Sunday, September 30, 2018

Fool’s Views (9/24 -9/30)

Howdy, folks!

No time to waste! The October Challenge and SCARE-A-THON 2018 are underway, so gotta get these in the books and start Sharing the Scare!!!

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



Mandy (2018) d. Cosmatos, Panos (USA) (1st viewing)

Everyone seems to be going crazy for this art-house revenge flick from the son of George P. Cosmatos (Rambo: First Blood Part II, Tombstone) starring Nicholas Cage, and while I recognize there is plenty to admire, the overindulgent tone left a wicked aftertaste in my mouth both during and afterwards. With a pulsing, oversaturated color palette and (deliberately) lugubrious pacing, we are introduced to a couple (Cage, Andrea Riseborough) living a blissful existence in the backwoods (he’s a logger, she’s an artist) until a strange traveling cult-in-a-camper led by a long-haired Richard Lynch-looking gent named Jeremiah (an excellent Linus Roache) decides to kidnap Mandy with the help of their motorcycle-riding Cenobites.

On paper, this all sounds enjoyably wacked-out and proves so in execution, but with too many scenes that go on far, far longer than needed, it becomes clear that we are witnessing an artist so in love with his own creation that he lacks the sense of how much is too much, sacrificing storytelling for the need to show just how Capital V-Visionary he is: We don’t lose ourselves in the story so much as we are entreated to respond, “Wow, this is so different and unusual and WTF, nice job, dude.” It’s interesting then how the casting of Cage, so decidedly his own onscreen animal, actually steals the focus away from being “A Panos Cosmatos Film” (which it clearly wants to be) to “that new weird Nicholas Cage flick where he’s got that cool chrome axe thingie.” If editor Brett Bachman had been allowed a firmer hand (there’s a great 90-minute movie inside the two-hour running time), I might have liked this so much more.

Hereditary (2018) d. Aster, Ari (USA) (2nd viewing)

Repeat viewings only enhance one’s appreciation for writer/director Aster’s unsettling tale of family drama and supernatural leanings, allowing viewers to pick up on the multitude of foreshadowing sprinkled throughout the opening chapters as well as the delicately shaded performances from all concerned. A devastating examination of grief and loss, as delicately assembled as the miniature dioramas that Toni Collette’s artist character creates, where the click of a character’s tongue can send more shivers down the spine than a hundred jumped-up jump-scares.

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 Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, and Ann Dowd) are all top-shelf. The very epitome of slow-burn horror (until the grab-your-armrests-and-scream-at-the-screen conclusion, that is), one that envelops its audience just as inexorably as the in-the-shadows antagonists sucking in our unsuspecting family unit. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


Scarlet Diva (2000) d. Argento, Asia (Italy) (1st viewing)

I’ll be providing a more detailed Blu-ray review soon, once I’ve had a chance to listen to the two commentary tracks recorded by its star/writer/director (one in 2002, one in 2018), but this “largely autobiographical” effort reveals Dario’s offspring to be a unique talent in her own right, nakedly putting her own issues onscreen as a form of artistic therapy. It’s a brave and personal portrait; Argento does not paint herself as a sympathetic victim of circumstances but as a spoiled and indulgent hedonist who creates as many problems for herself as the Hollywood machine she fervently condemns. Filled with unpleasant characters making unhealthy choices, the sit can be a bit grueling for those unused to gritty indie dramas, but it’s hard to deny the passion and courage on display. Available now from Film Movement:

Macbeth (1961) d. Almond, Paul (Canada) (1st viewing)

It was hard to resist the opportunity to see everyone’s favorite Scotsman (Sean Connery) in this Canadian TV presentation of Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play,” even if the results are exactly what one might expect of a 90-minute distillation on a bare-bones set with rudimentary camerawork. With Zoe Caldwell co-starring as Lady M, it’s a curiosity at best, but I’m not sorry I saw it.


Thor: Ragnarok (2017) d. Waititi, Taika (USA) (1st viewing)

I would have to say that it’s a dead heat between this and the first Guardians of the Galaxy offering for “Most Straight-Up Fun Marvel Flick.” Genuinely funny, charming, well-scripted, action-packed, and everyone seems to be having a good time without sabotaging what went before – what’s not to like? Quite a feat.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) d. Russo, Anthony / Russo, Joe (USA) (1st viewing)

This was also a lot of fun, although it definitely got a little convoluted and heavy-handed as things moved into the third act. And the ending is just…. I don’t know. I’m a little exhausted with the whole “Death used for emotional heft even though we know they’re not really dead because $$$.” I believed it with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, because it was real. I believed it with The Death of Superman, because it was real. And then it wasn’t real anymore because there was money to be made, and so presto changeo we have zombie Spock and Supes and everyone was happy so why the hell not. At least Walking Dead and Game of Thrones play for keeps.


