Monday, February 11, 2019

Fool's Views (1/1 – 1/31)

Someone shut that door, it's freezing in here....

Howdy, folks,

Kicking off the year in grand style, with an ample mix of horror and honors, atrocities and accolades from across the decades!

Other than catching up with a number of 2018 horror releases that I missed last year, Other areas of focus will include watching the films of the two Richards, Lester and Fleischer, as well as doing a little Charles Bronson retrospective. Also, realizing that in the past, my annual “projects” have been primarily male-dominated, one of my stated cinematic goals this year is to track down as many of the Best Actress Oscar winning performances that I have not previously seen as possible, a number that currently sits just north of 20 films. Should be a good year.

Without further blather, let’s dive in! Time’s a-wasting. As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



Good Manners (2017) d. Dutra, Marco / Rojas, Juliana (Brazil) (1st viewing)

Extremely original and deeply felt werewolf story that highlights the bond between women as well as between mother and child. The so-so (and unnecessary) CG monster effects are the only distraction from an otherwise perfect effort, but they are a minor and easily forgivable offense.

Howling III: The Marsupials (1987) d. Mora, Philippe (Australia) (2nd viewing)


Maniac (1980) d. Lustig, William (USA) (4th viewing)


Mom and Dad (2017) d. Taylor, Brian (USA) (1st viewing)

A mysterious wave of violence sweeps over the country as parents start offing their offspring. Nicolas Cage does his bonkers Nic Cage thing (of which I’m not really a fan) for comedic effect, while Selma Blair fares much better as his murderous marriage partner. It might have also helped if the youngsters (especially our teens) weren’t portrayed as odious, self-centered monsters deserving of a pool cue stick through the eye. It’s harmless enough, and probably fun for some, though it felt like it might have been better suited to a short subject as opposed to a feature (especially one padded out to give its above-the-line stars something to do).

The Plague of the Zombies (1966) d. Gilling, John (UK) (3rd viewing)


Scream for Help (1984) d. Winner, Michael (UK/USA) (1st viewing)


10 to Midnight (1983) d. Thompson, J. Lee (USA) (2nd viewing)


Urban Legend (1998) d. Blanks, Jamie (USA) (2nd viewing)


Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000) d. Ottman, John (USA) (1st viewing)


The White Reindeer (1952) d. Blomberg, Erik (Finland) (1st viewing)

Lovely and poetic morality tale about a recent bride (Mirjami Kuosmanen) who so longs for her caribou-hunting/herding husband to return to her that she consults with the local shaman to procure an irresistible love spell. Unfortunately, the side effect is that she is unable to stop herself from changing into either a strange, fang-sporting vampire-like creature or the albino hoofed-and-horned beast of the title. An extraordinary and surprisingly under-the-radar effort that deserves a much wider audience.


Cobra (1986) d. Cosmatos, George P. (USA) (1st viewing)

Stallone (at the height of his 80s popularity) stars in this ridiculously plotted (and acted and directed and and and) thriller about a mysterious axe-clanging cult with no serious mission statement other than occasionally going out and murdering a random victim from time to time. Sly’s gotta get out the big guns, crush injustice, and keep real-life spouse Brigitte Nielsen off the chopping block. The movie’s pretty silly, but Shout! Factory has lavished some serious attention on it, featuring extended interviews with Brian Thompson (our main baddie), Marco Rodriguez (our supermarket baddie), Lee Garlington (our cop baddie), Andrew Robinson (our other cop baddie), and a commentary by “director” Cosmatos (by all reports, Stallone called the shots throughout). Absolutely worth the investment for fans.

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (aka The Deadly Invention) (1958) d. Zeman, Karel (Czechoslovakia) (1st viewing)

Breathtaking visual feast from the “Czech Melies,” featuring all manner of special effects ranging from stop-motion to stylized sets to Terry Gilliam-style cut-out animations (which resemble the novel's original woodcut illustrations) in service of an adventure story that owes as much to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and other Verne stories as it does to its titular source material. Highly recommended.

