Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Fool's Views (8/17 – 8/31)

Yep, six months later, still feels a bit like this....

Greetings, friends! It’s September and I see you!

Wrapped up the month with a couple of overarching themes, that of shapeshifting ape-folk and a pair of wunderkind siblings bent on tackling every cinematic genre known to man, woman, or child. Sprinkled throughout is the usual hodgepodge of randomness that makes the grass grow, so hopefully you’ll find something to suit your fancy.

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



Lady Stay Dead (1981) d. Bourke, Terry (Australia) (1st viewing)

Sleazy little slice of Ozsploitation depicting a delusional handyman (Chard Hayward) obsessed with his boss, pop singing sensation and prime bitch Marie Coleby (Deborah Coulls). When he finally decides to make his affections known, she understandably rebuffs him, setting into motion a series of increasingly violent escapades, multiplied when her sensible sister (Louise Howitt) swings by to visit.

Hayward perfectly depicts the socially awkward loser who proves surprisingly effective when it comes to exercising homicidal urges, with Howitt proving a most worthy foil and Roger Ward (Mad Max, Turkey Shoot) as the local badge, our potential third-act spoiler or savior. What starts off as merely unpleasant builds eventually to a level of Whoa Nelly Insanity, and while writer/director Bourke plays fast and loose with logistical plotting, the jaw-dropping payoffs more than compensate for the suspension of disbelief.


For the fifth installment of their stellar Universal Horror Collection, the good folks at Shout! Factory have decided to let their wild side show, unleashing a quartet of simian-centric programmers, including the three-film arc of “Paula Dupree, The Ape Woman,” one of the studio’s more offbeat creations during the monster rally era. While Frankenstein’s Monster was meeting the Wolf Man and visiting the House of Dracula, makeup master Jack Pierce was being pressed into duty turning aspiring starlets with exotic names into vicious hirsute beasts, all for our viewing pleasure.

The Monster and the Girl (1941) d. Heisler, Stuart (USA) (1st viewing)


Captive Wild Woman (1943) d. Dmytryk, Edward (USA) (2nd viewing)


Jungle Woman (1944) d. LeBorg, Reginald (USA) (2nd viewing)


Jungle Captive (1945) d. Young, Harold (USA) (1st viewing)



Escape Plan (2013) d. Hafstrom, Mikael (USA) (1st viewing)

Having enjoyed a brief co-starring glimmer in the first two Expendables movies, Sly and Arnie finally take the plunge with a legitimate co-starring effort that sees them as fellow inmates inside of Jim Caviezel’s wicked warden’s escape-proof detention center. As a breakout expert wrongfully imprisoned, Stallone is the focal point of the story, but Schwarzenegger is granted ample screen time and the two play off each other with just the right amount of self-awareness without blatantly winking at the camera.

The script by Miles Chapman and Jason Keller (with surprisingly little to no obvious interference from Sly) is a notch above the standard blow-em-up fare, and Hafstrom does a fine job of balancing the drama and action sequences, letting his hulking heroes strut their stuff with Caviezel licking is chops as the sneering, bad-to-the-bone authority figure. Followed by two Schwarzenegger-free sequels.

Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story (2020) d. Wright, April (USA) (1st and 2nd viewings)



Barton Fink (1991) d. Coen, Joel (USA) (4th viewing)

Palm d’Or winner about the titular pretentious 1930s playwright (John Turturro, modeled off Clifford Odets) having been lured to Hollywood to write for the pictures where he enters a nightmare world of writer’s block, peeling wallpaper, murder, and hellfire. As Barton’s avuncular but mysterious next-door neighbor at the Hotel Earle, John Goodman delivers some of his best work to date, matched handily by Tony Shaloub (snapping off his dialogue like wire), Michael Lerner’s expansive and explosive movie studio head, and Jon Polito (in a breathtaking about-face from Miller’s Crossing’s hair-trigger gangster Johnny Caspar) as Lerner’s meek toadie. The Coens’ fourth consecutive feature home run established them as major industry players, though they wouldn’t start earning any Oscar love for five more years (Fargo).

