Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fool's Views: 1/1 – 1/26

Look here, Doc, you gonna write these Views or aren't you???

Howdy folks,

The Doc’s office has been open, but 2014’s viddying schedule has been sporadic at best. The Year of HIDDEN HORROR has been taking up an inordinate amount of time in terms of promotion, fulfilling orders, and general merriment, but, additionally, I just haven’t been in the mood to (*gasp*) watch movies. It could have something to do with the fact that every time I settle in to catch a flick, I get distracted by A) a project left undone, B) an assignment incomplete, or C) general guilt or worry about A or B. I’m sure it’s just a phase and that things will return to their regular pace at some point, but for now, we’ll have to make do with the following 18 movies, many of which fall under the “obligatory viewing” category (promotional screeners or SAG Award nominations), although I did enjoy a few “just for fun” flicks with blood brother John Pata while he was in the neighborhood applying the finishing touches to his latest Head Trauma Production, Pity.

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



7th Day (2012) d. Koch, Jason M. (USA) (1st viewing)


Beast of Hollow Mountain, The (1956) d. Nassour, Edward / Rodriguez, Ismael (Mexico/USA) (2nd viewing)


Cat People (1982) d. Schrader, Paul (USA) (3rd viewing)


Die, Monster, Die! (1965) d. Haller, Daniel (USA) (2nd viewing)


Eden Lake (2008) d. Watkins, James (UK) (2nd viewing)


Singapore Sling (1990) d. Nikolaidis, Nikos (Greece) (3rd viewing)



12 Years a Slave (2013) d. McQueen, Steven (UK) (1st viewing)

There’s no denying the skill and artistry on display in this shocking true story of black musician Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was kidnapped from his family and denied basic human rights for a dozen years, and McQueen’s penchant for uncomfortably long, unbroken takes is well served by a heaven-sent ensemble cast. The entire production is top-notch in every capacity, and the emotional toll is as devastating as it should be. Hard to believe how short a time ago this shameful period in American history was, and how deeply ingrained such injustices were to people’s daily lives.

Abyss, The (1989) d. Cameron, James (USA) (2nd viewing)

I hadn’t revisited JC’s flawed but technically dazzling underwater sci-fi epic since being underwhelmed during its original theatrical release, so I decided to give it another go. My reaction is pretty much the same: solid actors (Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn) chewing their way around clunky dialogue while being upstaged by some gloriously innovative CGI effects. The third act is sunk (get it?) by a particularly preachy and sentimental conclusion, and the extended home video version only exacerbates the problems. Don’t think I’ll be going down a third time.

Blazing Saddles (1974) d. Brooks, Mel (USA) (5th viewing)

Popped this in to serve as background noise while I packaged up HIDDEN HORROR contributor copies, thinking that since I knew nearly every line by heart, I wouldn’t feel the need to actually watch it. Fat chance. The first half of Brooks’ astounding one-two punch of 1974 (followed that same year by Young Frankenstein) is ribald, raucous, risky, and rib-shatteringly funny, filled to bursting with endlessly quotable lines served up by a peerless band of players. A true classic and one of the finest comedies ever made, full stop.

Blue Jasmine (2013) d. Allen, Woody (USA) (1st viewing)

The Woodman riffs on Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, aided by his usual impressive assortment of skilled interpreters, but though an entertaining trifle, it’s neither as funny or clever as its critical reception would have you believe.

Captain Phillips (2013) d. Greengrass, Paul (USA) (1st viewing)

Though his once-innovative you-are-there style has been effectively appropriated by many a Hollywood pretender, Greengrass (United 93) still knows how to deliver the true-event thriller goods. In spite of an occasionally shaky Boston accent, Tom Hanks delivers an impressively layered interpretation as Richard Phillips whose vessel was commandeered by Somalian pirates in 2009 resulting in a tense showdown of wills and political gamesmanship. Kudos to screenwriter Billy Ray (adapting Phillips' book) for providing the antagonists with rationalization for their criminal acts, creating three-dimensional characters instead a faceless gang of thugs in the process. The closing moments (featuring Hanks and a military medical team) are crushing in their emotional immediacy and authenticity.

Enough Said (2013) d. Holofcener, Nicole (USA) (1st viewing)

A great and mature romantic comedy, featuring the somehow still-underrated Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a single mom eking out a living as a personal massage therapist who stumbles into a tentative relationship with a likeably gruff single dad (the late James Gandolfini, gone waaaaaaaaaaay too soon). The admittedly large plot contrivance that provides much of the latter half’s dramatic tension becomes much easier to swallow when presented by such engaging performers, including Toni Collette, Catherine Keener, and young talents Michaela Watkins and Tavi Gevinson.