Goldeneye (1995) d. Campbell, Martin (UK/USA) (3rd viewing)

It’s impressive to look back and realize that Martin Campbell successfully rebooted not one but two new incarnations of 007, and even more impressive when you consider how different those incarnations were. Pierce Brosnan brought back much of the smooth charm and droll wit of the Moore era, aided immeasurably by some fantastic set-pieces (the opening is one of the best in the series), top-notch baddies (Sean Bean as former agent 006 and Famke Janssen barely containing her orgasmic sadistic joy as Xenia Onatopp), and a new boss in the form of Judi Dench (the first and thus far only female “M”) who makes no bones about decrying Bond’s legacy of womanizing and casual misogyny.

What’s puzzling is why Campbell (and his leading lady, beautiful and feisty Izabella Scorupco) were not able to translate their success into more viable Hollywood careers – Campbell rang the winner bell again with The Mask of Zorro in 1998, but then 2000’s Chris O’Donnell mountain-climbing vehicle Vertical Limit (also Scorupco’s next Tinseltown feature) seemed to stall things until Daniel Craig’s 007 debut, Casino Royale, in 2006. He followed that with the so-so Mad Mel Gibson feature Edge of Darkness (based on the BBC series that Campbell had directed in the 1980s) and then lost all goodwill when Green Lantern tanked the following year. Happily, he successfully re-teamed with Brosnan in 2017 for Jackie Chan’s back-to-badass feature, The Foreigner, so fingers are crossed.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) d. Spottiswode, Roger (UK/USA) (2nd viewing)

I had remembered Brosnan’s second outing far more fondly than it seems to have deserved. Yes, it has the extraordinary Michelle Yeoh as Bond’s most capable and equal female counterpart, but the rest of the recipe is a bit wobbly. Jonathan Pryce’s unchecked scenery-chewing is straight out of the 1960s Batman villainy handbook; by contrast, Teri Hatcher is lovely but lacking a pulse. There are a few fun stunt sequences, but the “let’s create problems so our 24-hour cable news network can scoop and cover it” plot never really supplies the oomph needed.

The World is Not Enough (1999) d. Apted, Michael (UK/USA) (2nd viewing)

Elevating the proceedings immeasurably with her every onscreen moment, Sophie Marceau’s complex victim/villain Elektra King deserved a much better movie. Regrettably, she’s saddled with one of the dullest Bond baddies to date (sorry, Robert Carlyle), and overshadowed by Denise Richards’ implausible presence as a crop-topped lesbian astrophysicist. Even Brosnan seems to be flagging a bit, though he’s at his best opposite Marceau, which isn’t often enough.

There are some decent chase sequences (the boat chase with Maria Grazia Cucinotta is particularly snazzy, ditto the snowmobile jousting) and a lovely passing of the torch from longtime 007 staple Desmond Llewellyn as “Q” to his successor John Cleese (as “R,” which actually makes no sense at all, considering that Q stands for quartermaster, i.e. it’s a job title, unless R stands for... replacement quartermaster?) Unlike its immediate predecessor, World is Not Enough is not as bad as I recalled, and the title song (performed by Garbage) is right up there with the best in the series.

Die Another Day (2002) d. Tamahori, Lee (UK/USA) (1st viewing)

And then there’s this one. I apparently was so unenthused by the buzz that I didn’t even bother to see it in the cinema (or ever, until now), and it’s easy to see why that might have been the case. No one was urging anyone to see Brosnan’s final appearance in the tuxedo, it seems, and I’m not going to start the rallying cry now. It’s pretty dire, with invisible cars, space rays melting ice palaces, CGI para-surfing on tidal waves, title-song-diva Madonna showing up as a fencing instructor, Halle Berry trying and failing to sass her way into her own franchise, Moneypenny masturbating to virtual reality… it’s just a mess.

Director Tamahori indulges in goddawful “push-n-blur” techniques for his action sequences while Brosnan gets the tar whipped out of him in the opening sequence and spends the next 20 minutes running around in a terrible fake beard for his troubles. Our two bad guys, Toby Stephens and Rick Yune, are equally awful and clueless, Stephens trying to steal Jonathan Pryce’s overacting thunder and Yune glaring at having diamonds shoved into his skin. The only pleasant surprise was seeing 22-year-old Rosamund Pike show up, followed by the unpleasant not-really-a-surprise that she was soon going to be making out with her quarter-century-older co-star.

2017 Totals to date: 199 films, 121 1st time views, 71 horror, 21 cinema


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