Monday, November 26, 2012

Fool's Views (11/12 – 11/25) (Part 1 of 2)

Greetings, peeps.

Like any good Thanksgiving feast, there was a wealth of cinematic gorging taking place over the last couple weeks, with ample portions of both dark meat (horror) and white (civilian), as well as lots of cheese, corn and sweets to balance out the table. We’ve got a lot to get through, so let’s get on with it!

In addition to Jon Kitley’s 10th Annual Turkey Day Festival, during which idiots such as myself bury themselves in the basement bowels of cinema, I scarfed down an array of relatively recent civilian fare as well as a quartet of animated blockbusters. Also did a little Turkey snacking of my own, with a new horror release from IFC for dessert. All in all, it was a feast fit for a king...or at least a Fool.

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



Berberian Sound Studio (2012) (1st viewing) d. Strickland, Peter (UK)

Called to Italy to work on a new film, British sound designer Toby Jones finds himself immersed in increasingly strange environs. Even if not for the language and cultural barriers that separate the already shy and bookish professional from his colleagues, there exists an oppressive feeling of otherness; the other sound engineers find him uncooperative, the eccentric director refuses to have his exceptionally violent giallo referred to as a “horror film,” and the seemingly simple task of reimbursing Jones’ flight expenses becomes a Sisyphean labor no one seems willing to undertake.

The assignment soon begins to overwhelm Jones, with disorienting working conditions and methodologies driving him to a breaking point where he is no longer able to distinguish fiction from reality. When the film-within-the film (The Equestrian Vortex, whose oblique titling should prove amusing for longtime giallo fans) starts to bleed into the technician’s life, things take a nasty turn into David Lynch territory, specifically Mulholland Dr. with its cinema-centric trappings.

Writer/director Strickland cultivates an impressive and detailed atmosphere that will resonate with fans versed in genre trappings, watching Jones pore over footage, audio tracks, laying down gruesome foley effects, overseeing dialogue (and scream) looping, etc. With this impressively immersive experience building momentum and goodwill, it’s wildly disappointing that Strickland denies his audience a satisfying climax to all the build-up; a foreplay extravaganza that abruptly (and rudely, some might say) concludes shy of orgasm with your partner collapsing into a drunken slumber. The pre-existing good vibrations carry through the credits crawl, and I do recommend BSS highly. But Strickland’s presumably conscious decision to follow a “personal artistic vision” as opposed to good manners, i.e., giving the viewer what they want/deserve, will be what relegates the film to underground cult status as opposed to popular success.

Video Dead, The (1987) (1st viewing) d. Scott, Robert (USA)

While their parents are away on vacation, siblings Roxanna Augusen and Rocky Duvall discover an old TV set upstairs in the attic. What they don’t know (but we the viewers do, thanks to an earlier scene) is that this particular boob tube is actually a portal to another dimension, one which undead shamblers use to infiltrate our world. With its tongue-in-rotting-cheek title and late-80s time stamp, one should be expecting a fair amount of cheesiness and low-grade thesping, but there’s a surprising amount of charm and nods to the faithful fright fan (even if the zombies do more strangling than munching). Speaking of which, the DIY makeup f/x are pretty impressive for the time and budget, with steam irons thrust into skulls, chainsaws ripping through sternums, and moldering corpses leering with abandon. No lost classic, but certainly a fair amount of fun for fans of ’80s fare.


Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011) (1st viewing) d. Berlinger, Joe / Sinofsky, Bruce (USA)

The saga of the West Memphis Three, committed of the 1993 slaying of three Cub Scouts in West Memphis, AK, has been documented onscreen since 1996 when directors Berlinger and Sinofsky’s first film brought national lasting attention to their plight. Despite evidence (and the lack thereof) that has convinced many a viewer that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelly are in fact innocent, the grinding wheels of injustice have conspired over 17 years to keep them incarcerated. The directors have never let up in their quest to overturn the wrongful verdict, and this, their third effort, shows the groundswell of support that has risen all over the country, in the community and even among their former accusers. They also uncover some damning evidence that points to who might actually be the real killer. It’s a stunning achievement, deservedly nominated for an Oscar last year.

