Thursday, May 7, 2020

Fool's Views (4/24 – 4/30)

"Is it safe to go out yet....? I need some Cheetos."

Hello again!

Hope everyone is staying healthy, staying hopeful, and staying at home as much as possible. With the exception of recent trips to the community garden to prep our plot for the summer (I swear, we’re not burying bodies!), we’ve been doing our best to flatten the curve without getting too curvy ourselves. Between the flicks, there have been push-ups, planks, squats, pull-ups, and crunches, at least 100 of each every day, in the hopes that once we’re allowed to re-enter this strange new world post-COVID, we’re not looking like total tubs of goo. So far, so good, building those good habits and trying to stay positive. After all, there are movie marathons on the horizon and we’ll need all our strength to see them through! THIS IS WHY WE TRAIN….

On that note, rediscovering the Chicago Public Library’s FREE streaming service Hoopla has been a total delight, stumbling across tons of films that I had been meaning to catch up with for months or even years. The “to-watch” stack just got a whole lot higher, for better or worse! For those in the Windy City area, I highly recommend it, and for those out-of-towners, try checking your own local library’s website and see what they have to offer. Despite all propaganda to the contrary, the world does not revolve around Amazon Prime and Netflix alone!

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



After Midnight (2019) d. Gardner, Jeremy / Stella, Christian (USA) (1st viewing)

After longtime girlfriend Abby (Brea Grant) abandons him without warning, small-town Florida tavern owner Hank (Jeremy Gardner) is plagued by nightly visits from a strange and seemingly vicious creature attempting to break into his house. Problem is, nobody else sees or hears it, leaving Hank to wonder if it's all in his imagination or if something sinister and/or supernatural is actually antagonizing him.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this, but in the same way that The Battery was a zombie movie with barely any zombies in it, After Midnight is a monster movie with hardly any monster, which has got to be frustrating for some horror fans. That said, I appreciate Gardner as a filmmaker (with a BIG nod to cinematographer, co-director, and co-editor Stella) because he seems interested in tackling extremely complex human emotions and relationships within a genre context, even if sometimes he seems like he’s only doing the genre stuff because he knows it will help sell the indie drama that he really wants to make. Plus, you gotta give props to anyone brave enough to plunk a camera and two actors down and just let things roll for 12.5 minutes in a single, unbroken take. Yes, that is Resolution and Spring co-writer/co-director Justin Benson as Abby’s sheriff brother (he and partner Aaron Moorhead also served as producers).


All Cheerleaders Die (2013) d. McKee, Lucky / Sivertson, Chris (USA) (1st viewing)

Like many others, I have been a big fan of McKee since his debut insta-classic May, but for whatever reason, I never got around to watching this (part of it was the marketing, part of it was the so-so buzz, and part was me just not making the effort) and nobody pushed me to remedy said oversight. So I’m very happy to have stumbled across it whilst browsing Hoopla because this was a whole lotta fun and I’m surprised more people haven’t been chatting it up (it’s currently sitting at 5.1 on IMDb, which is far too low).

Based on their 2001 short film of the same name, McKee and Sivertson (I Know Who Killed Me) spin a delightfully twisted and energetic high school fable detailing goings-on within the cheerleader and jock cliques, throwing in everything from supernatural stones to body switching to Lifeforce-like soul-sucking to garden variety murder, all done with a nasty wink and a smile. The main quartet of beskirted beauties (Caitlin Stasey, Brooke Butler, Amanda Grace Cooper, Reanin Johnannink) are all accomplished light comediennes, fleshing out their archetypes with flair, with Sianoa Smit-McPhee (Kodi’s sister) and Tom Williamson (VFW) lending solid support as a smitten Wiccan and the poster boy for toxic masculinity, respectively. Well worth checking out.

Summer of ’84 (2018) d. Simard, Francois / Whissell, Anouk / Whissell, Yoann-Karl (Canada/US) (1st viewing)

Suspecting their neighborhood law enforcement official might be a serial killer, a band of outsider teenagers devote their idle summertime hours observing their unsuspecting suspect and gathering evidence to prove their theory. Due to the impressive attention to period detail production design and its synthy soundtrack, comparisons to Netflix’s series Stranger Things are unavoidable, but this Canadian thriller is far more grounded and precise in terms of establishing characters and creating situational tension, delivering a satisfying multi-character narrative arc in a little over 90 minutes (as opposed to eight hours). This feels like lean-n’-mean 1970s Stephen King as opposed to the bloated 1990s version of same. Yes, the climax is a little far-fetched, but the denouement delivers a gut-punch that more than compensates.

