Sunday, February 25, 2018

Fool’s Views (2/1 – 2/14)

Howdy, folks!

Well, the first half of the shortest month of the year went by in a flash, with most of the flickage once again being supplied by our friends at the public library. Mighty pleased with the fare those good folks provide.

I’m thinking of starting a new feature where I tell why I chose to watch what I did, although sometimes I wonder if the explanation might not be longer than the review itself. For example, I picked up The Last of Sheila because it was mentioned by several people as their favorite Herbert Ross film when I mentioned the director in my recent post featuring The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Seeing James Coburn in Sheila sparked interest in seeing more of the actor, resulting in What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?

While Silent Night Deadly Night 3 has been on my radar for years due to its more famous predecessors, I finally got to see it thanks to my Belgian blood brother Gert shipping it from a local VHS dealer to the Doc’s office and asking me to forward it on to him. Hara-kiri was prompted by a discussion with a fellow gym member who had seen a pile of Kurosawa flicks I was returning, and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome because, well, “Who run Bordertown?????”

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



It (2017) d. Muschietti, Andy (USA) (1st viewing)

I was never a huge fan of the TV miniseries (yeah, yeah, Tim Curry, blah blah blah), but I also wasn’t a big fan of Mama, so the excitement level about this updated adaptation of the mammoth Stephen King novel was restrained at best. Bottom line: it’s fine. It does serve as a satisfying coming-of-age tale complete with a “superfriends big battle” to send the crowds out feeling like they got their money’s worth. But it’s never really scary, which is a problem when you’re making a horror film. Also, I’m going to say that for an R-rated horror film, I wanted more R-rated material – listening to Finn Wolfhard say the F-word every other line isn’t what I had in mind. Pony up with some gore, some nudity, and/or some genuine frights. Ripping a little kid’s arm off in the opening reel was a good start, but nothing even comes close to that level of danger again.

The characters also never really grow in interesting ways; they bicker amongst themselves and bond to fight the Capital-E Evil that terrorizes their town, but despite some lovely moments (the rock fight, Bev’s interactions with the boys), the overall product feels both thin and bloated. These are quibbles and I repeat, it’s not a terrible movie or a waste of time. It’s just perfectly okay, which is not what I expected from the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. Or maybe it is.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989) d. Hellman, Monte (USA) (1st viewing)

Ricky, the Santa-suited maniac from the notorious 1984 slasher flick is back for more holiday havoc, only this time they’ve added brain-transplant nonsense into the mix such that we have dead-eyed Bill Moseley stumbling around with a giant plastic punchbowl on his cranium and murder on his muddled mind. He’s also inexplicably brain-melded with the bitchiest blind girl on the block (Samantha Scully), and spends the majority of the movie tracking her down at a deserted cabin in the woods where she and her brother have gone off to visit Gramma for the holidays. Director Hellman is a long, long way from his Ride in the Whirlwind and Two-Lane Blacktop artistic heyday.

What’s really weird is that absolutely NOTHING is done with the fact that Scully’s character is supposedly psychic. I mean, seriously, there’s no payoff AT ALL. She receives some telepathic messages from Granny, but all she gets told is to stand strong and be brave. Um…thankssss? Laura Elena Harring (Mulholland Dr.) is billed as “Laura Herring,” and is kind enough to provide some eye comfort amidst the doldrums. Not completely horrible, and doesn’t recycle nearly as much footage as Silent Night Deadly Night 2, but still a far cry from the original’s particular brand of December deliciousness. I mean, why would you hire frickin’ Chop Top from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and then not let him do anything?

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) d. Trachtenberg, Dan (USA) (1st viewing)

Not sure why I didn’t get around to it sooner, other than the fact that it seemed to kind of come and go without too many people talking about it other than, “yeah, that was pretty good.” It was my understanding that there was a “connection” to the original film (which is certainly true-ish), but couldn’t glean much more than that, so I was coming in relatively cold and I’m mighty glad that my viewing experience remained unspoiled two years later, because there are numerous twists and turns that deserve to unfold as intended. John Goodman stars as an odd rural recluse who has built an airtight disaster shelter, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead as his unwitting car accident rescue/hostage. He tells her it’s unsafe outside, following some sort of “attack,” and he’s not ready to open the hatch and risk their lives to prove that he’s telling the truth. Or is he just crazycakes and holding her against her will? Oddly enough, it stumbled into my hands the day before The Cloverfield Paradox premiered on Super Bowl Sunday. Talk about timing!