Hostiles (2017) d. Cooper, Scott (USA) (1st viewing)

Predictable but effective yarn about a ruthless US Army officer (Christian Bale) who is reluctantly tasked with escorting Wes Studi’s freed Native American war chief (equally ruthless in his day, but now eaten away by cancer) back to his native land to die among his people. Along the way, they encounter a recently widowed settler (Rosamund Pike) dealing with the trauma of having her family slain by the “savages,” as well as a psychotic military prisoner (Ben Foster), himself being transported across the country to stand trial for his atrocities. Writer/director Cooper (Crazy Heart, Black Mass, Out of the Furnace) seems to have a penchant for unpleasant characters in movies that don’t have a lot of commercial appeal – who keeps bankrolling his flicks?

Red Sun (1971) d. Young, Terence (France/Italy) (1st viewing)

You can almost hear the pitch meeting by reading the poster for this spaghetti western: “We’ll get Toshiro Mifune to play a samurai in the Old West, and Charles Bronson will do it because he likes playing cowboy, and what the hell, let’s see if French superstar Alain Delon is available and didn’t he do a movie called Le Samourai a few years back? Oh, and if Ursula Andress will do her Ursula Undress trick, we’ll have a full house.” To be fair, while not a classic, everyone does seem to be having a good time, especially Mifune and Bronson (in especially fine droll mode), and the time passes quickly enough with numerous memorable scenes.

Robin and Marian (1976) d. Lester, Richard (USA) (1st viewing)

Sean Connery stars as an aging but still robust Robin Hood, returning to Sherwood Forest with Little John (Nicol Williamson) after two decades of following ruthless King Richard (Richard Harris, doing his best Peter O’Toole) on the bloody Crusades, only to discover that the Nottingham Sheriff (Robert Shaw) is still nefariously collecting taxes from the peasants at the behest of King John (Ian Holm) and looking to lock up his lady love Maid Marian (Audrey Hepburn) who is now a member of the Sisterhood. It’s lively, but not lively enough to make up for the emphasis on lost opportunities and Connery’s bullheadedness grows tiresome for Marian as the audience.


20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) d. Fleischer, Richard (USA) (4th viewing)

Absolutely marvelous big screen presentation of Jules Verne’s novel, the first live-action feature the Mouse House ever attempted. Despite numerous technical challenges and a ballooning budget, director Fleischer (himself the son of Max Fleischer, Disney’s main competition) and his able team of collaborators pulled off a miracle of cinema storytelling. Kirk Douglas’ scenery munching grows tedious at times, but he’s ably balanced by Peter Lorre’s grounded and droll scientific aide to Paul Lukas, with James Mason turning in THE quintessential Captain Nemo.

Making of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (2003) d. Young, Mark (USA) (1st viewing)

Informative and entertaining documentary on the trials and tribulations throughout production of the blockbuster smash, which was hardly a sure thing. (The iconic squid scene was completely reshot at great expense after the first go-round proved to be a dud.) Well worth tracking down!

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) d. Butler, Robert (USA) (3rd viewing)

Tried to get this in time to watch last year while I was doing my Kurt Russell festival (plus I also needed a film from 1969), but even though I missed the Dec 31 deadline, it was still fun revisiting this childhood fave with Kurt playing energetic doofus Dexter Riley who gets his wires crossed with the school’s new computer and ends up becoming the resident brainiac for the college’s knowledge competitions. Great supporting cast includes William Schallert, Joe Flynn, Cesar Romero, and dependable character man Richard Bakalyan.

Mary Poppins Returns (2018) d. Marshall, Rob (USA) (1st viewing)

I promise, I went in with the least grinchy disposition I could muster, but the first hour is pretty unsatisfying with some curious casting of Ben Whishaw as the new Mr. Banks and Lin-Manuel Miranda as a generic good-natured chimney sweep and dogsbody. (Both are excellent actors, but neither feels right here.) Eventually the plot takes over and things start moving, but prior to that it’s a lot of sitting and wondering why this needed to happen in the first place while being pummeled by so-so musical numbers. (“Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is the only memorable sequence that approaches the original film’s magic.) Emily Blunt is perfectly fine as Herself, but it’s hardly a revelatory turn, and the critical accolades were puzzling to say the least. I doubt anyone will be talking about this 6 months from now, much less 50 years.


