house thriller flew onto my radar thanks to Mark Hartley’s astonishingly entertaining Not Quite Hollywood documentary, but it was teammate in terror David Schmidt who clued me into the shamefully not-on-disc’s YouTube presence and for that, I’m eternally grateful. Jacki Kerin stars as a lass Down Under that, upon reading her recently deceased mother’s diary, discovers numerous dark secrets about the family nursing home. In addition to a glowing electronic score by Klaus Schulze, Gary Hansen’s elegant cinematography and the presence of John Jarratt (20 years before reaching genre-icon status with Wolf Creek), the slow-burn twists and turns of Michael Heath and director Williams’ script deliver the goods, effectively coupled with memorable screen imagery (the final reel’s sugar cube scene is a thing of wonder).

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) d. Polanski, Roman (USA) (3rd viewing)

The blockbuster adaption of Ira Levin’s bestselling occult novel still maintains its punch 44 years after its initial release, but what struck me on this most recent viewing was just how easily it could have become just another schlocky “fun” horror film in the hands of producer William Castle. Having acquired the rights to Levin’s story, everyone’s favorite celluloid showman had hoped for this to be his entryway into directing studio-funded A-films, but Paramount head honcho Robert Evans instead gave the reins to hot new European import Polanski. Obviously, this proved to be a wise decision as the young auteur proceeded to imbue the outlandish story – Mia Farrow’s young expectant mother’s growing paranoia of a conspiracy surrounding her unborn child – with a grounded, soap opera realism, subverting expectations of genre without sacrificing an iota of tension or dread. Ruth Gordon won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her slyly fussy turn as Farrow and husband John Cassavetes’ intrusive neighbor, with able support from Ralph Bellamy, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Elisha Cook, Jr., Hammer’s dinosaur-lovin’ glamour gal Victoria Vetri and baby-faced Charles Grodin in his first major screen appearance. Watch (and listen) closely for cameos by Castle and Tony Curtis.


The Woman in Black (1989) d. Wise, Herbert (UK) (2nd viewing)

BBC version of Susan Hill’s engrossing ghost story follows Adrian Rawlins’ young, family-man solicitor called to handle the legalities of a recently deceased mansion owner in a remote English village. Upon arriving, he finds himself uncovering far deeper mysteries and secrets, ones that seem to link the hamlet residents’ tragic rash of children’s deaths with the vengeful spirits populating the mansion's shadowy confines. But the real magic is accomplished via the haunting spectral presence of Pauline Moran’s titular character – her fierce, hate-twisted visage providing more bona-fide chills than any number of computer-generated century phantoms. (The truly terrifying scene where she visits Rawlins in bed is worth the price of admission alone.) Thanks to solid performances, a superb adaptation by the legendary Nigel Kneale and Wise’s crisp direction on a presumably meager budget, this is one of the most underrated cinematic ghost stories out there, though the recent Hammer effort will hopefully raise some awareness.

The Woman in Black, The (2012)  d. Watkins, James (UK) (1st viewing)

Hammer’s latest offering envisions Daniel ("don't call me Harry") Radcliffe’s legal beagle as an epically grieving widower (which works quite well considering the cloud of death and pain that hangs over the Crythin village populace), and the hostility he encounters from both the locals and the estate’s long-dead vengeful spirits only increases our empathy toward him. Screenwriter Jane Goldman offers a worthy riff on Hill's novel, complemented by director Watkins’ solid atmospheric work, although the most effective moments are not the ones seemingly designed to appease a modern day audience (now you see ‘em now you don’t CGI ghosts, big aural jump scares) but the "classic" slow burn spooking sequences (gazing down long hallways, silent climbs up and down foreboding staircases). Ultimately, I admired the period effort more than loved it, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. Is it likely to leave lasting memories and have you looking under the bed? Probably not, but it's among the better studio-based genre efforts and ranks just below Let Me In and Wake Wood as far as Hammer's recent output. (I'd rank them 3 for 4, with The Resident being the only true disappointment under Simon Oakes 21st century stewardship.)


