Sunday, April 7, 2019

Fool's Views (3/1 – 3/15)

I'll take that one and that one and that one....

Greetings, greetings, greetings!

The lingering Chicago winter led to a variety of Views, enhanced by a free month of Netflix streaming (I canceled it halfway through, but it was fun while it lasted), and some fantastic screeners from Shout! Factory, Severin, Arrow, and Artsploitation. My impromptu Brian De Palma film festival slowed slightly (we picked things back up again in the back half of March, so stay tuned) while Ian Simmons and I polished off the closing two features in our Saulnier School program. In all, it turned out to be a productive couple weeks, with a lot of cinematic ground covered, bringing us to a grand total of 100 films in a mere 2.5 months. Might be a good year!

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



The Craft (1996) d. Fleming, Andrew (USA) (3rd viewing)


The Deadly Mantis (1957) d. Juran, Nathan (USA) (3rd viewing)


The House (2016) d. Kiil, Reinert (Norway) (1st viewing)


Jack the Ripper (1959) d. Baker, Robert S. / Berman, Monty (UK) (1st viewing)


Kolobos (1999) d. Liatowitsch, Daniel / Ocvirk, David Todd (USA) (2nd viewing)


Luciferina (2018) d. Calzada, Gonzalo (Argentina) (1st viewing)


Psycho (1998) d. Van Sant, Gus (USA) (2nd viewing)


Snowflake (2017) d. Kolmerer, Adolfo K. / James, William (Germany) (1st viewing)



Await Further Instructions (2018) d. Kevorkian, Johnny (UK) (1st viewing)

After missing it at Cinepocalypse last year, I recalled the positive buzz and was happy to finally check it out. Gavin Williams’ script enjoys a strong central conceit, that of a family being basically sealed inside their home on Christmas Eve by some mysterious force and then given various directions via text transmitted through the television. While there are times when it’s hard to believe people would actually behave the way these characters do, turning on each other with such viciousness, it all works pretty well on the whole, and the final 10 minutes’ hard left turn into WTFville, i.e. “holy $#@$# what is even happening,” will certainly satisfy some and thoroughly annoy others.

Bird Box (2018) d. Bier, Susanne (USA) (1st viewing)

I’m a little puzzled by the “love it or hate it” vibe that erupted once this perfectly serviceable infection-horror starring Sandra Bullock dropped on Netflix late last year. I quite enjoyed the central conceit: gazing upon the “virus” instills an overwhelming suicidal urge, forcing the world’s inhabitants to ignore/inhibit their primary sense of sight in order to survive. Unless, of course, the subjects are already mentally ill, in which case the infection causes them to become mindless (but sighted) acolytes, roaming around forcing others to “look at it.” Comparisons to the recent A Quiet Place are inconsequential – yes, the characters are denied a basic tenet of human existence, but that’s about it. It’s a solid apocalyptic “what if” that delivers the thrills without transcending into “modern classic” terrain.

Cam (2018) d. Goldhaber, Daniel (USA) (1st viewing)

A fascinating introduction to the world of “cam-girls,” where lovely ladies engage with their “fans” via webcam in exchange for points and pledges of approval in an attempt to climb up the ranks of the girls on the site. Our self-absorbed main character Alice aka Lola, fearlessly played by Madeline Brewer, proves more than a little off-putting at first, but after she wakes up one morning and finds she has been virtually replaced by an exact duplicate, you’ll find you’re hooked, watching and waiting to see how things unravel in unsettling fashion. The stinging commentary within Isa Mazzei’s script of how society begs women to sexualize themselves for our entertainment, yet turns its back on them when trouble arises, decrying them as “dirty sluts,” provides added oomph.

Creep (2014) d. Brice, Patrick (USA) (1st viewing)

I'm a little late to the party with this one. I definitely appreciated the minimalist quality and the fact that there are only two characters and the script is written by the two actors, one of them being the director, Patrick Brice. There's also a general uneasy vibe that permeates throughout, even if things occasionally feel a little padded out, and the last sequence with the park bench is a doozy. That said, almost all of the scares are of the jump-scare variety, with a guy who literally jumps in front of the camera saying "Boo!" A fun little cinematic experiment that (mostly) works.

Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (2017) d. Alijo, Paul Urkijo (Spain/France) (1st viewing)

Gorgeously realized and visually stimulating dark fantasy (produced in part by Alex de la Iglesia) about a tormented and ostracized blacksmith who shuns all human contact following the death of his wife. But when a local village girl violates his sanctuary, she discovers his secret – he’s got a demon caged up in his basement. Perhaps the first and only horror film shot in the Basque language, and well worth your time.

