Sunday, September 2, 2018

Fool's Views (6/1 – 7/31)

Yep, it’s me again.

June was taken up with Enlightened Warrior Training Camps in Barcelona, self-defense workshops with IMPACT Chicago, and rehearsals for The Hero’s Wife at 16th Street Theater in Berwyn (yes BERWYNNNNN) ; as such, I think I only watched maybe a half dozen movies (and most of those during the flights to and from Europe). Things calmed down slightly in July once the show got on its feet and began its critically acclaimed run, which is why I opted to lump the two summer months together for a respectable 22-View tally.

Reflecting back, it was a pretty good collection of flicks, including a few new releases (which are, of course, not that new anymore but whatever). Looking forward to hearing what people thought.

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



The First Purge (2018) d. McMurray, Gerard (USA) (1st viewing)

It’s hard to believe that I’ve seen all four of the Purge installments in the cinema (well, less hard to believe for some, I realize), as it may be one of the few franchises that I can still lay that claim to. (I missed Saw II, skipped the most recent Paranormal Activity, etc.) Anyway, this is, as the title promises, the prequel to the other films, laying out how the annual night of legalized violence came into existence, as an isolated one-city-only experiment (Staten Island) overseen by the corrupt New Founding Fathers and Marisa Tomei’s well-intentioned scientist. Notable for being one of the few modern horror films where nearly all the main characters are POC, the liberal-leaning politics are subtle as a chainsaw tied to a sledgehammer smashing through a glass factory and the script by Purge creator James DeMonaco (who cedes the director’s chair to McMurray) isn’t as nuanced as previous episodes (which is saying something), but it still does the job.

Gags (2018) d. Krause, Adam (USA) (1st viewing)

It’s probably not good manners to review a film in which I play a starring role…. BUT THIS IS MY BLOG AND I CAN DO WHAT I WANT. Seriously, folks, this is a laudably original approach to both the found-footage and scary clown genres and the Cinepocalypse crowd (where it enjoyed its world premiere) dug the hell out of it. It’s currently making the festival rounds, so keep your eyes peeled for those black balloons!!!

Oh, and if you want to read what someone else had to say…

Hereditary (2018) d. Aster, Ari (USA) (1st viewing)

The very epitome of slow-burn horror, with nary a jump scare to be found, I was genuinely pleased that writer/director Aster’s unsettling tale of family drama and supernatural leanings lived up to the hype. Like other modern masterpieces (The VVitch, It Follows), it is not going to satisfy every casual fright fan looking for a big-bang-boo, but the overall sense of dread generated is truly impressive and the performances (led by Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne) are top-shelf. Expect to see this on numerous end-of-year best-of lists.

Images (1972) d. Altman, Robert (USA) (3rd viewing)

Recently released to Blu-ray by Arrow Video, Altman’s moody (and shamefully overlooked) foray into the horror genre is ripe for discovery, and I’m going to be trumpeting its merits for a while. Filled with more twists and turns than a bag of pretzels, when you’re not wondering, “What the hell?” you’ll be screaming, “What the HELL??!!” I first became aware of Images via Kim Newman’s excellent book Nightmare Movies and finally sought it out following the multitude of retrospectives and tributes following the director’s passing in 2006. Upon seeing it, my first question was: Why doesn't anyone talk about this film? Then, more importantly, why don’t people consider it a horror flick? It sits squarely in Persona and Repulsion territory in terms of our female lead losing her marbles, a pretty decent body count, and a jarring, dissonant score from John Williams before he got all string-and-horns happy. Quirky, extremely well-crafted, anchored by an outstanding performance by Susannah York and strong support from Rene Auberjonois, Marcel Bozzuffi, and Hugh Millais. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and now available on a well-packed Blu-ray from Arrow and MVD Entertainment.

The Mummy (2017) d. Kurtzman, Alex (USA) (1st viewing)

Okay, so a big-budget CG-laden revamping of Universal’s classic monsters was hardly a good idea to begin with and throwing Tom Cruise into the mix only managed to further alienate the core fan base. That said, the superstar’s fish-out-of-water presence actually succeeds in selling the silliness more so than if they had played it straight, because the whole thing becomes a goof a la Van Helsing without the intentional kitsch. Not saying it’s a good movie, because wow oh wow it is not. But as someone who enjoys watching action-movie-guy Cruise bug his eyes out at the insanity flying his direction, I didn’t hate it.

