Friday, June 8, 2012

Fool's Views (5/28 – 6/3)

Back again, eh? You kids just never learn, do you?

Thanks to a trip to the multiplex and the generosities of the Chicago Public Library, we enjoyed that rarest of weeks, one populated with all first time views. The big screen fare was an interesting blend, with expectations likely weighting my enjoyment level of the quartet of features under surveillance – high for Avengers, low for Dark Shadows, for instance. On the home viewing front, it was a big week for both Japan and South Korea, with a civilian and horror offering from one and a superb thriller from the other, all three delivering the entertainment goods while making me long for a bottomless trough of dumplings and/or noodles. C’mon, you know you get the ramen munchies as well, don’t deny it…

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



Chernobyl Diaries
d. Parker, Bradley (USA) (1st viewing)

First off, it’s worth noting that despite titular indication and Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli on board as a co-writer/producer, this is not another entry in the “found footage” sweepstakes. Granted, there are some instances of cell phone recordings illustrating previous offscreen scenes’ mayhem, but for the most part this is a straightforward narrative about a group of college grads concluding their whirlwind European tour with a trip to Kiev; within said stop, they swap out their Moscow plans for an “extreme tourism” excursion into Pripyat, the neighboring town of ill-fated Chernobyl, the real-life epicenter of a nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986. Parker develops an impressive atmosphere of gloom and desolation amidst the deserted – and still radioactive – town, as well as some engaging sequences of attack and retreat by unidentified, and perhaps supernatural, antagonists. Instead, it’s the three-headed screenplay (Peli, Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke) that proves the weak link, failing to deliver a satisfying “why” to the strange occurrences. The result is a series of creepy boo scares that lack resonance, dissipating within the cold light of cinema lobby hindsight and reflection.

Cold Fish
d. Sono, Shion (Japan) (1st viewing)

From the writer/director of Suicide Club, Hair Extensions and Himizu comes this wicked black comedy about milquetoast husband Mitsuru Fukikoshi drawn in by charismatic rival fish shop owner Denden, only to have him and wife Asuka Kurosawa instantly exert authority over the milder man’s personal life. And when we say personal, we mean it: child appropriation, spouse molesting, and that’s all before the multitude of murder to which Fukikoshi finds himself an unwitting accomplice. Sono miraculously balances the increasingly desperate scenarios with an exuberance that buoys the disturbing subject matter, Denden and Kurosawa’s joyous high-wire psychotic enthusiasm driving the breakneck narrative so fast that we, like our hapless protagonist, can barely make sense of it all. Brought to you by the good folks at Sushi Typhoon, this is closer in tone to Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q than, say, the splatterfests of Battlefield Baseball or Machine Girl.

Dark Shadows
d. Burton, Tim (USA) (1st viewing)

Hands down the most mismarketed movie of 2012. I freely admit that, based on the “Man, weren’t the 70s kerrrr-aaaaazy?” trailer that Warner Bros. was using the push Burton’s latest Johnny Depp lovefest, I was already dialed in to hate this sucker right down to the ground, and I’m not even on intimate terms with the source material. (Even though Dan Curtis cult television incarnation had monsters in it, my six-year-old spidey senses still knew it was a soap opera.) The truth is that while there are a fair share of groaners (hidden passages revealing rooms filled with macramé, endless 70s musical references incorrectly assessed as inherently funny), the tale of Depp’s revived Barnabas Collins and his reintegration into society after 200 years of vampiric slumber is an energetic, elevated comedy that, for the most part, works. Sure, Burton allows his star to occasionally overindulge in supercilious line readings and it’s hard to believe the classy Collins clan would indulge in the decade’s tackier décor – in short, when Burton goes for the cheap laugh, the movie falls flat. But when he and his A-list ensemble (which includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green and Chloe Marie Grace) stay within the exaggerated fantastic lines drawn, the results are surprisingly satisfying.