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2015) d. Perkins, Osgood (Canada) (1st viewing)

Within her opening lines, young hospice nurse Lily (Ruth Wilson) tells us that she will be dead by the end of the story, and then proceeds to lead us along a deeply atmospheric and literate journey throughout the last months, weeks, days, and hours of her existence within the home of dying author Iris Bloom (former ’70 star Paula Prentiss, in her second screen role in 20 years). Seems the ailing Iris has been having delusions of one of her fictional characters, Polly (Lucy Boynton), still moving throughout the house, but as time goes on, we and Lily begin to wonder whether these are really delusions... and whether Polly’s tragic fate was really fictitious.

Certainly not to all tastes – Perkins is not interested in cheap shocks or scares, but rather in generating a deep sense of dread via dreamlike cinematography and Wilson’s numbed narration spoken as endless hypnotic prose. The filmic equivalent of reading a ghost story, patient viewers in the mood for something quite unique will likely find rewards here, while others will be bored out of their minds. (I fall in the former camp.) Perkins is now two for two in my book, with The Blackcoat’s Daughter, released the same year, probably the more captivating for general audiences.

The Invitation (2015) d. Kusama, Karyn (USA) (1st viewing)

Will (Upgrade star and Tom Hardy lookalike Logan Marshall-Green) and his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) receive a dinner invitation from his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) for a reunion of their mutual friends in their secluded and fancy house located in the Hollywood Hills. The awkward occasion is only made more so by the fact that Eden met her new hubby at a cult gathering in Mexico, which she attended to cope with the grief caused by the death of her and Will’s son two years prior. Eden now speaks in woo-woo platitudes of letting go of negativity, which do not sit well in the ears of the still-wrecked Will, nor does the fact that she’s invited two of the cult members, Sadie (Lindsay Burdge) and Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch), to join the party for the night.

Kusama does a fantastic job of keeping the slow burn percolating throughout, with Will’s unease growing throughout, knowing that even though nothing appears to be visibly wrong, something doesn’t feel right. Once masks start dropping and intentions become clear, you’ll be glad you stayed for coffee and dessert, capped by one of the more chilling closing images in recent memory.

May the Devil Take You (2018) d. Tjahjanto, Timo (Indonesia) (1st viewing)

Touted by many online critics as an “Indonesian Evil Dead,” the comparison is neither unfair nor inaccurate. After a brief set-up, wherein estranged daughter Alfie (Chelsea Islan) is informed that her father has recently fallen into a coma, all manner of familial drama ensues with evil stepmothers, sympathetic siblings, and dark ancient curses surrounding old houses stirred into a thick bubbling stew and exploded all over the screen in flamboyant fashion. If high volume screeching underscoring nonsensical character motivation and gallons of splattering bodily fluids sounds like your idea of a good time, look no further, although I felt my enjoyment running a little thin as we neared the two-hour mark.


Green Room (2015) d. Saulnier, Jeremy (USA) (2nd viewing)

Fearing artistic paralysis following the breakout success of Blue Ruin, Saulnier hurriedly assembled this project that follows a small-time punk band gigging around the Pacific Northwest and stumbling upon a sinister backwoods collective of drug-pushing neo-Nazis. It’s another brilliant example of a script slowly unfolding, giving the audience just enough information to keep following, but also adding in little touches that expand our understanding of the situation piece by piece.

Specificity is the name of the game, and Saulnier nails the punk rock microverse as well as the small town tyranny of Patrick Stewart’s rural gangster. The characters are as relatable as the violence is shocking, with characters meeting horrible ends that feel both surprising and inevitable. The terrific ensemble includes Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, and Blue Ruin star Macon Blair in a supporting but pivotal role. Despite the bigger budget and more recognizable cast, it somehow manages to feel like a smaller film in terms of examining the human condition, but it also has more killer Rottweilers, so there’s that.

Hold the Dark (2018) d. Saulnier, Jeremy (USA) (1st viewing)

Working for the first time from pre-existing source material (William Giraldi’s novel of the same name) and a script that he didn’t write (longtime pal Macon Blair does the honors), Saulnier’s winning streak is hampered by a meandering narrative and characters that don’t elicit the same sense of identification or empathy. When a young Alaskan mother’s (Riley Keough) child is abducted by a roaming pack of wolves, she reaches out to author Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) to track down the lupine killers. At the same time, her military husband (Alexander Skarsgard) returns from Iraq and launches his own manhunt for what he believes to be a human suspect. When the best sequence in the film – an incredibly gory and well-executed gun battle between a holed-up sniper and a squad of police officers – also feels like the least essential, that’s a problem.

Ian Simmons and I discuss the two films at greater length on his Kicking the Seat podcast. Click HERE to join the conversation:


Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) d. Heller, Marielle (USA) (2nd viewing)

Watching a second time, I was even more intrigued by the cult of collecting, how much importance and status and joy can be derived from the simple acquisition of an item that in and of itself can mean something or everything, depending on the individual. As writer Lee Israel, Melissa McCarthy is antagonistic and acerbic in her struggles, but as she begins to enjoy success forging letters and correspondence from other, more famous authors to be sold on the collectors circuit, her inner glow shines brighter. In pretending to be others, she comes closest to being the best version of herself. In contrast, Richard E. Grant’s Jack Hock is perfectly happy being the flamboyant grifter, and sees those who purchase these artifacts (genuine or otherwise) as suckers unable to appreciate the real world as it stands, filled with drink and sex and practical jokes.