A Quiet Place (2018) d. Krasinski, John (USA) (1st viewing)

As a high concept, director/star Krasinski’s shocker, where the world is plagued by an invasive species of lethal predators equipped with ultra-sensitive hearing, works quite well, like a solid short story, and for the most part, the action/drama on screen keeps minds from wandering and/or saying, "Hey, wait a minute...." The performances (especially Emily Blunt, aka Mrs. Krasinski) are fantastic, and production design, sound design, creature design, etc. are all top notch. That said, it’s way, WAY too easy to pick apart plot points once the end credits roll, so it's best just to go along for the ride and try not to think too hard about it. Which, again, is not difficult to do, given Krasinski’s knack for building and maintaining tension (The nail on the stairs! The birth in the bathtub! The corn in the silo!) and the final moment is pretty darn great.

Unsane (2018) d. Soderbergh, Steven (USA) (1st viewing)

It’s too bad Toni Collette grabbed up all the horror acting accolades so quickly, since Claire Foy’s turn in this knotty little thriller is deserving of much praise even if the movie itself hinges on a few too many plot conveniences. Upon seeking out a therapist for an emotional dump session, Foy’s character finds herself “voluntarily” committed to a mental institution for observation and her frustrations at her situation only exacerbate the situation once she starts assaulting staff and patients in an effort to free herself. To make matters worse, the man who was stalking her a few years back (Blair Witch Project’s Joshua Leonard) may or may not be one of the staff members. It’s a solid piece of diversion as well as an indictment of the medical industry, a spiritual sister to Soderbergh’s Side Effects.


The Last House on the Left (1972) d. Craven, Wes (USA) (5th viewing)


Chaos (2005) d. DeFalco, David (USA) (3rd viewing)


The Last House on the Left (2009) d. Iliadis, Dennis (USA) (2nd viewing)



Birth of the Dragon (2017) d. Nolfi, George (USA) (1st viewing)

Cheesy but fun imagining of Bruce Lee’s early days in San Francisco up to his legendary challenge and fight with a member of the Shaolin Temple, Wong Jack Man. Much has been made of Billy Magnussen’s (white) character taking center stage in a supposed Lee biopic, and these critics aren’t wrong. That said, I enjoyed Philip Ng’s enjoyable collective of cocky Bruce-isms and Yu Xia provides the perfect counterbalance with his stoicism and grace. The fight scenes are impressive and flashy, and I was never bored even when rolling my eyes.

Bronson (2008) d. Refn, Nicolas Winding (UK) (2nd viewing)

When I first encountered this flick in 2012, watching Tom Hardy inhabit the highly theatricalized biography of “England’s most violent criminal” Michael Peterson (who changed his name to, yes, Charles Bronson) was a revelation, having only only seen him in charismatic but straightforward supporting roles in Inception or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Now that he’s a bona-fide star, the feat is no less impressive. Refn pulls off a kind of magic trick in making this thuggish brute’s life story compelling and even sympathetic at times. As a physical specimen, Hardy is an absolute beast and should inspire a few more pushups out of any red-blooded he-men watching.

The Fate of the Furious (2017) d. Gray, F. Gary (USA) (1st viewing)

The only reason I watched this, and I do mean only, was because I was trapped on an airplane and still semi-pursuing my Kurt Russell mission from the month prior. How are there eight of these already? I’ve seen four and can’t remember a thing about them. They’re like the action equivalent of Resident Evil.

Incredibles 2 (2018) d. Bird, Brad (USA) (1st viewing)

Fourteen years later, here is that superhero sequel we needed before there was such a thing as superhero fatigue. Now, as delightful as it is to have the Incredible family back in action, it’s all a little less, well, super.

Leave No Trace (2018) d. Granik, Debra (USA) (1st viewing)

Ben Foster plays an off-the-grid veteran illegally living with his daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) in National Forests and Parks. After being discovered and handed over to the authorities, the question is: Can they learn to live like “normal” people? A fine, if slow-paced character study that never quite dazzles even as it earns our respect.

Pink Floyd The Wall (1982) d. Parker, Alan (UK) (7th viewing)

I have a very strong personal attachment both to this movie and its soundtrack: I saw it for the first time the same night my friends got me high for the first time (these two events were intrinsically related) and it was also the first time I inhaled a cigarette, since they had to teach me to inhale properly so as not to waste the good ganja. An impressive night of firsts, to be sure. Later that week, I tracked down the long-playing cassette and became intimately familiar with the term “concept album.” Driving back and forth to school, streaming a combination of images from the film and my imagination, I acted that record to death and back to life again.

