9.30.2011

First Impressions: Alice Cooper's "Welcome 2 My Nightmare"

Though a long time classic rock lover and devotee of subsequent shock acts KISS and Rob Zombie, I'm not quite as legitimate an Alice expert as I'd like to be - that credit goes, in spades, to my buddy David Jones - but I am, nevertheless, a big fan gratefully familiar with the band/solo act's history and plenty of albums (primarily the earlier stuff, a la "Pretties for You" and "Killer"), all the hits (of course) and even the legendary Coop's exciting and informative radio show "Nights with Alice Cooper" out of Phoenix, Arizona which I first heard on 96.7 The Wolf with Grand Canyon gateway town Williams "under my wheels" on my way back across country in early 2009.

Anyway, I'm taking a page out of college chum Jason Hubsch's virtual book (reviews and more of which can be read at JSin Online) and casually blurbing, track by track, my first listen of Cooper's new "Welcome 2 My Nightmare" - technically another solo album but featuring members of the original Alice Cooper lineup (plus many more). And... here I go sparing no further time.


I Am Made of You
An unexpectedly soft - and, what's this, autotuned? - intro that makes me tingle with anticipation for what face-melting may lay ahead. And really, the autotuning doesn't bother me here - not in the least. Like Ke$ha, who will of course show up later, Alice is using the technology creatively as opposed to as a crutch, and fresh off a second theatrical viewing of Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive", which features the hauntingly electronic vocals of "Nightcall" by Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx over its fantabulous opening credits, I am loving the execution here, which becomes accompanied by a sailing guitar solo (also, wow, "fantabulous" is apparently recognized by spell-check). According to Wikipedia, which I will occasionally refer to for factoids throughout this listen-through, Alice compares this track to his 1973 hit, "Hello, Hooray". I see it. Or, hear it, rather. So is this a tribute to the fans? Whatever the case, I'm digging it big time, crossing my fingers no modern distractions interrupt the mood.

Caffeine
...Or maybe that interruption will come from the second track? "Caffeine" isn't super bad; it is actually rather humorous in that good ol' Alice way... but after said tingling from the preludial "I Am Made of You" I was hoping for a better payoff. So this is now a single? A seemingly odd choice. I'm not vomiting on myself or anything, but I'll probably uncheck this track from iTunes so it doesn't play by default in the future (hark, impurity!). I suppose the concept does ultimately inform a fear of sleeping - the very act that is about to get us in a heap of tempting trouble - but it feels like throwaway filler.

The Nightmare Returns
Excellent, not only is this one's piano evocative of melodramatic horror, it carries over from "I Am Made of You". Concept! We're still in the introduction phase, aren't we? Loving the slow build carried on by this brief segue track. Er... I've already forgotten about "Caffeine", apparently.

A Runaway Train
Ha, I always get a sick kick out of songs - the ilk of which are nary heard anymore - that put a jovial tone to unfortunate and twisted scenarios. Crash. The nightmare begins.

Last Man on Earth
Each song thus far has featured a distinct sound. The story is being told as much through the lyrics as it is through the varying musical approaches. Wikipedia tells me this tune is similar to "Some Folks" from 1975's original "Welcome to My Nightmare". Perhaps I'd agree, had I thought to remind myself what that album was like prior to this undertaking. I have no excuses.

The Congregation
Here it is. Rob Zombie featured on an Alice Cooper track. The Gruesome Twosome! Zombie is portraying "The Guide", a character formerly voiced by none other than Vincent Price. "The Congregation" feels more like the Cooper sound so many fans have come to expect, and a sound of this sort is welcome at this point, six tracks in to a daringly deviant effort. The notion of narrative and characterization via music continues as Zombie's brief portion - not your typical gruff Zombie singing, as I probably should have expected - brings with it a more overtly daunting guitar. Outside that, I'm definitely jiving with the carnivalesque playfulness of all this - our main character is probably clawing his face off in fright while his could-be torturers simply taunt and mock to ostensibly cheery sounds.

I'll Bite Your Face Off
A much more deserving single selection! Great, classic and sexy Coop-style lyrics ("She pushed me down on a burning bed/Thought I was in heaven, but instead/She turned her head and she softly said/I’ll bite your face off!") along with what Wikipedia accurately describes as a Rolling Stones-inspired sound that indeed reminds me of some of that iconic group's more energetic and popular songs such as "Jumping Jack Flash". And this bridge - it sounds like "Esther" by Phish. Huh!

Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever
Alice Cooper just said "bling" and "playa". Don't worry, though, it's hilarious. Disco? Try mosh!