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) d. Coen, Joel (USA) (2nd viewing)

While borrowing the title from Joel McCrea’s idealistic director’s intended next project in Sullivan’s Travels (1942), the Coens serve up nothing less than an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey, with three escaped chain-gang inmates (George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson) embarking on a quest for buried treasure in post-Depression Americana, encountering sultry sirens, a chicken-gobbling cyclops, and a blues musician who may have sold his soul to the devil. While music has always played a large part in the brothers’ work, this is the closest they’ve come to delivering a full-on musical, with several showstopping numbers lip-synched by a game cast.

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) d. Coen, Joel (USA) (2nd viewing)

Having explored a half dozen other genres, the Coens return to their noir roots, complete with Roger Deakins’ flawless black-and-white cinematography setting the mood. Billy Bob Thornton plays a taciturn barber who becomes embroiled in an extortion plot that goes horribly awry, and while he has very few onscreen lines, his nonstop narration and curling cigarette smoke holds our attention. Thanks to solid support from Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Jon Polito, Tony Shaloub, and a young Scarlett Johansson, the enterprise motors along smoothly for 80+ minutes. However, the wobbly and underwhelming third act keeps it from landing in the top tier, with a character’s sudden and inconveniently timed sexual awakening providing a deeply unsatisfying climax.

The Ladykillers (2004) d. Coen, Joel / Coen, Ethan (USA) (1st viewing)

In remaking Alexander Mackendrick’s beloved 1955 Ealing comedy, the Coens transplant the mischief-making to the deep South where a band of eclectic nogoodniks ally forces in the interest of liberating a gambling casino boat of its ill-gotten gains. The presence of Tom Hanks and the absence of critical adoration kept me from seeing this one for a decade and a half, but my shameless completism finally caught up with me and I’m here to report that it was neither the disaster I imagined it to be nor some overlooked gem.

Though I feel like the film’s biggest problem is Hanks’ laconic interpretation of the gang’s ringleader, knowing the brothers’ reputation for precision and specificity, I can only assume that this is what they were going for, in which case the blame falls squarely on their doorstep. It’s too bad, because the rest of the performances feel spot on, especially Marlon Wayans trash-talking gangsta wannabe, J.K. Simmons’ robust blowhard explosives expert, and Irma P. Hall’s grounding presence as the sweet li’l ol’ landlady who takes no guff and holds no truck with fools.

A Serious Man (2009) d. Coen, Joel / Coen, Ethan (USA) (2nd viewing)

Supposedly autobiographical in nature, this modern-day Job fable stars Michael Stuhlbarg as a bumbling but good-natured Jewish teacher living in the Midwest whose life unravels in spectacular fashion, with extramarital affairs, student bribes, criminal charges, and wavering television signals assailing him at every turn. Lighthearted and quirky, just as one would expect a Coen Brothers downward spiral comedy to be, and although it failed to attract a mass audience, it stunned oddsmakers by securing a Best Picture nomination despite the fact that its only other nod was for screenwriting. (Note: This was also the first year that the Best Picture nominees expanded its field from five to ten.)

True Grit (2010) d. Coen, Joel / Coen, Ethan (USA) (2nd viewing)

For this remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic (or second adaptation of the Charles Portis novel, to be more accurate), seems everyone involved took a big ol’ bite o’ chaw and figgered they was gonna give us a rootin’ tootin’ dirty ol’ Western, with lotsa real smokehouse and rawhide flavah. Mission accomplished, with Jeff Bridges donning the eyepatch as hard-drinkin’, quick drawin’, mush mouthin’ U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, hired by fiery 14-year-old Maddie Ross (a brilliant pre-“Love Myself” Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar-nominated for her big screen debut) to track down her father’s murderer, the no-account scoundrel Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Matt Damon and Barry Pepper lend solid support as a high-falutin’ Texas Ranger and leader of cutthroat criminals, respectively.

With stellar production design by Jess Gonchor, Christy Wilson (art direction), and Mary Zophres (costume design), the Coens conjure their usual world-making wizardry, transporting us back to a time when nobody ever talked the way they do here but we somehow believe they did. (See also Miller’s Crossing.)

2020 Totals to Date: 275 films, 188 first time views, 88 horror, 2 cinema .

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