VFW (2019) d. Begos, Joe (USA) (1st viewing)



Knives Out (2019) d. Johnson, Rian (USA) (1st viewing)

Johnson’s Oscar-nominated screenplay is the brightest light of this all-star affair, and that’s saying something considering the talent involved. Rather than content himself with conjuring a crackerjack whodunit, the writer/director flips the tables by revealing who done it within the first 15 minutes, thereby transforming it into a Hitchcockian thriller where we are on the edge of our seat wondering if they will get away with it. The fact that Johnson is able to sustain that tension for the entire 2+ hours is nothing short of magic, which is where we cycle back around to the stellar cast and give them their proper due for grounding the madness so thoroughly. The only slight demerit goes to Daniel Craig’s dialect coach for allowing him to go Full Plummy Southern Gentleman, because good gosh almighty that was ridiculous.


Hell or High Water (2016) d. Mackenzie, David (USA) (2nd viewing)

Hot. Damn. Taylor Sheridan’s (Sicario) script is so enjoyably spiced with great dialogue for its actors to spit out, one can’t help but laugh and cheer. Jeff Bridges rolls out his time-honored mumbly mushmouth cowpoke coot once again (True Grit, RIPD, Crazy Heart), but it’s used to wonderful effect, and Chris Pine and Ben Foster are outstanding as a pair of siblings with a few banks to rob and a genuine purpose behind their crimes. Equal parts social commentary and double buddy movie – the relationship between Sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and his Native American/Mexican deputy Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) is absolutely charming – this sleeper summer hit ended up surprising the masses with four Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Screenplay, Editing, and Supporting Actor for top-billed Bridges).

Wild Bill (1995) d. Hill, Walter (USA) (1st viewing)

As the famed quickdraw lawman, Jeff Bridges actually manages to articulate his way around Hill’s colorful script (based on Thomas Babe’s stage play Fathers and Sons and Pete Dexter’s novel Deadwood (which would later come to be realized as the hit HBO TV series, the first episode of which was directed by… Walter Hill). That said, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of gold to be mined from WB’s short life (39 years) other than the fact that he bedded lots of women, shot lots of men, smoked a lot of opium to quell his painful glaucoma, and died holding aces and eights. A fictitious assassin is conjured in the form of Bill’s illegitimate offspring (David Arquette) and the better part of the movie is just waiting to see how and when Bill is going to get it in the back.

Ellen Barkin is a lively Calamity Jane despite being nearly twice as old as her real-life counterpart, and the rest of the cast is peopled with gnarly character actors John Hurt, James Gammon, James Remar, and Bruce Dern, thoroughly unnecessary cameos for Keith Carradine and Marjoe Gortner (as Buffalo Bill Cody and a tent revival preacher, respectively), and one-note roles for Diane Lane, Christina Applegate, Luana Anders, and Linda Harrison. There’s a-plenty of shooting and drinking, but it never wholly comes together as a movie.


Return of the Seven (1966) d. Kennedy, Burt (USA/Spain) (1st viewing)

Formulaic redux of the original, with Wagon Train TV star Robert Fuller stepping into Steve McQueen’s character’s boots opposite Yul Brynner for another tale of a Mexican village beset by bandidos. Nothing against Claude Akins and Warren Oates, who lend solid support, but they’re hardly “all-star” material. What provides minimal interest to modern viewers is the fact that this represents future independent filmmaking maverick Larry Cohen’s feature screenwriting debut, and there are definitely a few memorable lines in the mix.

The Hateful Eight (2015) d. Tarantino, Quentin (USA) (2nd viewing)

It felt a bit boggy the first time around, but on a repeat viewing, one can almost feel the excess fat dripping down the sides of the screen. QT at his most indulgent, bold and bloody with a dream cast (Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, James Parks, Channing Tatum) devouring the overripe dialogue with gusto.

The real stars of the show are Ennio Morricone, unveiling an outrageously vibrant, Oscar-winning (finally!) score that references his older work within the Western genre without replicating it (a feat unto itself) and art director Richard L. Johnson who, after years of dabbling in splashy, shiny CG spectacles (Transformers, Pacific Rim, Spider-Man) delivers some of the most delectably weathered images in recent memory. Three-time Oscar-winner (Hugo, The Aviator, JFK) Robert Richardson got another nod for his use of Super70mm Panavision cinematography despite the fact that most of the film takes place indoors. Gotta love that widescreen treatment of… a log cabin.

2020 Totals to Date: 155 films, 111 first time views, 49 horror, 2 cinema


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