Ghouls Gone Wild
We're touring the nightmare's various venues, and this one sounds strikingly like the rockabilly, much-covered "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran. This album goes everywhere! I want to see these ghouls!

Something to Remember Me By
A relatively soft, bittersweet ballad, and one of the best tracks yet. This is the kind of tune that will keep me coming back for more and more of the nightmare. Is Alice disappearing deeper, taking a last opportunity to call out to his consciously earthbound loved ones with knowledge he won't return... or, at least, not as the same person?

When Hell Comes Home
After the welcomely geared-down interlude of that previous track, this sinister lick speaks to true nightmares with little hint of levity. Alice is perverting the ideals lamented in "Something to Remember Me By", and it works.

What Baby Wants
Now this one I've actually heard a couple times before - I just couldn't resist sniffing out a collaboration between two of my favorite artists, the Coop and none other than the contemporary, self-parodic proof that pop isn't entirely crap, Ke$ha. And to think this was originally to be a teaming of Coop and Christopher Lee (who was unavailable due to the recording of not just his own death metal/opera album about Charlemagne, but the sequel to his own death metal/opera album about Charlemagne)! "What Baby Wants" is one of the catchier tracks on "Welcome 2 My Nightmare". The relationship between our protagonist and the temptress Devil is just as characteristically sexy and intimidating as any of Ke$ha's more alluring solo efforts.

I Gotta Get Outta Here
Open-ended conclusions are the best kind, are they not? Are we awake, or are we dead? "I Gotta Get Outta Here" actually reminds me of a "Weird" Al Yankovic tune. That's not necessarily a bad thing; not at all... and it does become laugh-out-loud funny.

The Underture
The opening, paired with "When Hell Comes Home" being fresh on the noggin, recalls Rob Zombie's "Bring Her Down (to Crippletown)" from "The Sinister Urge". Depending on your interpretation of the prior track's events, this fittingly titled "Underture" wordlessly, dramatically takes Alice to the next chapter - breakthrough, revelation, acceptance, triumphant rebirth, beyond.

Under the Bed
Listed as a bonus track, "Under the Bed" functions perfectly as an epilogue to our cyclical story and another great reason to let "Welcome 2 My Nightmare" start over from "I Am Made of You" immediately (which I'll eagerly be doing in just a moment here). Cooper hasn't lost it. I guess those who purchased the album from iTunes got the bonus track "A Bad Situation". I'll have to hunt it down, maybe edit it in.

Poison (Live at Download Festival)
The real bonus, this live version of solo Cooper classic "Poison" is a treat. It brings a fresh, if not too impressively captured audio-wise, tone to the tune, and hearing the audience singing along plays as an enthusiastic tribute to Alice's legacy, mirroring what I'm viewing as this album's introductory tribute dedicated from the tireless rocker to his dedicated fans.


If not 100% memorable from a mere single spin only due to a few lesser tracks in its opening half, "Welcome 2 My Nightmare" features a worthy helping of solid songs that will surely see plenty of repeat play over the years (the coming days and weeks in particular, to be sure) from yours truly. As a whole it navigates vividly through darkly lurid fantasy, definitively playful yet unwary of touching on true horror. Though I'm sure to favor "I Am Made of You", "I'll Bite Your Face Off", and from "Something to Remember Me By" forward, the concept as a whole is rewarding. Yeah, even including "Caffeine". That latter stretch, from "Something to Remember Me By" through "Under the Bed", makes the album easily recommendable to any fan of real rock, classic Coop and concept albums. Dare I say, it occasionally brushes with shades of Roger Waters' knack for as much. Thank you, Alice!

Ke$ha, Alice Cooper, Tom Morello, Paul Stanley, Cheech Marin & Rob Zombie

9.28.2011

Horrorthon '11: Red State (Kevin Smith, 2011)

As with many cinephile children of the '80s and '90s, Kevin Smith's accessible, interconnected library of honestly crude and winningly relatable dialogue-centric comedies played a key role in breaking the ice of my true film passion. The often headline-making auteur's first non-comedy - rebelliously tagged "An Unlikely Film from that Kevin Smith" in the vein of Melvin Van Peebles' "Rated X by an All-White Jury" for the seminal "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" and Smith's own recent "[We] made a movie so titillating that we can only show you this [stick figure drawing]" from the unfortunate "Zack & Miri Make a Porno" - is this year's tense digital production "Red State", the potentially trailblazing release controversy of which has been widely chronicled from a rights auction sham at Sundance that Smith, probably accurately, describes as his "Jerry Maguire" moment to a unique nationwide screening tour including Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema. With a plot that could be described in part as "Hostel" in a church with sermon in place of physical torture, the film charts a harrowing day in which a cultish Christian compound is caught luring and abducting sacrilegious locals with the intention of "sending them to Satan" - carrying out their disturbed interpretation of God's work in what comes to carry blatant shades of the February 28, 1993 firefight at David Koresh's Davidian Branch in Waco, Texas. Is it an inspired deviation for the filmmaker I loved for many years and have, more recently, fought against progressively declining quality and a publicly souring attitude to continue loving, or is it simply a feeble stunt?

