Saturday, May 6, 2017

Fool's Views (4/1 – 4/30)

Howdy, folks,

Wow, what a weird month April was! Saw over 50 films, but most of those were within the space of 11 days, the 9 days that comprised BIFFF 2017 and the in-flight movies to and from Brussels. Decidedly feast and famine, but the end results were mighty satisfying overall, a delightful counterpoint to the film-free days the femalien and I spent strolling along the waterways of Paris and Bruges celebrating our ninth year of wedded bliss.

Managed to knock out a couple more Kurosawa flicks along the way, thanks to the good old Chicago Public Library, as well as a “comfort food” viewing of Planet Terror, a shut-your-brain-off flick if ever there was one.

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



Carnage Park (2016) d. Keating, Mickey (USA) (1st viewing)

One could describe this as writer/director Keating’s love letter to 70s exploitation movies… or you could also just call it a straight up appropriation of all things Texas Chain Saw Massacre, minus the chainsaws or interesting characters or teeth-grinding tension. Instead we’ve got a Vietnam vet (Pat Healy) who for no discernible reason lures people to his desert backyard and then hunts ’em down or tortures them or whatever. He doesn’t really seem to have a point, and neither does the movie overall. What it does have is a really busy sound design and the “okay, why the hell not” casting choice of Alan Ruck (aka Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as the local badge who happens to be Healy’s brother. Meanwhile, the inimitable Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism) shows once again that she deserves a much better career than the one currently being offered. Available now from IFC Midnight and Shout! Factory.

Horrors of Malformed Men (1969) d. Ishii, Teruo (Japan) (1st viewing)

This super-pervy version of The Island of Dr. Moreau has an amnesiac patient sneaking out of a mental asylum and taking on the identity of a recently deceased corporate hotshot, even going so far as to bed both the dead man’s wife and secret lover! But things take an even stranger turn once he and his lover start receiving death threats and they are led to a remote island where the dead man’s father is conducting “unholy experiments,” transforming men into animals so that they can become his own private army with plans to enslave the “normal” world. There are plenty of oogy gross-out moments, as well as some not very convincing special effects, with the whole enterprise ermerging as a weird, psychedelic, often entertaining, and rarely boring exercise in surrealism and depravity.

Planet Terror (2007) d. Rodriguez, Robert (USA) (4th viewing)

When I originally saw it in the cinema as the first half of Grindhouse, I reported that this may be the most fun I’ve ever had at a Robert Rodriguez flick, which was saying a lot for the man who gave us El Mariachi, From Dusk Til Dawn, and Sin City. Big dumb fun of the highest order, with gore galore, sexy babes, cool cameos, and outlandish action to spare. I even went back and watched it again with my squealing femalien on my arm, which was a lot of fun, although she did pose an interesting question: How does Rose McGowan’s go-go dancing Cherry actually fire her machine gun leg? Does being an amputee somehow imbue her with an internal mental trigger finger? Just point and shoot? (Sometimes it helps to have a lizard brain, as it had never even occurred to me to question the logistics of the transplant.)

The DVD release, however, has an additional 20 minutes of footage mixed in and as a result feels like a longer movie, and a slightly padded and excessive one at that. The great thing about the theatrical version was that it moved like a freaking freight train. I’m sure that folks who missed it in its original incarnation (of which there were plenty, based on its sorry box office showing) won’t mind this slightly fattier version, but I liked it better lean n’ mean.

BIFFF 2017:



The Girl on the Train (2016) d. Taylor, Tate (USA) (1st viewing)

Solid psychological thriller based on Paula Hawkins’ bestseller that takes a while to get going, but once the wheels surrounding a young woman’s murder start spinning, it’s hard to not stay invested. Emily Blunt headlines as a boozy emotional car crash, with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’s Rebecca Ferguson as her worthy feminine foil.

Trivia: There were two other features (and one short) with the same title released between 2009 and 2016!