Megan is Missing
d. Goi, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)

Setting a found footage film within the particular circle of hell that is “party-hearty 14-year-old girls” is a daring enough premise as it is, since it is bound to test the patience and empathies of anyone who is not a party-hearty 14-year-old girl. We are introduced to shy, decent Amber Perkins and tramptastic mean girl Rachel Quinn – somehow inexplicably BFFs – through cell phone chats and self-recorded video footage, but when Quinn is presumably kidnapped by a social network stalker, it sends shock waves through the community, particularly for odd duck Perkins. Writer/director Goi’s feature alternates between grating and exploitative, purely-for-thrills illogic paired with on-camera confessionals, and could be easily written off as a complete waste of time…if not for the presence of three specific moments (and they are just moments) of sheer, unadulterated, and earned terror. Whether they resonate so clearly because of the tedium that surrounds them is debatable (do we really need that real-time 10 minute coda?) – as is whether they make the movie worth seeking out – but they are undeniably effective in and of themselves. (No spoilers, but for the informed: "Photo #2," "Hand in Frame," and "Barrel.")


Avengers, The
d. Whedon, Joss (USA) (1st viewing)

Hard to believe THE BIGGEST MOVIE IN THE WORLD left me kinda meh, but the days of being wowed by greenscreen and CGI trickery I fear are behind me. (I did enjoy the Whedon-penned Tony Stark one-liners well enough, though it was the Hulk vs. Loki sequence that was my favorite takeaway.) However, I can’t recommend Christianne Benedict’s editorial on the film enough – she’s always been a reliably brilliant and insightful critic, but this time she may have outdone herself.

  d. Berg, Peter (USA) (1st viewing)

We all knew this was a horrible idea, didn’t we – you’re making a movie based on a nautical battle board game but somehow introducing nigh-invincible robot aliens into the mix? The most amusing thing about this by-the-numbers dead-in-the-water cybernetic clunker is how hard it actually works to incorporate elements of its “source material” (can’t believe I just wrote that) into its playbook: the missiles the alien ships fire upon the heroic but doomed naval destroyers are shaped like the little pegs used to mark a “hit,” sonar grids are utilized with coordinates laid out such that the military must called out commands such as “Q-56,” etc. Dumb dumb dumb…and if it had been called Transformers: Battleship – which it clearly wants to be – it would have made a zillion dollars.

Hard Scrambled
d. Hay, David Scott (USA) (1st viewing)

Based upon his original stage play, first time director Hay serves up a cracking little piece about an array of colorful characters jockeying for authority and ownership of a greasy spoon café. In a rare lead role, criminally underused supporting player Kurtwood Smith (RoboCop, That 70s Show) shines as an ex-con desperately trying to maintain dominance over his staff, his friends and his overleveraged line of credit with the local loan shark. While Hay’s rat-a-tat dialogue occasionally apes Mamet-speak, there’s much to enjoy in both the linguistic and cinematic arenas, with able support from Beth Grant, Richard Edson and Eyall Podell.

d. Bong, Joon-ho (South Korea) (1st viewing)

Winner of numerous critics awards for Foreign Film and Best Actress (Hye-ja Kim), Bong (who dazzled international audiences in 2006 with The Host) delivers a magnificent drama/thriller about a mother living quietly with her addled adult son (Bin Won) until a neighborhood girl is brutally murdered and her offspring is charged with the killing. Racing the ticking hand of justice, she frantically searches for the killer down a multitude of blind alleys and red herrings until Bong quietly, inexorably lowers the boom in the final climactic reel. A superb film, not to be missed.

Osaka Elegy
(1st viewing) d. Mizoguchi, Kenji

Effective melodrama about a pharmaceutical firm’s employees’ intertwining lives, with switchboard operators succumbing to bosses’ seductions in order to pay for father’s embezzlements and so on. One of the masters of Japanese cinema (Ugetsu, 47 Ronin), this was one of Mizoguchi’s first major international successes, and well worth seeking out.

2012 Totals to date: 239 films, 204 1st time views, 130 horror, 71 cinema

Blood and Gifts by J.T. Rogers
Race by David Mamet


  1. I may have to check out HARD SCRAMBLED. I'll take some apage of Mamet-speak over "Q-56" any day of the week.

  2. It's not bad at all - I'll have to send you a copy as I don't think it ever received commercial distribution. (I'm friends with writer/director DSH, which is how I came by my disc.)