The most memorable works of horror pervert apparently harmless everyday elements, keeping us on edge in our own homes well after the fact. Stephen King has proven himself most prominent in this regard, having perhaps most notably rendered the private sanctity of our bathrooms dauntingly sinister with "It" and "Dreamcatcher". Places of religious worship, though heroically portrayed in many examples such as almost any Universal or Hammer "Dracula" picture, have also seen their share of corruption in films like "The Devil's Rain" (reviewed for last year's Horrorthon). In these cases the antagonists are, more often than not, of more overtly sinister creeds representative of evil itself. In "Red State", the believers demonized - and viewed as domestic terrorists - are extreme versions of Christianity distinctly akin to those of such notorious, Qur'ran-burning, publicity-seeking establishments as Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas and Terry Jones' Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Granted, these are warped examples of the Christian faith, but the simple fact of that faith being the villainy's root boldly stands out to make subscribers and agnostics tremble in certain company.

Though establishment-lite outside brief social rumblings and news coverage of anti-homosexual picketing before launching in to appropriately long-winded yet breezy discourse explanatory of the family-based compound's motives, "Red State" doesn't necessarily rely on current event knowledge to embellish possible fears that a life lived too deep within the myopic insulation of Christianity can lead to twisted mentalities capable of, as Smith's writing puts it, "the strangest things". Nevertheless, with the Church having become debauched in the public eye, it is easy to buy the depicted idea of utterly devout servitude as rote, seductive and generally outdated.

Smith stylistically branched out to an extent with his questionably selected director-for-hire work on "Cop Out", which played out far less like any prior Smith film in which cinematography takes a firm backseat and more like a misguided Edgar Wright imitation. The end result of "Cop Out" aside, Smith at least showed that after almost two decades in cinema he is capable of adapting to different approaches. "Red State" offers quite possibly the man's most interesting aesthetic yet through a fittingly frantic digital lens and dark or washed-out subjects. The proceedings are arguably more action-oriented in terms of genre definition, what with the heavy artillery that eventually enters scope, but in spite of that and the obvious slant against the deluded, it's all genuinely horrific from an objective perspective on humanity in general.

The fantastic Michael Parks creates still another biting character to love - or love to hate, rather - in pied piper Pastor Abin Cooper. Through comfortably assured posturing and the disagreeably eloquent justification his tongue spins he is believably bitter toward what he perceives as a truly wicked world. Melissa Leo, illustrating further she's the performing cornerstone of homely, angry housewives, is staggeringly triumphant as she disappears in to one of the most focal church members - one edgily conflicted between reluctant piety and desperately violent outbursts and calmly sedated by any shallow whisper merely involving the words "Christian" or "God". Kerry Bishé portrays the lone dissenter in an emotional turn that finally proves she can in fact act after having been handed the awkward deal of taking on the shafted lead in the doomed ninth season incarnation of "Scrubs". John Goodman is John Goodman, which is nary a negative and, man, is Stephen Root in everything these days, or what?

"Red State" is rattling to the point that your core will quiver, your sweat will pour and chills will run over your goosebumps' goosebumps, particularly when it appears to be heading down an unquestionably startling path that threatens unflinchingly to alter its entire playing field. Honestly, while the epilogical path instead taken is sensibly smooth, befitting of the film's platform and cathartically rewarding through a punctuative exclamation, it is of considerable disappointment the originally scripted finale was not realized - or at the very least alluded to sans a rational "dumb luck" explanation - as it is so alarmingly built up to.

All told, "Red State" is Kevin Smith's excellent return to form; or, more felicitously, his return to deserved artistic prolificity via a whole new form.

Horrorthon '11 (Intro): All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II

An amended team has returned for another October full of horror musings with a banner by Gort (another by Quite-Gone Genie below). Follow the mayhem on The Corrierino, and read my intro piece below, if you dare.