The Transfiguration (2016) d. O'Shea, Michael (USA) (1st viewing)

Milo (Eric Ruffin), the lonely young protagonist of this contemplative urban horror flick, has a strict classification system for vampire films: Those that are “realistic” and those that are “not very realistic.” Taking a page from George Romero’s Martin, Larry Fessenden’s Habit, and Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction, we are presented with a lead character convinced that he might be turning into a vampire… or is he slipping deeper into mental illness and delusion due to an inability to deal with the world around him? It doesn’t matter to the unsuspecting victims whether anything supernatural is going on, since our young hero is murdering them and drinking their blood regardless. The compulsion is there, and the guilt and subsequent justification (“I’m a monster, there’s nothing I can do about it”) continues the cycle of violence.

What sets writer/director O’Shea’s debut effort apart is that Milo is a young African-American lad growing up in inner city NYC (Rockaway Beach) wrestling with everyday struggles like gang violence, bullying, drug use, and an elder brother stricken with PTSD from combat in Afghanistan. When he meets his teen neighbor Sophie (Chloe Levine), herself a victim of sexual and physical abuse, the two outcasts instantly bond, and we spend the rest of the film wondering if Milo will be able to break free from his “curse,” be it vampiric or psychopathic. Deliberately paced and stripped of flashy sequences of gore or transformation, this is decidedly a “thinking person’s horror film,” evidenced by the numerous film festival laurels it has garnered (including a Grand Jury Award at the Dublin International Film Festival). As such, it likely will reach a select but appreciative crowd, but patience and managed expectations are in order.


Hara-kiri (1962) d. Kobayashi, Masaki (Japan) (1st viewing)

Engaging, sumptuously realized sociopolitical drama, starring Tatsuya Nakadai (veteran of numerous Kurosawa efforts, including Yojimbo, Kagemusha, and Ran) as a masterless samurai who pleads with the neighboring lord to be allowed to use the estate’s courtyard to commit the titular ritual suicide. The lord acquiesces, while sharing the tragic account of another samurai who had previously made a similar request. The two storylines are played out via flashback, and it soon becomes clear that they are not only similar in trajectory, but intimately connected. While not an action film, per se, the film does conclude with an impressive display of swordplay and bloodshed. I will definitely be seeking out further Kobayashi titles.

Hunt for the Winterpeople (2016) d. Waititi, Taika (New Zealand) (1st viewing)

Sandwiched between his breakout vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows and the Marvel blockbuster Thor: Ragnrok, Waititi served up this quirky feel-good tale of a young delinquent (Julian Dennison) sent to live with a foster family on their remote farm. Sam Neil headlines as the grouchy grandfather figure, with Rima Te Wiata (Housebound) briefly playing his delightfully gabby better half, but when her character passes away, the social services converge to take the child back. Of course, before they can get there, Neil and the youth have formed a bond and strike out on their own to avoid the authorities. Wacky hijinks ensue, and while said adventures are often strange and unexpected, it all comes off a little too mannered and purposefully bizarre to earn genuine laughs.

The Last of Sheila (1973) d. Ross, Herbert (USA) (1st viewing)

All-star whodunit (scripted by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins – yes, Mr. Musical Theatre and Norman Bates) with a gaggle of Hollywood types gathered together at millionaire James Coburn’s yacht for a weekend of gamesmanship and intrigue. Of course, when one of their party winds up dead, the race is on to discover who the murderer is, as well as a motive and a means! The plot twists are plentiful, but the real pleasure comes from watching the cast (Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Mason, Raquel Welch, Joan Hackett, and a shockingly handsome and dashing Ian McShane) dive headlong into the zaniness. Another gem from underrated director Ross (Goodbye Girl, California Suite). Trivia: That’s Yvonne Romain (the sexy serving girl who gives birth to Oliver Reed in Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf) as Sheila!

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) d. Miller, George / Ogilve, George (Australia) (1st viewing)

I never made the effort to track this one down before now – no one had chatted it up as a must-see, giving higher kudos to the previous two Mad Max installments (which I have seen multiple times). Packed with memorably weird characters surrounding Mel Gibson’s effortlessly cool dystopian antihero, there’s plenty to appreciate here, although as with the previous installments, the strength lies in the action sequences (which Miller handled), in particular the gladiator-style Thunderdome battles and the climactic escape by train with all manner of souped-up gas-burning vehicles in pursuit across the desert. Yes, the middle sequence where Max comes across a community comprised entirely of children drags a bit, but Mel gets to do the cool trick with the weird rifle, so we’ll let it slide. I also offer that the opening title credits song “One of the Living,” recorded by co-star Tina Turner, is infinitely better than her closing titles hit, “We Don’t Need Another Hero.”