Ice Castles (1978) d. Wrye, Donald (USA) (4th viewing)

Sure, it’s an unabashed melodrama about a young figure skater (Lynn-Holly Johnson) straining against her small-town ties and overprotective father (Tom Skerrit) while struggling to negotiate the choppy romantic waters of her relationship with childhood love and aimless rebel Robby Benson, but darned if it doesn’t still deliver the goods. The skating sequences are lovely and energetic, and the cast does a fine job handling the sometime schmaltzy scenarios. (Colleen Dewhurst, in particular, deserves special kudos for turning an underwritten character into a fascinating and quirky underwritten character.) The femalien did point out, however, how completely creepy Johnson’s underage character’s seduction by adult journalist David Huffman really is – something I had never noticed before.

Nebraska (2013) d. Payne, Alexander (USA) (1st viewing)

I’ve been a fan of Bruce Dern for a long, long time, but I’m genuinely surprised at the amount of critical love for his turn as an irascible and delusional Montana senior convinced that he’s won a grand prize from a Publisher’s Clearing House-type establishment. Not that he doesn’t create a memorable, humanized characterization – it’s just that I was never surprised by any of his choices, subtle or otherwise. Granted, he’s definitely due for some Oscar love (this represents his first nomination in a 60+ year career), but it feels more like a career achievement recognition than a genuinely revelatory performance. The supporting cast, including June Squibb, Stacey Keach, and Rance Howard, are entertaining but shockingly artificial by comparison. As Dern’s well-meaning son, Will Forte is given nothing to do but remain level-headedly frustrated by the antics around him – a thankless and uninspired straight man.

Philomena (2013) d. Frears, Stephen (UK) (1st viewing)

Judi Dench is predictably terrific as an aging Irish woman attempting to track down the child she gave up for adoption decades prior, but I was wholly unprepared for Steve Coogan’s (who also co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope and shared producing duties with Tracey Seaward and Gabrielle Tana) brilliantly layered and nuanced performance as an disgraced journalist looking to ride Dench’s “human interest” story back into public favor. Based on a true story as infuriating as it is shocking, one that doesn’t do the Catholic Church’s increasingly unflattering image any favors.

Runaway Train (1985) d. Konchalovskiy, Andrey (USA) (5th viewing)

Terrific character piece about two escaped convicts (Eric Roberts and Jon Voight, both Oscar-nominated) in the Alaskan tundra who get themselves onto a full throttled freight train…and then can’t get off after the conductor dies of a heart attack. The boisterous scenes between the odd couple are riveting master classes in full-blooded scenery consumption, with proud It’s Alive poppa John P. Ryan not far behind as the tenacious warden bent on recapturing his quarry. It’s only when we leave the haunting imagery of the four-engine behemoth blazing through the snow-covered mountain scenery and dip inside the civilian railroad control room that the stench of bad acting hits like a dead rat caught in the heating ducts. Based on a story by Akira Kurosawa.

Same Time Every Year (1981) d. Lincoln, Fred J. (USA) (2nd viewing)

Three lawyers head off on their annual “convention,” leaving their respective hot and horny wives behind with home fires burning. But not to worry, everyone finds consenting partners to while away the hours. Perhaps the only adult movie in memory that I’ve watched front-to-back in its entirety...twice. (First time for review, and this second time at the behest of my beloved bride in need of some mindless giggles.)


Side Effects (2013) d. Soderbergh, Steven (USA) (1st viewing)

There’s more than enough meat and gristle in the onscreen condemnation of Big Medicine; it’s too bad no one told screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (The Informant!, Contagion) whose outlandish plot twists tainted my final assessment of this experimental prescription drug thriller. That said, the first hour that follows Rooney Mara’s suicidally depressive lass – wife to recently released white-collar criminal Channing Tatum – and her treatment by upwardly aspiring M.D. Jude Law is engaging stuff. With Soderbergh directing in his usual detached, chilly manner, preventing any deep emotional identification with the characters, I found myself wondering what a more “sentimental” director like Ron Howard might have done with the material.

2014 Totals to date: 18 films, 8 1st time views, 6 horror, 0 cinema

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you liked Philomena so much. That was an extremely pleasant surprise when I caught it back in December. A most welcome return to form for Stephen Frears.