All the Colours... All the Colours... All the Colours. You thought you had beheaded us. Drowned us. Put stakes through our hearts. Shot us, sending us toppling backward from a second story window. Re-imprisoned us within the dream world, "Home Alone" style. But we're resurrected, back for revenge - grown up in to hulking behemoths with newly possessed bodies, freshly sharpened machetes, hungry fangs and just enough extra backstory and/or dubious familial plot twists to justify another meagerly lucrative installment in our still-young franchise - and we've brought new blood to help lay siege on the hospital in which our prior attack has left you under intensive care. Truth is, from pastorally existential quandaries to fluffy rom-com romps, there's a little horror in everything. Or a lot, depending on the case and how you look at it. Whether we know we're experiencing it, whether the filmmakers are aware they're implementing it... it's there, escorting us to varying degrees of fear. Let us take another month to dwell in and examine some of fear's more apparent filmic embodiments... from the cheese to the cheddar and, likely, back again.

9.24.2011

My Week in Movies: September 24, '11

Point Break
Kathryn Bigelow, 1991
Suck on that, "The Tree of Life". Screenshots after the jump.

Moneyball
Bennett Miller, 2011
I feel it's safe to say the 84th Academy Awards season has officially commenced with the release of Bennett Miller's "Capote" follow-up - an inoffensive and capably assembled true-to-life drama highlighting performances and, though distinct, not audaciously stylistic enough to alienate. The winning "Moneyball" isn't entirely shameless trophy bait, however, as under recent "The Social Network" scribe Aaron Sorkin's pen (accompanied by that of fellow Oscar winner Steven Zaillian) it deftly builds an ambiguous story of inherited tradition vs. scientific ingenuity that crackles with natural wit. It may well be 2011's definitive success story in the manner of that little ol' movie about Facebook. As a business film it will engage you; as a sports film it will make you believe. Read the full review and listen to further thoughts on episode 22 of Reel Time.

The A-Team
Joe Carnahan, 2010
With strong, rag-tag characters constantly outsmarting the competition through preposterous stunts and sparking hilarious chemistry amongst one another while a memorable television theme triumphantly blares, "The A-Team" is exactly what it should be - a perfectly fitting and nostalgic recreation Stephen J. Cannell's beyond-iconic 1980s program (albeit one somewhat awkwardly edited in certain instances to fit a PG-13 rating). The only thing missing - an absence almost jarringly felt due to all else's striking resemblance - is Cannell's punctuative company logo in which the late influential creator himself tosses a page from a typewriter to form an animated "C". I gladly accept the charismatic new actors in place of Hannibal, Face and Murdock as they mirthfully honor their predecessors, rendering the roles their own to agreeable extents (be sure to stick around through the credits for a couple amusing gags nodding directly to the original cast). Professional fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson does his best with the raw deal that is a rap-listening B.A. - no matter who tried to fill those shoes, he'd never live up to the T. Now let's get a "Greatest American Hero" adaptation rolling with Jesse Eisenberg and Bruce Campbell in the William Katt and Robert Culp parts, respectively!

I Don't Know How She Does It
Douglas McGrath, 2011
More "The Sweetest Thing" plus children than "Sex and the City" minus cosmos, this welcome diversion sufficiently fills my annual Sarah Jessica Parker quota while being just as welcomely Kinneary, Brosnany, Hendricksy and Busy Philippsy in the process (the latter aspect being a particularly notable highlight). If rhyming 'bagel' with 'kegel' on a hustling mother's hectic to-do list suits your fancy, the decidedly unimposing fast food of "I Don't Know How She Does It" may just temporarily satisfy you, as well.


Further first-time viewings:

Cedar Rapids - Miguel Arteta, 2011
Thankfully "Cedar Rapids" is not just "Andy Bernard: The Movie". It is an amusingly comedic and well-realized portrait of a quaint midwestern professional with inherently modest dreams whose rosy glasses are abruptly removed. Random observations: Stephen Root is looking more and more like Rip Torn, and John C. Reilly has been likened to different "Star Wars" characters in three films now (maybe more I'm unaware of) - Han Solo in "Boogie Nights", Chewbacca in "Step Brothers" and R2-D2 in this.

Ágora - Alejandro Amenábar, 2009
Its premise, director and writer (Mateo Gil) threatened to generate a love rivaling mine for Oliver Stone's "Alexander". Unfortunately "Ágora", though occasionally glimmering with celestial Amenábar goodness, gravely pales in every aspect not only against "Alexander" but also against just about every other worthwhile picture about early civilizations' intellectual progress.

