Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Fool's Views (1/16 – 1/31)

Greetings and Happy (Bloody) Valentines Day, kids!

Here’s the back half of January, which wasn’t nearly as madcap as the first, being that we had already knocked out all of the SAG nominees and were left to polish off the remaining unseen features from both Michael Haneke and Wes Anderson (strange bedfellows indeed), as well as revisiting a couple Corman quickies. We also got out to the cinema a couple more times, sharing an evening of conversation with Michael Shannon at DePaul University following a screening of Take Shelter hosted by the peerless Peter Steeves, as well as a midnight screening of the cautionary tale that is Wild Beasts (“This is your brain. This is your brain trampled by zoo animals hopped up on angel dust.”)

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



Opera (1987) d. Argento, Dario (Italy) (3rd viewing)

I have a very personal connection with this one, as it’s the first that I watched knowing this was “a Dario Argento film.” (I had seen Suspiria several years earlier but hadn’t registered the director’s name.) Happily, it’s also one of his best, a near-perfect distillation of his fascination with gore, flashy camerawork, beautiful women in terrible trouble, and bizarre dream logic that exists only to shock and surprise viewers. I would say that it vies with Tenebrae for the bronze meatball (with Suspiria and Deep Red wrestling for the gold and silver), with insane swooping Steadicam shots and exploding viscera punctuating nearly every frame.

Story? Oh, right, that. Young opera soprano understudy Betty (Cristina Marsillach) is thrust into stardom after the resident diva has a literal run-in with a car outside the theater, but the production of Macbeth in which she is performing seems to be “cursed,” with vicious murders occurring around every corner. To further complicate matters, the black-gloved killer keeps tying up our poor songbird and taping strips of needles under her eyes such that she cannot close them, forced to witness these heinous, bloody deeds.

The acting is enthusiastically stilted, the script doesn’t make a lick of sense, and the ending will explode several synapses, but that’s all part of the fun. Many thanks to Ian Simmons and Jason Coffman for sitting down over at Chez AC to viddy the recent Blu-ray issue from Doppelganger Films and Scorpion Releasing. We chatted about it HERE for Kicking the Seat – give a listen.

Take Shelter (2011) d. Nichols, Jeff (USA) (2nd viewing)

Blue-collar worker Michael Shannon starts experiencing horrific visions of an apocalyptic storm to come – is he a prophet or merely going off the deep end? Nichols, who directed his own script, keeps us guessing at all times, injecting Shannon’s schizophrenic mother (Kathy Baker) and a healthy dose of self-doubt into the mix, further complicated by his protagonist’s refusal to confide in an understandably frustrated wife Jessica Chastain. Things come to a head when Shannon begins expanding the backyard tornado shelter, an endeavor that strains not only the family finances, but the understanding of his community. A slow burn to be sure, but Nichols and his star hold our sympathies and attention throughout.

Teenage Caveman (1958) d. Corman, Roger (USA) (2nd viewing)

I don’t know if it’s the political climate or what, but somehow this cheapie programmer about our titular young punk railing against the rules of the old white guys running the tribe really got me riled up this time around. In the same way that I am consistently shocked that a certain president wannabe can dismiss anything that interferes with his worldview by simply saying “Fake news” or “That’s a lie” and CONTINUALLY GET AWAY WITH IT, similarly Robert Vaughn’s truth-seeking and tradition-challenging (can we say “progressive” or, god help me, “liberal”) protagonist’s leanings to assist his fellow rock thumpers are repeatedly derailed by a particularly cantankerous conservative (Frank De Kova, who might as well be wearing a red MAGA cap) and his appeals to uphold the outdated values of “The Law.” I’m sure that back in the late 50s, Corman was simply looking to make a quick buck with the drive-in crowd, but he also knew the politics of the disenfranchised all-too-well and how easily fear can be wielded to keep the masses in their place. It ain’t high art, but it’s lively and enjoyable, with additional points for the twist ending.

Wild Beasts (1984) d. Prosperi, Franco (Italy) (2nd viewing)

Perhaps the most bonkers “nature gone wild” flick I’ve ever seen (which is saying something, being an avid fan of the subgenre), and it was a twisted delight to see it on the big screen of Chicago’s own Music Box Theatre. Then again, when the Italians are behind said endeavors, we shouldn’t be too surprised, right? A (completely unexplained) batch of PCP ends up in the water supply of the local zoo, causing all the animals to go bananas. Humanity is subsequently laid waste as elephants, cheetahs, bears, and rats tear up the joint. PETA members never need see this movie, because animals were most definitely hurt during filming, as well as numerous stunt people and “actors.”


