Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fool's Views (2/15 – 2/28)

Hey troops,

As I write this, the snow has returned to Chicago, which is appropriate for recounting the Views from the bountiful back half of February. (I have a feeling things are going to slow down a bit in the upcoming months, as I start rehearsals for a couple of new stage projects, but we shall see what we shall see.)

Dipped into a few more Richard Pryor flicks, as well as catching up with a couple of hot recent horror releases, with the Chicago Cinema Society and the Chicago Public Library to thank for the rest! May they forever remain funded and inspired.

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



The Blackcoat's Daughter (aka February) (2015) d. Perkins, Oz (Canada) (1st viewing)

Solid, tense, and atmospheric chiller about an out-of-the-way boarding school for girls (and the dark secrets within) earns its biggest points for never quite heading the direction you think it’s going. In fact, this may also prove to be its biggest detriment, because once the mystery is finally revealed, the simplicity of the story itself could potentially prove disappointing, i.e., “Wait, that was it?” But the ride is skillfully handled by writer/director Perkins (son of Anthony), who has assembled an incredible trio of young performers (Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton) and surrounded them with veterans (James Remar, Lauren Holly, Greg Ellwand) who underplay every moment to great effect. Special mention to the sonic marriage of composer Elvis Perkins (the director’s brother) and sound designer Allan Fung, who imbue even the most benign of settings with unbearable menace and doom.

Coherence (2013) d. Byrkit, James Ward (USA) (2nd viewing)

A group of friends (and the occasional former lover) meet up for dinner and drinks the night a mysterious comet passes overhead. Soon, phones stop working, lights conk out, suspicions arise… And. Crazy. Shit. Goes. Down. Smart but accessible no-budget “alternate reality” sci-fi/fantasy in the vein of Timecrimes and Primer that challenges and engages without breaking its internal logic. To reveal more would be a disservice to any potential viewer, but you owe it to yourself to track this one down ASAP and watch the mystery unfold and refold in on itself until your brain is scrambled. Not particularly frightening or gory, but unquestionably unnerving.

The Forest (2016) d. Zada, Jason (USA) (1st viewing)

When a Sara’s identical twin sister Jess (both played by Natalie Dormer) disappears into Japan’s infamous “suicide forest,” she makes a desperate journey across the globe to track her down, sensing in that inexplicable twin fashion that her sibling is still alive. She secures the assistance of an American reporter Aiden (Chicago Fire’s Taylor Kinney) in search of a story, who provides a local guide, Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), and soon the three are deep in the woods, going on little but instinct and hope. When they stumble across the missing girl’s tent at nightfall, Michi demands they come back in the morning, not wishing to be in the forest at night. Sara, and Aiden, after some persuading, decide to stay, and the mysterious environs begin to work dark magic on their imaginations… or it this reality? A competent enough time-waster with spooky Asian apparitions and jump scares aplenty, but nothing that will stay with you.

Jungle Trap (1990/2016) d. Bryan, James (USA) (1st viewing)

Made in 1990 by the same creative spirits who spawned such legendary Turkeys as Don’t Go in the Woods… Alone! (director James) and Frozen Scream (star and screenwriter Renee Harmon) and never completed. That is, until the good folks at Bleeding Skull resurrected this (cough, cough, cough) lost classick after discovering the incomplete footage in the director’s barn and mounting a Kickstarter to put the pieces together and enlisting the skills of composers Annie Choi and Joseph A. Ziemba to create a perfectly authentic ear-numbing late ’80s synthesizer soundtrack.

The “plot” revolves Harmon’s museum curator heading up an expedition to an abandoned South American hotel to find a lost idol, said hotel being populated by the bloodthirsty and pissed-off spirits of a slaughtered native tribe. Our intrepid band of would-be Indiana Joneses are felled one by one, but they put up a good fight, especially since the ghostly warriors keep coming through the same damn window directly across from where the survivors have bunkered down. It’s all a bit of a car crash, filled with amateur-hour thesping, craptastic “gore” effects, and Bill Luce as the most flamboyantly drunk bush pilot this side of the Pecos River, but that’s all kind of the point, I think. Many thanks to the Chicago Cinema Society and Chicago Filmmakers for hosting an unforgettable evening!