Naked Lunch - David Cronenberg, 1991
RoboCop talks (and makes love, because why not) to cockroaches. I can't help but feel like that would be so much more interesting had I actually seen it in 1991. Gross things - and weirdness for weirdness' sake - were at least somewhat cooler then. I was six.

Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie) - Luis Buñuel, 1972
I... uh... okay. Unless the sarcastic implication of its title is all this one has going throughout, I suppose I missed something.

Still Waiting... - Jeff Balis, 2009
That "Waiting..." auteur Rob McKittrick stayed on in a writer's capacity just goes to definitively illustrate just how little that original film's producer and first-time director Jeff Balis seems to comprehend what made the 2005 comedy an instant cult hit. I'd never go as far as to call "Waiting..." genius, and in many ways "Still Waiting..." matches it script-wise, but uninspired, table read-worthy line delivery and the disparagingly reserved manner by which it's all captured places this obligatory follow-up on par - if not beneath - those direct-to-DVD "American Pie" cash-ins we'd all probably rather forget.

Punisher: War Zone - Lexi Alexander, 2008
It pushes the borders of gratuity along with those of poor taste. Still dig the soundtrack, though.

The Green Hornet - Michel Gondry, 2011
Perhaps the dumbest thing I've seen all year. Sure, "X-Men: First Class" is laughably incompetent and "The Help" prosaically and offensively smiles its way through accidentally racist portraits of so-called personal breakthroughs for the Civil Rights Movement, but it's like each subsequent minute of "The Green Hornet" is testing my endurance all the more - and more and more - asking, "You still haven't turned me off, yet?" How about if I do this?" Were Rogen and his transient team actually trying to make the year's worst movie?


Total: 11

Rewatches (3): Private Fears in Public Places (Resnais, 2008), The Haunted World of El Superbeasto (Zombie, 2009), Take Me Home Tonight (Dowse, 2011)
- Yet another viewing of "Private Fears in Public Places" revealed some of the more brilliant, subtle touches of its focal relationships - relationships often between only two characters at a time, a la "Closer". Its blend of surreal settings, overtly dramatic lighting, perpetually snowy fades and dreamy piano absolutely places you in its every moment - drunk, hopeful, pathetic, hypocritical, swooning, bitter, reminiscent, spaced.
- "Superbeasto" was easily my most-rewatched film of last year, clocking in at probably - no exaggeration - around 20 viewings. I was addicted. I can still pretty much quote all the best (and lowest brow) lines. The Dr. Satan voicework may indeed be my favorite Paul Giamatti performance.
- "Take Me Home Tonight" isn't as graceful or confident as "Dazed & Confused" and doesn't quite hit the era-defining unequivocalness of something like "Empire Records". It even seems, on occasion, to think it's of a lower brow than it actually is most of the time (I.E. opening with an overseen slapstick gag). All that said, it does belong under the same umbrella as the mentioned films and makes for a very fun little nostalgia trip with a cute cast. It is still among the top ten 2011 films I've seen thus far, even if instead of aggressive moralizing over his son's in-between period Michael Biehn really just should have suggested a career path in his own footsteps - traveling back in time to rescue Sarah Connor (which raises the query, can you imagine a "Terminator" film starring Topher Grace?).

9.23.2011

REVIEW: Moneyball (Bennett Miller, 2011)

I feel it's safe to say the 84th Academy Awards season has officially commenced with the release of Bennett Miller's "Capote" follow-up - an inoffensive and capably assembled true-to-life drama highlighting performances and, though distinct, not audaciously stylistic enough to alienate. The winning "Moneyball" isn't entirely shameless trophy bait, however, as under recent "The Social Network" scribe Aaron Sorkin's pen (accompanied by that of fellow Oscar winner Steven Zaillian) it deftly builds an ambiguous story of inherited tradition vs. scientific ingenuity that crackles with natural wit. It may well be 2011's definitive success story in the manner of that little ol' movie about Facebook. As a business film it will engage you; as a sports film it will make you believe.

9.17.2011

My Week in Movies: September 17, '11

The Long Goodbye
Robert Altman, 1973
Fans of the more recent works "The Big Lebowski" and "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" will find a cozy place to linger in Altman's Raymond Chandler adaptation (and by no accidental conjunction I've learned, as "Lebowski" is loosely based upon "The Big Sleep" while "Kiss Kiss" is largely inspired by and referential to the author's work). Elliot Gould vividly portrays recurrent Chandler protagonist Philip Marlowe as a likable man living slightly below radar who stumbles in to a case he begrudgingly sees through to its indelible end due to minor, often misinterpreted personal involvement, even though all he really wants is to find his runaway cat. Other domestic pets gone astray surround him throughout, suggesting his own derelict manner. Altman's trend of a main character's wittily running commentary being audible no matter their framed position is both present and, in a way, comforting.