Relentlessly listenable hooks anchor a dynamic emotional arc, tracking back and forth in time from “Pink’s” childhood to his struggles with relationships, drugs, fame, artistic integrity, politics, and so on, with too many fantastic songs and lyrics to count. (Trivia: Two of my favorites, “When the Tigers Broke Free” and “What Shall We Do Now?” are not on the studio album and are only found in the film or on the bootleg soundtrack recording, both of which excise “Hey You.” Ouch.) (More trivia: that’s Jenny Wright as Pink’s hotel room groupie and Bob Hoskins as his manager!) The astonishing animated sequences by Gerald Scarfe are seared into my brain forever, and Bob Geldof’s turn (standing in for lead singer Roger Waters) is perfectly invested and captivating. Apparently neither the band nor Parker were pleased with the final results, but with all due respect, it’s kind of perfect.

Sorry To Bother You (2018) d. Riley, Boots (USA) (1st viewing)

Set in Oakland, CA, this bizarre tale follows Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a struggling black twentysomething who takes a soul-sucking telemarketing job to make ends meet, only to realize that he is a superstar on the phone when he uses his “White Voice.” Quickly eclipsing his fellow workers, Green is launched into the level of Power Caller, a realm where morality is as murky as the coffee in the employee break room. Riley’s script is a nimble blend of absurdity and discomfort, ably served by his capable cast, with a third-act bombshell that will leave your jaw amidst the discarded popcorn boxes.

Wonder (2017) d. Chobsky, Stephen (USA) (1st viewing)

Based on the bestselling novel by R.J. Palacio, this unabashedly sentimental yarn about Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a boy with facial differences, whose family (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson) decides to have him attend a traditional school for the first time. By turns predictably troubling and inspiring, we follow Auggie as he wrestles with insecurities and making friends, showing that being “different” has both its challenges and rewards. It feels a little by the numbers at times, but not unpleasantly so, with solid performances from newcomers and screen veterans alike.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018) d. Neville, Morgan (USA) (1st viewing)

For those of you who worried that Fred Rogers had a secret sinister side... worry not. Turns out the man who gave us the Land of Make Believe and sang songs about dealing with our big feelings and taught us that “just your being you makes you special” was just as gentle and kind a human as the one we saw through the TV screen every day. What we do learn is how he challenged the government to fund public broadcasting, that he addressed topics like Robert Kennedy’s assassination and racism in subtle but accessible ways, and became a huge star without ever changing his radical approach to television and entertainment. What a very special friend he was, and I appreciate him now more than ever.


Goodfellas (1990) d. Scorsese, Martin USA (4th viewing)

Miller's Crossing (1990) d. Coen, Joel / Coen, Ethan (USA) (6th viewing)

The Untouchables (1987) d. De Palma, Brian (USA) (6th viewing)

In revisiting some favorite mob movies from the end of the '80s, Goodfellas and Miller's Crossing hold up big time, with flawless ensemble performances, razor sharp scripts (MC is a case study in creating an alternative vernacular that is somehow accessible to newcomers), vibrant direction, and stellar use of soundtrack (pop songs for GF, Carter Burwell's breathtaking main theme for MC).

The Untouchables, on the other hand, is considerably less impressive than I remembered from 30 years back. I'm a legit Kevin Costner fan but, man, he is *terrible* here – flat as a Cub Scout fundraiser pancake. Robert De Niro as Al Capone is equal parts mugging and sleepwalking, and Sean Connery (in his Oscar-winning role) is capable but did so much better work both before and after. Screenwriter David Mamet's storytelling is wonky and episodic (with a few memorable lines) and though De Palma does offer a few virtuoso moments (the Union Station shoot-out where he lifts the "Odessa Steps" sequence), the direction is pedestrian if solid. That said, Ennio Morricone's soaring music remains a bright spot, as are the Oscar-nominated art direction and costumes. It was just surprising to meet up with a film I thought I loved and find it only passing fair, like that high school crush at the reunion who is no longer all that.

2017 Totals to date: 134 films, 91 1st time views, 52 horror, 19 cinema


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