The Sword and the Claw (aka Kilic Aslan) (1975) d. Baytan, Naytuk (Turkey) (1st viewing)

A few years back, I was introduced to Death Warrior (1982), a spectacularly insane Turkish martial arts extravaganza utilizing its director/star Cuynet Arkin’s penchant for acrobatics and trampoline prowess. It never occurred to me to explore his catalog further, but when his face popped up in this most recent release from the American Genre Film Archive, I instantly sat up and took notice. Once again, there is much bounding and bouncing and pounding and pouncing, all in the service of a simple but bananas plot about a ruthless tribal leader who murders his enemies (who have offered a truce, by the way) and the child who grows to become a great warrior destined avenge his father’s death. Did I mention that our hero was also raised by lions? And that he has a half-brother who is the son of the very warlord he has sworn to kill? And that they are both in love with the same girl? Don’t worry, everything zips by so quickly and with the earnestness and energy of a five-year-old schoolboy’s fevered imagination that you’ll hardly have time to register the illogic of one scene before another rolls along to eclipse it. Utterly bonkers and proud of it. Available now on Blu-ray from the AGFA.


Unforgettable (2017) d. Di Novi, Denise (USA) (1st viewing)

Rosario Dawson may have the starring role, but it’s Katherine Heigl who runs away with this ridiculous Lifetime Channel-ready thriller as the tightly wound perfectionist ex-wife of successful small-town business owner Geoff Stults who isn’t quite ready to move on with her life and CERTAINLY isn’t ready for her former mister to move on with his. Screenwriter Christina Hodson comes up with some real lulus for Heigl’s ice queen antagonist to stick it to her romantic rival, and it’s clear from the get-go which character she’s more interested in. Dawson is just there to be an emotional and physical punching bag for Heigl’s ragebeast, and I can only hope it was therapeutic for all involved. The ending doesn’t feel entirely earned, only because the characters never act like actual human beings but rather mere puppets of punishment with Hodson and Di Novi wielding the strings. Still, it’s tawdry and melodramatic fun if, despite its title, ultimately forgettable.


Silver Streak (1976) d. Hiller, Arthur (USA) (1st viewing)

The biggest surprise is that Richard Pryor doesn’t show up until a full hour into the proceedings, but once he does, he wastes no time in stealing the show as a motormouth thief with a penchant for fast cars and mischief. The second biggest surprise was how, even though the characters have some funny reactions and dialogue, it’s more of a fast-paced an action/thriller than a straight-up comedy. Gene Wilder is an editor for a publishing company on the Los Angeles-to-Chicago train who meets sexy Jill Clayburgh and the two are having a lovely cross-country tryst when her boss turns up dead and the lovebirds become targets.

007 villain Richard Kiel shows up, complete with his Jaws teeth for the next year’s The Spy Who Loved Me (?), as well as a number of fantastic character faces (Clifton James, Ray Walston, Patrick McGoohan, Ned Beatty, Scatman Crothers, Valerie Curtain, Fred Willard). The running gag of Wilder getting thrown off the train shockingly never gets old, mostly due to the skilled actor’s complete disbelief that it’s happening to him again, and the crashing-through-Union-Station finale still packs a wow. Hiller had some definite highs (The Out-of-Towners, Love Story, The In-Laws) and lows (Nightwing, Author! Author!) over his long career, and this is an unqualified win.

Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982) d. Layton, Joe (USA) (2nd viewing)
Richard Pryor: Here and Now (1983) d. Pryor, Richard (USA) (2nd viewing)

Following a tragic cocaine-freebasing/self-immolation incident of June 9, 1980, which resulted in second-and-third degree burns over nearly 60% of his body, and his slow but subsequent recovery both physically and addiction-wise, Pryor recorded these two live-concert stand-up films which show a more vulnerable but still sharp, dangerous, and amazingly funny artist in his truest element. Much has been made about his candor in dealing with his “accident” (although in truth he was not immediately forthright, saying that his pipe smoking apparatus had exploded, causing the fire), and the audience is certainly sympathetic and receptive, but even more affecting (for this viewer at least) are his revelations about his subsequent sojourn to Africa and the pleasures of not being a minority, a black face in a sea of black faces. “I will never use that [N-] word again.” That said, he doesn’t shy away from condemning both blacks and whites for the ongoing racial divide, nor does he suffer hecklers lightly. A terrific one-two punch, granting fans a glimpse at the man following the wake-up call.

Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (1986) d. Pryor, Richard (USA) (1st viewing)

Deeply autobiographical (though for some reason his alter ego grows up in small-town Ohio as opposed to Peoria, IL) film covers several key episodes and player’s in the comedian’s life, including his prostitute mother, his less-than-encouraging father, his string of failed marriages, and, of course, the drugs and alcohol issues that took their tolls in various ways. Not a great movie, as it’s a little disjointed, and many of the serious moments ring of melodrama and the scenes of him “killing” in the comedy clubs aren’t as hilarious as the howling onscreen throngs would have us believe. Even so, it it’s a rare display of a superstar nakedly laying it all on the table and saying, “Have a look, folks,” and it’s hard not to admire that.

2017 Totals to date: 58 films, 39 1st time views, 22 horror, 8 cinema


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