Come Back, Little Sheba (1952) d. Mann, Daniel (USA) (1st viewing)

Burt Lancaster is quite good in the role of a small town doc and recovering alcoholic, but it’s Shirley Booth’s show (in a role she originated on Broadway) as his nattering, long-suffering wife attempting to keep him interested in life and on the straight and narrow. When vivacious college student Terry Moore (of Mighty Joe Young fame) becomes a boarder at their house, Lancaster’s protective fatherly instincts threaten to get the better of him, especially when a young and studly Richard Jaeckel starts putting the moves on her.

Darling (1965) d. Schlesinger, John (UK) (1st viewing)

Julie Christie is fetching and frustrating as an amoral social climber who flits from flower to flower and back, with her two favorite nectar stops being Laurence Harvey and Dirk Bogarde. Released the same year as Dr. Zhivago, it’s no surprise Christie rolled home with the big prize; the film also won Oscars for Costume Design and Original Screenplay.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) d. Neame, Ronald (UK) (1st viewing)

Maggie Smith reigns supreme as a rebellious schoolteacher who guides “her girls” to think independently even as she controls their lives and destinies. Pamela Franklin (The Innocents, Legend of Hell House) is memorable as one of Brodie’s star pupils, and not just because she appears nude in a portrait-painting scene. Robert Stephens (Smith’s then-husband) and Gordon Jackson (The Great Escape) lend able support as Brodie’s co-workers and rivals for her romantic attentions.

La Vie en Rose (2007) d. Dahan, Olivier (France) (1st viewing)

Marion Cotillard is breathtakingly transformative in her fully immersed turn as vocalist Edith Piaf, from her early hard-luck days as a street corner singer to her troubled drug-addicted stardom. The Little Sparrow did not have it easy, but she left an indelible mark – so does Cotillard.


Beautiful Boy (2018) d. van Groeningen, Felix (USA) (1st viewing)

Oh-so-earnest presentation of a teenager’s (Timothee Chalamet) addiction to crystal meth and his dedicated father’s (Steve Carell) efforts to halt the downward spiral manages to feel both immensely authentic and numbingly predictable.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) d. Singer, Bryan (UK/USA) (1st viewing)

Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury as though he descended from an alien planet, unfamiliar by how life among the earthlings works and further hampered by distractingly oversized front teeth. (Yes, Mercury had a pronounced overbite, but it’s immediately obvious that this was not that.) Shockingly tepid and by-the-book biopic (the other band members barely register at all) that only comes to life during the musical numbers. And to top it off, HOLLYWOOD KEEPS GIVING FREQUENTLY ACCUSED SEXUAL PREDATOR BRYAN SINGER WORK. Avoid this crap and just pull up Queen’s performance at Live Aid on YouTube instead.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) d. Heller, Marielle (USA) (1st viewing)

Melissa McCarthy is on point as an antagonistic and acerbic writer who finds greater success forging letters and correspondence from other, more famous authors to be sold on the collectors circuit. Richard E. Grant matches her step for step as a flamboyant grafter whose boyish charms are dwindling but that’s not going to stop him from trying. I wasn’t aware of this real-life story, so I enjoyed watching things unfold.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) d. Chu, John M. (USA) (1st viewing)

Crowd-pleasing romantic comedy about a young professor (Constance Wu) swept off her feet by a beau (Henry Golding) who just happens to spring from one of Singapore’s most affluent families. Stereotypes are both celebrated and exploded with equal delight, with barely a Caucasian face in the crowd. Well done.