Bottle Rocket (1996) d. Anderson, Wes (USA) (1st viewing)

I’m genuinely sorry it took me so long to finally get around to checking out Anderson’s debut feature, but I also understand why I didn’t take note at first – the poster art and promotional tags make it seem like just another Tarantino rip-off (and those of us who were around in the mid-90s remember how many of those there were… and how few of them were worth our time). Instead, it’s a sharply funny and energetic character study of inept criminals and friendship rivalry and thunderbolt love affairs, and while I’m still confused why anyone would cast Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson in the same movie but NOT as brothers when it’s so clearly obvious that they ARE, in fact, brothers, it’s probably my favorite thing that I’ve ever seen either of them do (although Owen’s turn in The Minus Man is right up there). I’ve now seen all of Anderson’s features, and this is in the top five for sure.

The Castle (1997) d. Haneke, Michael (Germany/Austria) (1st viewing)

This adaptation of Kafka’s novel hit German TV screens the same year Funny Games was released, with three of that film’s stars (Ulrich Muhe, Susanne Lothar, Frank Giering) featured prominently, making for curious companion pieces. Legitimately funny and bleakly blithe, there’s a wealth of joyful absurdism on display that proves just as frustrating for the viewer as our protagonist K (Muhe), a land surveyor trapped in a labyrinth of bureaucracy, inefficiency, and straight-up idiocy. Easily the funniest thing Haneke has ever done, yet completely in keeping with the rest of his oeuvre.

A Man Called Ove (2015) d. Holm, Hannes (Sweden) (1st viewing)

An ill-tempered widower (Rolf Lassgard) spends his days enforcing the strict rules of his quiet gated community (and his nights contemplating suicide) until a young couple moves in, striking up a unlikely friendship with the professional curmudgeon. Unabashedly sentimental and really, really good at it, with superb performances all around as we flash back and forth between the grumpy present and the less-grumpy past to show how it got that way. Based on Fredrik Bachman’s bestseller.

Nocturnal Animals (2016) d. Ford, Tom (USA) (1st viewing)

Fine mind-bender/page-turner about a successful but disenchanted artist (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript of a new novel by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) that spins the yarn of a young couple (Gyllenhaal, playing his own protagonist, and Isla Fisher) and their teen daughter (Ellie Bamber) who are terrorized on the highway by a trio of thugs (led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Michael Shannon earned an Oscar nod for his crackling turn as a laconic lawman with his own sense of justice. Minor quibble: Did writer/director Ford really need two separate credits on the poster?

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) d. Ross, Herbert (USA) (1st viewing)

Not sure what took me so long to sit down with this pleasant curiosity scripted by Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Time After Time) that sends the manic and cocaine-addicted Sherlock Holmes (Nicol Williamson) to Vienna to cross brainwaves with eminent psychologist Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin). Robert Duvall is bizarrely cast as upright Brit and Holmes pal Dr. Watson; while he does fine in the role, one never stops being jarred by seeing Tom Hagen affecting an upper crust accent. Still, any film where a matter of honor is decided by a tennis match and concludes with the great detective swordfighting for truth and justice atop a speeding locomotive is worth seeing at least once.

If the director’s name seems familiar, you’re ahead of the game – I was stunned to learn that Ross helmed not only a number of classic ’70s “women’s pictures” (The Turning Point, The Goodbye Girl), but also a number of musicals (Goodbye Mr. Chips, Pennies from Heaven), Neil Simon comedies (California Suite, The Sunshine Boys), plus Steel Magnolias and Footloose! Why isn’t this guy a household name?????

True Detective: Season 1 (2014) d. Fukunaga, Cary Joji (USA) (1st viewing)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a television show but since it covers a single narrative plot and all eight episodes are directed by the same fellow, I’m counting it. Deserving of all the praise, with the small caveat that I could have done with about one-third of McConaughey’s interrogation room sequences – all the sighing and aluminum can sculpturing started to feel pretty indulgent about four hours in. Don’t know if I’ll get around to Season 2, since it didn’t get the same universal love, but I’m not sorry I invested in this one.

Viking Women and the Sea Serpent (1957) d. Corman, Roger (USA) (2nd viewing)

Officially titled “The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent,” this is a pretty darn enjoyable programmer featuring a cadre of beautiful ladies off to rescue their men from the clutches of an evil tyrant (Richard Devon) whilst dodging big puppet water dragons and mysterious vortexes. Corman regular Jonathan Haze (best known for playing the nebbish Seymour in The Little Shop of Horrors) gets to butch (and blond!) it up as the ladies’ escort and mascot, with future Wasp Woman star Susan Cabot burning up the screen as a duplicitous dark-haired temptress with her eye on hunky Gary Conway (I was a Teenage Frankenstein) who has his eye on gorgeous blond Abby Dalton. Jay Sayer is super awesome as Devon’s super whiny Junior Tyrant.

2017 Totals to date: 35 films, 19 1st time views, 14 horror, 7 cinema


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