Four Sided Triangle (1953) d. Fisher, Terence (UK) (1st viewing)

Surprisingly underrated pre-Quatermass Xperiment sci-fi effort from Hammer and its most prolific director concerns itself with two young scientists (Stephen Murray, John Van Eyssen) who collaborate on a fantastic new invention – a device that can replicate simply anything. (I absolutely loved the simplicity of this fanciful notion, hearkening back to a more innocent era of sci-fi when you could chalk up pretty much anything to this mystical thing called SCIENCE.) This astonishing innovation also provides an interesting solution to an ancillary problem between the two brainiacs: they're in love with the same woman (Barbara Payton). With her affections blowing Van Eyssen's way, Murray decides to reproduce his l'amour, which his succeeds in doing… with unexpected side effects. Certainly a trifle, but interesting enough to merit your attention. (If Van Eyssen seems familiar, it's probably from his turn as Jonathan Harker in 1958'S Horror of Dracula.)

Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960) d. Guest, Val (UK) (1st viewing)

This early Hammer's b/w thriller centers on Ronald Lewis' (Mr. Sardonicus, Scream of Fear) race car driver who, after suffering a near-fatal crash, finds himself entertaining murderous impulses toward his fetching new wife. Guest's spirited direction is commendable; ditto Diane Cilento's (The Wicker Man) lively French-accented turn as Lewis' devoted if increasingly frustrated bride. But the whole thing takes WAY too long to get where it's going (at 107 minutes, it's one of the longest Hammer films out there; apparently the original UK cut is a full 120), especially considering the "twist" is telegraphed miles and miles ahead such that only those who dozed off halfway through would be surprised by the outcome.


The Apple (1980) d. Golan, Menahem (USA/West Germany) (1st viewing)

I knew nothing about this wild-ass Christian allegory musical extravaganza before I went into it, whereupon it proceeded to wash over me like a tidal wave of glitter-filled foam and honey. The bounty of WTF moments is not to be underestimated – I highly recommend watching this with a crowd (as I was able to, courtesy of the ever-awesome combo of Jason Coffman, Autre Monde and Horrorbles), but I have no doubt it satisfies all on its own. Streaming on Netflix and available on disc, BIM awaits you…

Beginners (2011)  d. Mills, Mike (USA) (1st viewing)

Much more than a vehicle for Christopher Plummer (which was how it came to be marketed and sold), what needs to be remembered is the vaunted veteran won his accolades in the Best Supporting Actor category which means that the lion’s share of the movie belongs to Ewan McGregor, mourning the death of his father while attempting to cultivate a relationship with Inglorious Basterds’ Melanie Laurent. Clearly Plummer has the flashier role as a man who emerges from the closet to embrace his homosexuality at the age of 75 – only to discover that he is dying of cancer – and he embodies it with the vigor and class that justifies his awards-season sweepage. But writer/director Mills has crafted much more than a septuagenarian novelty act; rather it’s a thoughtful, complex, funny and touching mediation on the myriad relationships we all share with one another.

Britney Spears Live: The Femme Fatale Tour (2011) d. Kenney, Ted (USA) (1st viewing)

Oh, pipe down. I actually count myself as a fan of Ms. Spears’ music (though I do not for a second deny her limitations as a singer), and as her videos and especially 2001’s Live from Las Vegas concert film evidence, she is capable of delivering some damn fine hip-gyrating, midriff-exposing, mane-whipping lip-synched entertainment. Unfortunately, I fear that the days where Brit was more fun to watch than listen to are fading fast, as her “woman” era pales beside her “not a girl” phase. I won’t use an unqualified “lazy” to describe her performance for the capacity Toronto crowd, but “uninspired” certainly fits the bill, an adjective that extends to the entire production. The backup dancers aren’t wow-worthy, the choreography is yawntastic, and worst of all, until the last few numbers, Spears seems to be performing as though saddled with a back injury, dead behind the eyes and only cursorily going through the motions. You’d think with her popularity ebbing, greater effort would be expended to prove the naysayers wrong, that she would attempt to connect with the remaining faithful, but instead it’s coastville. What a difference ten years can make. May be time to retire, Brit, because if you’re not even going to try, why should we?

Cash on Demand (1962) d. Lawrence, Quentin (UK) (1st viewing)

Marvelous Hammer suspense yarn pits Andre Morrell's charmingly sinister con man against starched shirt scrooge Peter Cushing, the former seeking to relieve the latter of his bank's holdings. Watching these two titans square off in adversarial fashion is pleasure enough (especially for those who've seen their excellent previous teaming as Holmes and Watson in 1959's Hound of the Baskervilles), but David T. Chantler & Lewis Greifer's script – based off Jacques Gillies' play – is tight and effective, providing Lawrence plenty of opportunities to heighten the tension. The Christmastime setting only sweetens the deal – this may need to become a holiday tradition.