Pusher (1996) (1st viewing) d. Refn, Nicolas Winding (Denmark)

The year of the Refn continues, finally working our way back to his debut film, a stunning whirling handheld effort covering a week in the life of self-serving drug dealer Kim Bodnia who finds himself in a fix after several deals go sour. Bodnia and Refn make sure that this is no glamorous portrait: our protagonist burns relationship bridges with alarming speed, with friends and lovers finding themselves in the wake of collateral damage. Mads Mikkelsen, who would later star in Refn's Valhalla Rising (and the 007 reboot Casino Royale) has a small early role as Bodnia’s skeezy accomplice who learns a hard lesson about loyalty.

Raid: Redemption, The (2011) (3rd viewing) d. Evans, Gareth (Indonesia)

Third viewing in seven months. One might get the impression I liked this flick. And yet, still not enough people know about it. An elite SWAT team becomes trapped in a tenement run by a ruthless mobster and his army of killers and thugs. Welsh-born writer/director Evans marshals the forces of his fearless Indonesian cast, delivering one of the most jaw-dropping action films of the last decade, full stop. In spite of some needless CGI bullet splatter, the feverish pace and eye-popping stunts are unrivaled spectacles of wonder, with martial arts sequences that have left international audiences in states of spontaneous, breathless applause. Definitely in my top 10 for the year.

Trip, The (2010) (1st viewing) d. Winterbottom, Michael (UK)

British TV personalities Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play themselves (or at least wickedly skewed versions of themselves) as they tool around Northern England doing a restaurant tour. Bickering, riffing, spontaneous sing-offs, and celebrity impersonations abound, with a great deal of warmth and human foibles lending weight to the proceedings. A terrific film that will stay with you.

Wendy and Lucy (2008) (1st viewing) d. Reichardt, Kelly (USA)

Michelle Williams buries herself deep in the role of an itinerant young lady en route to a summer job in Alaska, only to have her car break down in a small burg near the Oregon/Washington border. With finances dwindling, her issues are further compounded when she loses her faithful canine companion. There’s not much in the way of conventional action or plot, yet the viewer is definitely taken on an emotional journey, with solid performances all around. Filmmaker Larry Fessenden (who also plays a pivotal role) has championed Reichardt’s work for years; his production company Glass Eye Pix – usually known for their independent horror efforts – helped make this critically acclaimed small scale drama happen. Hail Larry.

(to be cont'd...)


  1. I saw the series of The Trip and loved it, not sure how it compares when edited down for the movie format.
    Gotta disagree with you on that ending for Berberian Sound Studio. Oh wait, okay, I won't disagree with you on it but IMO Strickland earned the right to mess with us in those last moments.
    The Raid is brilliant and The Video Dead is a fond favourite of mine.

    1. It was an even split among the four of us who were watching it as to the satisfaction level of the ending of BSS. I just wanted something a little more, as we'd been building toward something...something that I felt never really arrived. And I feel like, as I said, that will be the thing that keeps it from becoming a huge word-of-mouth hit. It reminds me a lot of the divisive AMER, not in subject matter so much as its divisiveness - I liked it more than others, but it sure wasn't a bona fide home run despite the amazing style and form.

    2. Oh, and I didn't realize THE TRIP was a TV show originally. How many episodes was it? The film clocked in at just under two hours.

  2. The Trip was, I think, about 6 half hour episodes so would have been about 180 minutes (as it was a BBC show, no ad breaks). Coogan and Brydon were such a great double act.

  3. I guess you haven't seen the second part of the Pusher trilogy yet, because Mads Mikkelsen is front and center in that one (and is just as much of a screw-up).

    1. Haven't seen it yet, but the public library (as of last night) says that I'm "next in line," so hopefully I'll get it before the end of the year.

      Just found out that Mads is playing Hannibal Lecter in a new television series called HANNIBAL which will focus on his early adventures with Will Graham. This could, in fact, suck.