Cœurs (Hearts)
Alain Resnais, 2006
AKA "Private Fears in Public Places". An odd choice for a first Resnais some may say, this borderline surreal, intertwining multi-portrait of star-crossed lovers and their lives' dualities, hypocrisies and moreover their varying, mutually affecting and sympathy-ready social plights enraptures, casting a serene spell and effortlessly captivating for its duration - a duration which, by the time it had passed, I wished was doubly, triply, quadruply as long. I did not want to put down these characters nor their rich environments. Screenshots after the jump.

Straw Dogs
Sam Peckinpah, 1971
Hey guys, guess how I was reminded to check this one out? Original, huh? Anyway, while I try to avoid cliché as much as I plan on avoiding the alluded-to Hollywood remake and hope that shows (or doesn't, rather), I almost want to use "tour de force" to enthusiastically describe Peckinpah's portrait of intellect's gradual path to discerning the will and methods by which to combat proudly prurient insipidity within and without a new domain. Almost. The ambiguous domestic and social tension brilliantly builds scene after scene, attaining a palpable fervor as your mind races to make heads or tails... before the precise focus is fumbled in act three. The whole is very good, really, and that more harshly lit final act is probably the best-shot stretch of the entire piece (Peckinpah's implementation of Dutch angles is superbly effective), but the agonizing exhilaration kicks down a few rungs, without completely falling apart, as our climax settles in.

Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011
One of the year's most anticipated for yours truly, "Drive" won me from its sizzling start - not that I was playing hard-to-get - with killer '80s-sounding tunage accompanying its increasingly tense insular vantage. From there it's a slow burn, and does it ever burn. A stone-faced Ryan Gosling, whom we follow closely through Refn's again-morphed, now engrossingly collected urban aesthetic, looks like a photograph - an unmoving receptacle for our own emotions - before he is spurred toward his goal. An underlying psychological profile is present, of one relatively honorable descending deeper and deeper through the works of much bloodier hands. We gaze in to startling cascades of viscera while eagerly deciphering our protagonist's state of mind, inescapably amongst and transitorily between it all. At once Gosling's guarded wheelman is canny in these affairs, cunning as he is quietly shaken, and eventually we see perhaps his most telling expression at a time his face is further concealed by a false visage - when he is soundly rapt in the observation of his deeds. A proponent of pulp revival, "Drive" - to Michael Mann's "Thief" (and undoubted others I remain unversed in) as "Kill Bill" is to "Lady Snowblood", etcetera - will disappoint many, but make bonafide Refn fans of many more. Listen to further thoughts on Episode 21 of Reel Time.

Wicker Park
Paul McGuigan, 2004
As anticipated upon viewing its trailer back in 2004, mirrored romance mystery "Wicker Park" is more or less "Vanilla Sky, Jr." (or "Abres los ojos, hijo", whichever you prefer; coincidentally "Park" is a also an American remake, 1996's Vincent Cassel-starring "L'appartement" being its source), but is confident enough to define itself in its own Focus Features-esque right with the help of Peter Sova's impressive cinematography, clever cross-edit eyeline toying and reverence for the established stylings of such icons as Argento, Ruiz and Dreyer. Could have done without the Coldplay, though. Screenshots after the jump.

Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Buster Keaton & Charles Reisner, 1928
Though I have the utmost respect for the man (and how can one not?), I haven't yet found myself too head-over-heels for Mr. Keaton's work. That said, the breezy "Steamboat Bill, Jr." is perfectly passable in every way (except maybe grammatically, as one title card in the scene depicted headache-inducingly reads, "must of"), growing more so with each successive set piece or stunt sequence. It's innocently pleasant to watch Keaton do his thing, carting amicably snowballing chaos in tow where'er he tread.

The Beaver
Jodie Foster, 2011
While "The Beaver" never quite coalesces and eventually grows out of its depth at feature length, its central portrait of an emotionally razed man making a last ditch effort to escape his past and begin family life anew is nimbly carried thanks in large part to its strong opening, in which a reclusive Mel Gibson seems to draw inspiration from watching David Carradine in "Kung Fu"... inspiration to asphyxiate himself a la the fallen star, that is... before entering an hilariously well-performed sequence of exchange with his own hand. Really, it is this performance that makes the film, in that it is never hidden Gibson's mouth is indeed the source of the beaver's voice (the beaver itself being of quite a deceptively simple and adept design). Gibson essentially portrays two characters - one exuberantly verbose, one silently sequestered - to illustrate a singular inner dynamic, his face portraying the dual emotion. He speaks the very words his expression responds to from a separate perspective, not unlike the simultaneous vocal and revolutionary guitar work of Jimi Hendrix. Screenshots after the jump.