Tangerine (2015) d. Baker, Sean (USA) (1st viewing)

Following my viewing of The Florida Project last month, I was encouraged by a number of people to track down Baker’s previous film (reportedly shot entirely on iPhone) which follows a tangled web of lower-class fringe types (transsexual sex workers, taxi drivers, drug dealers) through an evening’s escapades. Again, Baker provides characters who are not necessarily likeable or morally upstanding, but by making them the center of attention instead of pushing them to the gutter (like in, oh, real life), the viewer is forced to acknowledge and humanize them. It doesn’t hurt that he knows how to make a story move, his restless camera blazing along at high speed mirroring the emotions and temperaments of its subjects, while still delivering aesthetically pleasing images. It’s kind of a miracle, and I’m definitely on board to see what next strange new world he elects to put in front of me.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) d. Reeves, Matt (USA) (1st viewing)

When choosing whether to see this or Spiderman: Homecoming in the cinema last summer (I was doing an all-day movie spree, so it was all about the timing), I had a bit of a revelation: The reason I – and I assume many others – loved the original Planet of the Apes series was the charm of seeing human actors dressed up as kinda-sorta apes dressed up as humans. The fact that Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter were able to express themselves through the elaborate makeups, creating empathetic and heroic protagonists in the process, was a lovely magic trick, providing the majority of the appeal. Simple as that. Somehow, 40 years later, watching a motion-capture performance (Andy Serkis) of a photorealistic simian leader just isn’t the same.

I say all this to explain why I ultimately elected to watch the web-slinger’s antics last August (meh), but that I’m happy to report that while I doubt I will ever feel the same nostalgic pull toward it, this presumably final installment of Reeves’ trilogy is far and away the most satisfying from a storytelling and action-set-piece perspective. Woody Harrelson plays a hardcore warmongering colonel waging the last stand against his simian foes (and other humans who find his tactics untenable), and it serves the turn even if it feels fairly generic. I’ve never felt any desire to revisit Rise or Dawn, but I could see myself going back for another round of War.

What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966) d. Edwards, Blake (USA) (1st viewing)

How’s THAT for a segue? Big budget silliness as only the guy who directed the Pink Panther movies could deliver. Which is to say, it’s loud and energetic and obnoxious without necessarily being funny. James Coburn and Dick Shawn star as a couple of Allied officers who stumble into an Italian village demanding surrender during WWII, only to have the locals more than cooperative…as long as they are allowed to throw their annual bacchanal festival. Everyone gets drunk, everyone gets laid, everyone fist-fights, and everyone has a great time until those pesky Nazis show up to ruin the fun. Giovanna Ralli is gorgeous to look at and possesses great comic timing – why she didn’t have a bigger career in U.S. films (though genre fans might recognize her from What Have They Done to Your Daughters?), I’ll never know.


Stir Crazy (1980) d. Poitier, Sidney (USA) (1st viewing)

I recently stumbled across the DVD for this hit prison comedy starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, directed by Sidney Poitier of all people, whereupon it occurred to me that not only had I never seen it before (despite seeing countless commercials for countless TV airings, always with the “That’s right, we bad” clip), I had never seen A SINGLE RICHARD PRYOR COMEDY BEFORE. This seemed an unfortunate omission in my cinephile catalog, so I promptly brought it home, popped it in, and… it was mildly amusing, nothing more. More than anything, I was surprised by the second act’s out-of-left-field “prison rodeo competition,” and how uncharismatic Pryor was. It’s Wilder’s show all the way, and while he does trot out his standard hysterical (as in mounting, high-pitched crazy, not hilarious) shtick, it works more often than not. JoBeth Williams lends considerable appeal in an underwritten role as the duo’s lawyer’s assistant. In other news, zero points for the idiots who came up with the poster’s tagline.

Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic (2013) d. Zenovich, Marina (USA) (1st viewing)

Following my viewing of Stir Crazy, I felt compelled to dig a little deeper into the appeal of the groundbreaking comedian who, strangely enough, was apparently never given the opportunity to explore his fiery creativity and rebellious nature in his big screen appearances. This sharply insightful documentary explores the forces that created the man (his prostitute mother, his homosexual father, his no-nonsense grandmother), the “blue” stand-up routines that shocked audiences and catapulted him to stardom, and the addiction to drugs and alcohol that plagued him throughout his life. While I’ve only seen his stand-up material (and now Stir Crazy), Zenovich’s narrative indicates that Hollywood never knew quite what to do with Pryor, plugging him into generic comedies to play the grumpy but loveable clown (four times alongside Gene Wilder), and that his strongest work lay in his dramatic roles (Blue Collar, Lady Sings the Blues, Bingo Long and the Traveling All-Stars). I’ll probably seek out a few more of his better-known titles over the next few months to create a more fully informed opinion.

2017 Totals to date: 48 films, 32 1st time views, 18 horror, 7 cinema


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