The Help (2011)  d. Taylor, Tate (USA) (1st viewing)

This insultingly simplistic feel-good movie about overcoming racism in 60s Mississippi only makes me angrier the further I get from it. (No wonder it was the highest grossing Best Picture nominee of the year.) The notion that card-carrying negra-hater Bryce Dallas Howard could be undone by a bit of dirty pie and a front porch dressing down from Allison Janney is so ludicrous I feel as though I’d been dining on Octavia Spencer’s character’s night soil handiwork – the truth is that Howard’s Hilly Holbrook would have had every offending colored household burned to the ground and a few others beside without a second thought or glance backward. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the rich don’t have to get their own hands dirty to get the dirty work done. Yes, the acting from the mostly-female ensemble of players is all fine, but the saccharine glazed over the proceedings renders it moot. Gah.

Rampart (2011)  d. Moverman, Oren (USA) (1st viewing)

Woody Harrelson reunites with his Messenger director for this scathing character study of a corrupt L.A. cop whose downward spiral only picks up velocity with his every move to, ahem, arrest it. One of the most despicable characters the amiable actor has ever tackled, effectively tapping into the inner darkness that remains his secret weapon. Not an easy movie to watch, since we find ourselves distancing ourselves further from our protagonist as he alienates himself from his every friend and ally, but thanks to Harrelson’s magnetic inhabitation we never completely look away. The strung-out, decidedly unglammed supporting cast includes Ned Beatty, Anne Heche, Robin Wright, Ben Foster and Ice Cube (who’s great).

This Means War (2012)  d. McG (USA) (1st viewing)

While I would never deny the individual appeals of Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy, but all seem wildly miscast in this mixmaster genre blend of romance, comedy and action about two CIA operatives vying for the same gal. Pine’s smarmy cocksman comes closest to the mark (though when he grows a heart things get dicey), but Hardy is no one’s leading man and Witherspoon as a flighty bird unfamiliar with the ways of workin’ it had my eye-rolling gene working overtime. Too stupid to buy into and too innocuous to raise any serious objections, it’s the celluloid equivalent of a microwave dinner – resembling food but lacking any craft, truth or nourishment, leaving one unsatisfied and slightly queasy.


Roller Boogie (1979)
  d. Lester, Mark L. (USA) (1st viewing)

Xanadu (1980) d. Greenwald, Robert (USA) (1st viewing)

A kitschy double feature brought to Chez AC via the Netflix streaming gods to ease the pain of a week of unfulfilled auditions, and boy howdy, did it do the trick. Boogie catches Linda Blair easing out of her awkward pudgy adolescence but not yet descended into her full-on exploitation bad-girl 80s persona, and as a poor little rich girl who only wants a little love and some wheel time on the boardwalk, she’s actually quite appealing. (As an added bonus, 50s sci-fi genre fave Beverly Garland shows up as Blair’s mum.) Jim Bray, as her paramour from the wrong side of the tracks, was clearly hired more for his prodigious roller skating talent as opposed to any thesping skills (it’s his only screen credit), but he does admittedly dazzle at times and Blair’s rink acrobatics considerably leveled up my appreciation of her as well.

By contrast, while the Olivia Newton-John vehicle has its goofy moments, it’s only during the flashy production number-laced endgame that Xanadu’s cheese reaches its desired peak of ripeness. The rest of the time, we’re stuck with moony artiste Michael Beck (a whole lot sunnier than in The Warriors) chasing down the feathered blonde of his dreams whilst building a fancy nightclub with Gene Kelly, who keeps grinning and twinkling for all he’s worth. Jeff Lynne’s ELO tunes and Newton-John’s vanilla pop keep things bouncing along, and famed animator Don Bluth even kicks in a sequence that’s as two dimensional as the rest of the flick.

2012 Totals to date: 71 films, 64 1st time views, 26 horror, 5 cinema

Linda Blair movies: 4


  1. I don't know why, but "This Means War" sounds like a chick flick version of "Spy VS Spy" minus the killings, ergo minus the fun.

    1. Yeah, that's how they're billing it. The whole thing's just kind of silly, and they're casting makes sense only from an "appeal to the audiences" level. For the record, I think all three of them are capable enough performers (even though it still irks me to no end that Witherspoon has a Best Actress Oscar when there are so many others more deserving who do not, especially since her role in WALK THE LINE was a supporting park...but I digress), but none of them feel well suited to the material.

      The irony is that I originally went to see Wim Wenders PINA, but forgot my 3D glasses and so had to settle for TMW since I refuse to pay the extra $5 for a 3D ticket.