Incendies (2010) d. Villeneuve, Denis (Canada) (1st viewing)

A mother’s dying wish that her children find their absent father and missing sibling leads them on a dangerous and challenging voyage to the Middle East. Numerous emotional gut punches ensue. Villeneuve’s Oscar-nominated feature caught the eye of Hollywood, leading to Prisoners and Enemy hitting screens in 2013.

Isle of Dogs (2018) d. Anderson, Wes (USA) (1st viewing)

If so many people hadn’t proclaimed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to be amazing and brilliant, I might have been more annoyed that this hilarious and offbeat effort didn’t win the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Amazing reaction shots and superlative line readings by Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and others highlight this fable about a near-future Japan where all canines are banished to distant Trash Island and the single-minded young lad who refuses to be parted from his best friend.

Planet of the Apes (1968) d. Schaffner, Franklin (USA) (7th viewing)

Astronauts from the late 20th century fly into deep space to explore the theory of light speed/arrested aging while away from the planet's surface. Their return flight to Earth is scheduled for 700 years in the future, but due to a "time/space-slip" they land on a strange planet in Earth Year 3978. They soon learn that here, apes are the dominant species – verbally articulate and cultured – while Man is hunted for sport and research.

Even on this, my 7th viewing, I was impressed anew by Jerry Goldsmith's eclectic score and Franklin Schaffner's vibrant direction (his next project would be 1970’s Patton, for which he would take home the Oscar). Screenwriters Michael Wilson and Rod Serling craft a terrific adventure yarn while sneaking in a variety of social and political commentaries – a hallmark of quality science fiction.

Charlton Heston may not be the most multifaceted or the most subtle performer in the world, but damned if he doesn't sink his huge freaking teeth into every role with complete conviction, and his disillusioned astronaut Taylor is a treat. "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" wouldn't be the same coming out of anyone else's mouth, and he has never been better than when he’s bellowing at his captors or his Creator. Linda Harrison, who was dating head of 20th Century Fox Richard Zanuck at the time, turns in an impressively genuine effort as Heston's sexy (and mute) mate, Nova. While the classic twist ending has long since become a piece of Hollywood iconography, that final shot is still awe-inspiring.

But, ultimately, it's all about John Chambers' mind-blowing, Oscar-winning artistry in creating the ape makeups and the superb actors who bring these hairy characters to life. Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter (as the benevolent chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira) bring abundant warm and humor to their roles, while Maurice Evans (having replaced an aging Edward G. Robinson) proves a worthy adversary as the patriarchal politico Dr. Zaius. These are remarkable performances, with so much communicated through the eyes and physical gesture that one soon stops looking for the actor behind the mask and invests completely in the world of the film.

Road House (1989) d. Herrington, Rowdy (USA) (1st viewing)

I had never seen this healthy slice of 80s cheese before, packed to the gills with punching, drinking, kicking, monster trucks, topless girls, mullets, explosions, gunfights, snarling villains, and soft-spoken heroes. Gotta say, that was a good bit of fun. Bonus: Julie Michaels, who made her screen debut as the saucy blonde stripteasing temptress, also played "Agent Elizabeth Marcus" who helped put Mr. Machete down in the opening scenes of Jason Goes to Hell.


The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) d. De Palma, Brian (USA) (2nd viewing)

Having never read Tom Wolfe’s source novel, I was not nearly as offended as many when this infamous bomb landed nearly two decades ago, finding it a mildly amusing condemnation of the abuse of money and power. Having recently completed The Devil’s Candy, Julie Salamon’s tell-all book about the making of the film, I can appreciate the critical hate parade a little more fully. No, Tom Hanks should not have been playing “Master of the Universe” Sherman McCoy and, dear god in heaven, Bruce Willis should not have been playing Brit journalist Peter Fallow. It was also interesting to learn the reasoning behind hiring of Morgan Freeman to play Judge Myron Kovitsky (later dubbed Leonard White) over Alan Arkin, a decision that ended up costing the production nearly $4 million due to scheduling snafus.

De Palma (2015) d. Baumbach, Noah / Paltrow, Jake (USA) (2nd viewing)

Filmmakers and superfans Baumbach and Paltrow sit the eponymous director down in front of the camera to dissect his entire 29-feature-film C.V., giving equal time to successes and failures. Considering how many of his features I’ve watched recently, the overview proves an enlightening if shallow one, since we don’t get to really spend much time with any single feature; an anecdote or two and then we’re off and running again.

2019 Totals to Date: 100 films, 67 1st time views, 48 horror, 1 cinema


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