Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fool's Views (12/1 – 12/14)

'Tis the season, suckers....

Hello, my friends!

The first two weeks of the last month of the year were bountiful, with Blu-ray screeners, holiday favorites, a healthy assist from the Chicago Public Library in the civilian department, and another Round of Redford. There were a few clunkers in the mix, but overall I’d say it was an enjoyable spread.

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



The Dark Half (1993) d. Romero, George A. (USA) (2nd viewing)


The Device (2014) d. Berg, Jeremy (USA) (1st viewing)


Phobia (2013) d. Abel, Rory Douglas (USA) (1st viewing)

A case study of mundane microbudget horror, with an intriguing premise (following the car accident that kills his wife, an agoraphobic man begins seeing troubling visions) flattened out by amateur if enthusiastic performances, not-so-special effects, predictable plot twists, and ho-hum cinematography, capped by loopy DVD art that has nothing to do with the film. I give them credit for making an honest-to-Godzilla competent movie, but it’s the kind of training-ground effort that doesn’t deserve distribution in an already crowded marketplace. That said, I look forward to seeing what Abel and his cohorts come up with next, since they obviously have skills – a dose of narrative risk and genuine inspiration might yield something of note.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) d. Wright, Edgar (UK) (6th viewing)


Tales from the Crypt (1972) d. Francis, Freddie (UK) (6th viewing)
The Vault of Horror (1973) d. Baker, Roy Ward (UK) (2nd viewing)



A Christmas Story (1983) d. Clark, Bob (USA) (4th viewing)

I came to this flick later in life, but it’s a slice of holiday magic that gets better with every viewing. Flawless performances all around, with Jean Shepherd’s narration of his original story the glue that holds it all together. Endlessly quotable and effortlessly performed with warmth and heart.

Jobs (2013) d. Stern, Joshua (USA) (1st viewing)

I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about Steve Jobs, but through no fault of Ashton Kutcher (who’s quite serviceable), the script portrays him as a complete nutcase whose only inherent gifts are the ability to say “Do it better” and flim-flam and/or alienate everyone in his immediate circle. I kept waiting to learn what made the man special or how/why he became one of the most powerful entities in the tech industry, but despite decent performances from the large ensemble, it’s just a parade of sociopathic behavior from start to finish.

Ms. .45 (1981) d. Ferrara, Abel (USA) (2nd viewing)

A superb blend of exploitation and art-house, anchored by Zoe Tamerlis’ instantly iconic central performance as a mute seamstress-turned-vigilante waging war on the misogynistic world surrounding her. Ferrara’s follow-up to The Driller Killer is satisfyingly entertaining on its sleazy revenge-thriller premise alone, while inspiring deeper thought and commentary for those inclined to do so.

Mud (2012) d. Nichols, Jeff (USA) (1st viewing)

Having caught people’s attention with his terrific apocalyptic thriller Take Shelter, writer/director Nichols secures a top-notch cast that includes Hollywood heavyweights (Matthew McConaughy, Reese Witherspoon), veteran character actors (Joe Don Baker, Sam Shepard), and fresh young talent (Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland) to weave a marvelously immersive tale of adolescence and friendship. Suspenseful, charming, mysterious, and thrilling.

Nymphomaniac, Vol. 1 (2013) d. von Trier, Lars (Denmark) (1st viewing)
Nymphomaniac, Vol. 2 (2013) d. von Trier, Lars (Denmark) (1st viewing)

In the telling of one woman’s story of sexual awakening (and sleeping), everyone’s favorite cinematic enfant terribles embraces CG technology to superimpose the heads of recognizable actors (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin as her younger iteration, and Shia Labeouf) onto the bodies of professional porn actors in order to present the illusion of the characters having intercourse without trick angles. The problem is that as the viewer, we still know that it’s all trickery, and the “how’d they do that” factor pulls us out of the story more so than if he’d just used hardcore inserts (as he did with AntiChrist). That said, the narrative odyssey is a compelling one, and while some might question the need for such an epic telling (we watched the seven-hour director’s cut), it was never boring nor did it feel exploitative. The ending is such a colossal misstep that it’s tempting to believe von Trier included it just to have the final “fuck you.”

Pitch Perfect (2012) d. Moore, Jason (USA) (1st viewing)

I don’t understand the appeal of Anna Kendrick, but as she keeps landing leading roles and becoming a larger star in the Hollywood firmament, I figured I’d check out this surprise hit as further research. Arrrrrrrrrgh. Hey, I like musicals, but the performance sequences are the only worthwhile element in this uber-thin “comedy” about collegiate a cappella groups competing for a national title. Kendrick runs the narrow emotional gamut between her usual sunny grin and sunnier snark, while her cartoon character co-stars warble hither and yon. Thank you, next.


The Natural (1984) d. Levinson, Barry (USA) (2nd viewing)

I didn’t realize that they’d changed the ending of Bernard Malamud’s book when I saw this in theaters 30 years ago. I just knew that it was a perfect Hollywood fantasy. Revisiting it, there’s no way they could have denied Roy Hobbs or his fans the WonderBoy ending we deserved. It may not be realistic, but it’s right. And wow, what a cast. Robert Duvall, Wilford Brimley, Robert Prosky, Glenn Close, Barbara Hershey, Kim Basinger, Richard Farnsworth, Michael Madsen, Joe Don Baker, and an unbilled Darren McGavin supporting Redford in a role that both acknowledged his age (48) and celebrated his undeniable presence.

Out of Africa (1985) d. Pollack, Sydney (USA) (2nd viewing)

Another one I hadn’t seen since it was originally released, but I can understand why it didn’t make as big an impression on me back then. There is so much subtlety in the relationships between Meryl Streep’s Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen) and the men in her life that the teenager that I was could never have picked up on. Whether it deserves all its Oscar gold may be open to debate, but it’s a compelling and complex story of a time and a place far removed from our millennial lives, which makes it a pleasure to experience through Pollack’s expert lens. Redford is absolutely perfect as the idealist hunter who loves the unspoiled land and its people, but can’t bring himself to “belong” to anyone or anything.

Up Close and Personal (1996) d. Avnet, Jon (USA) (1st viewing)

This was one that I had passed up because the trailers looked horrible. I was right to have done so, because it’s as silly an expose of the media business as can be imagined, with a romantic comedy shoehorned in for good measure. However, what was genuinely stunning was learning that most of the critics of the day gave it a passing grade, calling it ridiculous and fanciful, but that Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer provided enough classic Hollywood star power to make it worthwhile. I’m sorry, but no no No No NO NO NO. The comedy sucked, the plot sucked, the fact that the gritty real story (of Jessica Savitch) was completely Tinseltowned sucked, with Pfeiffer coming off as a complete dingbat that no one would allow on camera, least of all Mr. “News is Sacred” Redford, even if he did want to get in her pants (although based on the non-chemistry between the two, that’s a stretch as well). Three stars, Roger Ebert? COME ON.

2014 Totals to date: 373 films, 189 1st time views, 238 horror, 47 cinema



  1. I need to watch the director's cut of Nymph()maniac sometime. I saw the two halves that played theatrically a few weeks apart, so I'm curious to see if it plays better as a cohesive whole.

    1. "Need" might be a strong word. That said, I'm sure it plays better in one sitting. One of our party had seen the two theatrical cuts and didn't feel like he'd missed a whole lot in terms of trims.