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) d. Gibson, Mel (USA) (1st viewing)

The incredible true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) – the only conscientious objector to be given the Medal of Honor for rescuing 75 of his fellow infantryman during the Battle of Okinawa – is given a serviceable screen treatment, but that's about all I can say. The combat scenes are impressively gory and brutal, although there’s a thin Hollywood sheen over the proceedings that kept me emotionally disengaged. Won Oscars for Editing and Sound Mixing.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) d. Zwick, Edward (USA) (1st viewing)

Tom Cruise is back as Lee Child’s badass former military officer now operating as a private contractor, roped into a conspiracy plot that has the armed forces (and hired assassin Patrick Heusinger) tracking him and framed officer Cobie Smulders down. Engaging but instantly forgettable.

Lion (2016) d. Davis, Garth (USA) (1st viewing)

Another based-on-true-events Best Picture nominee, following the journey of a five-year-old Indian boy who – accidentally locked on a freight train – ends up in Calcutta, thousands of miles from home, with no idea how to get back (or even the name of his small town). Ultimately adopted by an Australian couple, he grows up (as played by Dev Patel), attends school, and finds love, although his birth family is never far from his mind. As time marches forward, technology advances and the chances of tracking them down increases, until he is possessed by the need to find them. Emotionally satisfying and affecting.

The Lower Depths (1936) d. Renoir, Jean (France) (1st viewing)

Despite diverging considerably from the original Maxim Gorky play, Renoir’s adaptation succeeds mightily, thanks in no small part to the charisma and charm of frequent leading man Jean Gabin (as a thief with a heart of gold) and Louis Jouvet’s bankrupt baron, as comfortable in riches as in a seedy flophouse.

Snowden (2016) d. Stone, Oliver (USA) (1st viewing)

Considering Stone’s left-leaning ideals, it’s unsurprising that this look at the former intelligence agent turned fugitive whistleblower takes a heroic view of its subject. It doesn’t hurt that I share said ideals, and the 2+ hours go by quickly and are just as infuriating as they should be. Timely doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Sausage Party (2016) d. Tiernan, Greg / Vernon, Conrad (USA) (1st viewing)

The opening 10 minutes had me laughing as hard as I have in recent memory, and the following 79 aren’t bad either. Seth Rogen and Kristin Wiig top the talent list recruited to voice various foodstuffs and condiments, all of which are superb (with the exception of Edward Norton, who seems an odd choice to begin with and even odder considering the half-assed Woody Allen impression he brings to the table). Vulgar, crass, knowingly offensive/racist, and very, very funny.


The Lower Depths (1957) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (1st viewing)

More faithful to its source material than the Renoir version, this examination of human cruelty features a terrific ensemble of players (including Toshiro Mifune, as the petty thief) antagonizing each other as a means of preserving their own dwindling self-respect. Kurosawa does not “open up” the play, keeping us trapped with the hapless characters in single claustrophobic location, with the end result more restrained than his celebrated epics.

Red Beard (1965) d. Kurosawa, Akira (Japan) (1st viewing)

The final teaming of Mifune and Kurosawa, and the last time the director shot in black-and-white, is a magnificent piece of work, unfolding the story of a young medical graduate (Yuzo Kayama) who, denied a position on the court medical staff, is assigned to an internship at a public clinic serving beggars and the destitute unwashed masses. Mifune is breathtaking as the aging head surgeon, his onscreen nobility and presence elevating every scene, whether it be giving a gang of criminals the ass-kicking of a lifetime or quietly chastising himself afterwards for hurting instead of healing. Many beautiful moments of tragedy and redemption throughout.

2017 Totals to date: 83 films, 75 1st time views, 37 horror, 30 cinema



  1. Red Beard is fantastic. The moment Criterion gives it a Blu-ray upgrade, I'll be snapping it up.

  2. When I announced that I was going to be doing a Kurosawa retrospective on FB, this was one that a lot of people were saying, "Wait, you've never seen that????" Definitely lived up to the rep. Sorry that it was the last time that Mifune and Big K worked together.