Further first-time viewings:

Thief - Michael Mann, 1981
James Caan's thief makes for a far more interesting safe-cracker than Val Kilmer's from Mann's "Heat". To him, as illustrated in the film's key highlight of an opening sequence, his moonlit scores are sex. As in that later cops 'n' robbers picture, however, the central heist relies more on noise than anything - the louder the better, in Mann's apparent opinion (incidentally, it has only been with the strobing tommy guns of "Public Enemies" that I have found this mentality fruit-bearing). This is a quality picture with worthily memorable moments aplenty, but I'm not sure it ever quite coheres. Though it maintains the feel of a '70s exploitation flick without too much actual, overt exploitation, it drags with job talk and a not-so-intriguing relationship involving the oppositely very intriguing Tuesday Weld. Listen to further thoughts on Episode 21 of Reel Time.

Splice - Vincenzo Natali, 2009
One of the more intelligent modern "B" sci-horror monster movies - and it is proudly rooted in as much, with welcome twinges going back to the 1950s - "Splice" carries a rhythmic sensibility always appealing in this sort of fare, but may have benefitted from another character perspective or two (offered with the understanding a strict tonal balance is being adhered to). It occasionally reminds of the better of Argento's "Masters of Horror" installment, "Jenifer", and similarly benefits from a mostly practical creature. I feel odd to call it predictable, considering the central character dynamic shift is explicitly unlike anything I've seen, but I accurately guessed every development a mile away, which depleted the "wow" factor. Maybe the foreshadowing was too blatant? I mean, remember the shot of the cook in "The Hunt for Red October"? Actually, I don't; I haven't seen it... I'm just making a "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" reference.

The Social Network - David Fincher, 2010
Exhaustingly speeding forward, snapping its fingers impatiently for us to keep up, "The Social Network" does take a few awkwardly pedestrian breathers but mostly maintains its imposing, thereby Fincher-esque stand-offishness throughout. This is probably one of the recently more popularized director's better works, though that's not saying much considering glorified hack-turds like "Se7en", "Panic Room" and - I shudder to even mention it - "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". In spite of this, I don't feel it ever quite rises above trivially being "that movie about Facebook". We all, for the most part, use Facebook, and at least at one point in our respective lives it has probably been a heavily relied-upon social outlet, so the game-changing website's controversial inception feels relevant enough, but it's still "that movie about Facebook". Due to questionable machine gun pacing I remain interested all the while, trying to pick up every poked-in plot point, though I can't help but to keep demanding, "Who the hell cares?"

The Switch - Josh Gordon & Will Speck, 2010
"The Switch" takes place in one of the more imaginary incarnations of New York City I've seen, wherein the population has depleted, no one ages over a span of around eight years, purses are securely left unattended on sidewalks, children can safely wander unsupervised and bumper sticker wisdom reigns (well, maybe that last part is unfortunately all too realistic). Worst of all in this pristine NYC, personality traits seem purely of nature with no nurture to be found. Jason Bateman's characteristic, agreeably cynical observations do charm, as does Patrick Wilson's mere presence while Jeff Goldblum easily makes off with what little show exists to be stolen, providing a few healthy laughs in an otherwise barren comedy. Sometimes these light, star-driven direct-to-DVD affairs can be fun - for example I'm casually fond of the Tom Cavanagh/Heather Graham rom-com "Gray Matters" and the Paul Schneider vehicle "How to Lose Your Lover" - and this may work for some, but I am not entirely part of that some.

Videodrome - David Cronenberg, 1983
Cronenberg's crude cautionary tale of increasing reliance on idiot boxes is like Gilliam's "Brazil" meets Craven's "A Nightmare on Elm Street". Take that as you will.

Che - Steven Soderbergh, 2008
This "Thin Rojo Line" is duller than dull.