The Favourite (2018) d. Lanthimos, Yorgos (UK) (1st viewing)

How this bawdy, naughty period piece found its way into the Oscar race is anyone’s guess – not because it’s undeserving, but because it’s so daring and unconventional, filled with complicated and often repellent characters. The trio of lead performances (and yes, they are all leads, thank you) by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone are superlative, with grand support by Nicholas Hoult, and award-worthy cinematography and production design. Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) continues to worm his way into the mainstream without compromising his distinctive personal vision and it’s bewitching to behold.

Green Book (2018) d. Farrelly, Peter (USA) (1st viewing)

Argh. Why is uber-anglo Viggo Mortensen playing an Italian goombah? Why is the film focused on his emotional journey from A to B, from virulent racist to loyal buddy buddy in the blink of an eye? Why is the most interesting character, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) literally stuck in the backseat of his own movie? Why does this all feel so darn Hollywood? There is an amazing story of this amazing man to be told – too bad this is what we got. Frustrating.

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018) d. Rourke, Josie (UK) (1st viewing)

Emotionally brutal telling of the deceptions visited upon Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) upon her return to the Scottish throne during her cousin Elizabeth I’s (Margot Robbie) reign over England. Fantastic performances and production values throughout – it’s unfortunate that the Academy’s recognition only extended to the costumes and makeup. That said, it should prove diverting for future English history students looking for a Cliff’s Notes version of this troubled moment in history.

A Star is Born (2018) d. Cooper, Bradley (USA) (1st viewing)

I admit, I had my doubts when I heard about Cooper’s vanity project, revisiting the classic “opposite escalators” story for the fourth time. But darned if he (as a booze-soaked country rocker) and the project as a whole aren’t worthwhile. Lady Gaga proves once again there is nothing she can’t do and better than you, though I’m a little surprised by the nomination for Sam Elliott, which smells a bit like a Lifetime Achievement Award rather than anything particularly revelatory. Fair Warning: “Shallows” will be stuck in your head for days afterwards.

Vice (2018) d. McKay, Adam (USA) (1st viewing)

Painful political pill that is undeniably drenched in liberal bias, but when your subject is the demon who sought to dismantle the checks and balances of the U.S. government (and often succeeded) for his own personal gain, I say light the torches and grab the pitchforks. Bale disappears beneath the latex and skin of the Lizard-in-Chief in an utterly hypnotic performance, Amy Adams is… fine, and last year’s Supporting Actor winner Sam Rockwell is wholly undeserving of his nomination here as George W. Bush, especially since he’s barely in the movie and barely makes an impression when he is.

The Wife (2018) d. Runge, Bjorn (UK/Sweden) (1st viewing)

During their visit to Stockholm where he is to be honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature, a couple (Jonathan Pryce, Glenn Close) watch as their longtime partnership crumbles beneath their collective feet thanks to an inquisitive journalist’s (Christian Slater) probing. Close is excellent, though she’s not really demonstrating anything we haven’t come to expect from her – it’s nice, however, to see her in a strong leading role again. What’s curious is how overlooked Pryce has been throughout the awards season, considering his diverse turn is arguably more nuanced and he shares equal screen time with his more lauded co-star. (The Academy does realize he’s never been nominated, right?)

2019 Totals to Date: 33 films, 26 1st time views, 10 horror, 1 cinema



  1. I think you mean Elizabeth I, not Mary I.

    I loved Good Manners, as you well know.

    There's a story about Richard Fleischer's first meeting with Walt Disney when Disney hired him. "Do you know who I am?" Fleischer asked, referring to his family's status as Disney's competitors. "I know who you are." Disney answered. "The why me?" Fleischer asked. Disney responded: "I saw The Happy Time, and anyone who can make an actual actor out of Bobby Driscoll (star of Disney's Song of the South, btw) can direct any movie he likes for me."

    I don't know if that's true, but if it isn't, it ought to be.

    1. Whoops! Royalty snafu amended.

      You were the one who put GM on my radar and I'm entirely grateful.

      Great anecdote about Disney. Hadn't heard that one!