The Invention of Lying - Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson, 2009
There is a difference between telling the truth all the time and grossly spouting your every thought, particularly considering some of those thoughts in this case are said either in sarcasm - a form of dishonesty - or with the intention of hiding something. It feels as though, as opposed to having an inability to lie, these people are simply emotionless, and in that the lead character is given emotion through which we sympathize said character is allowed to access dishonesty when confronted with baleful conflict. There is a difference between saying "It's going to be okay" in attempt to rescue a suicidal person and inelegantly doing the same amongst patients at a last-legs nursing home (called "A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People"). Of course as the film continues, our characters learn to find integrity in such vapidly desperate statements... when they're not caught in an obligatory romance plot, that is. Some ideas are clever, such as the film industry being made up of historical lecture videos since fictional stories would be lies, and one of the harshest (if briefest) comedic criticisms of religion since "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life". Plenty of fun cameos abound, as well, but nothing of real further worth is to be found in this detrimentally half-baked piece.

Push - Paul McGuigan, 2009
After being won over by "Wicker Park", I sought out another McGuigan/Sova collaboration. Hm, where's that opera guy from J.D.'s fantasies in "Scrubs" when I need him? You know, this guy. Like a watered-down, young adult section version of a Neveldine & Taylor, "Push" is constantly reminding its audience how hip it's trying to be, pleading they buy in. It contains, like so many unremarkable films frustratingly do, a meager smattering of striking shots that pop up all too briefly, never once rivaling the new millennium Tony Scott picture it seems to aspire to be. A single, annoying screenshot after the jump.


Total: 15

Rewatches (3): Old Joy (Reichardt, 2006), Private Fears in Public Places (Resnais, 2006), The Beaver (Foster, 2011)
- I do hesitate to make it a matter of gender, but it amazes me female director Kelly Reichardt was able to so perfectly capture contemporarily innate maleness from male perspectives in "Old Joy". The film is all the introspective freedom of a Western road trip, right there in your living room. It embraces, it comforts, it soothes... man, what a great movie.

Notes
- I have begun taking in Mark Cousins' "The Story of Film - An Odyssey", currently airing Saturdays on the U.K.'s More 4 in 15 installments. The comprehensive series is, thus far, further proof film school is a waste of money - you'll just be shown programs like this you could easily watch on your own for a price roughly $70,000 cheaper/yr. Learn by doing.
- Also, I totally did not intend for this entry to be overrun by sulking men turned slightly from camera. Just happens that way, sometimes! Unintentional themes!

9.15.2011

My Most Anticipated Films Remaining for 2011

"Most anticipated" lists are tricky. Come each year there are droves of independent and international projects from the prior 365 I'm only just hearing about that surely would have made such bills (and in some cases won't even see wider distribution for years to come, a la Davaa Byambasüren's 2009 "The Two Horses of Genghis Khan", which we're still waiting on), so sensibly making them ahead of time feels neglectful (though I have done a somewhat better job following the bigger festivals this year), while awkwardly cobbling them after the fact makes little sense either as certain reactions one way or another may skew my gauge on pre-viewing titillation.

In an upcoming episode of Ty Landis' Reel Time podcast, for which I have become a regular contributor, our most anticipated films for the remainder of 2011 will be discussed. I'm not sure I'll be able to make the scheduled recording time, so I figured I'd whip up this entry to compensate just in case. With heavies like Terence Malick's "The Tree of Life" and Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" having already seen release and lighter-weight letdowns such as "Thor" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" out of the way, this should be fairly simple.

Let it be taken in to account that these are films with official release dates between now and year's end or recent festival features not yet seen on a wider scale, so anticipated films already distributed but not seen by yours truly, such as Miranda July's "The Future" and Wim Wenders' "Pina", do not qualify. Let the as-per-usual embarrassing mainstream-ness ensue!


Blackthorn - Mateo Gil
I still can't get a read on why this unique-sounding, Eduardo Noriega-starring continuation of the Butch Cassidy legend from "Abre los ojos" and "Mar adentro" co-writer Mateo Gil is flying so low under the radar. I finally caught the trailer recently and while I can't say it did for me what I had been hoping for, it is, after all, only a trailer (an observation that should be minded throughout many of the thoughts to follow, as well). There's way too much goodness swirling about this project for it to go unnoticed. Although, really, where's Amenábar?

We Bought a Zoo - Cameron Crowe
This one ranks high based mainly on my usual adoration of Crowe's works. With few exceptions, I typically go head over heels for the guy and as has been no secret, "Vanilla Sky" is my favorite film. Then, the new Matt Damon dramedy doesn't quite break higher based on my skepticism over the apparently true premise, the always groan-worthy (post-"Lost in Translation", anyway) Scarlett Johansson factor and the newly premiered, super-sappy trailer. Then, "Elizabethtown" starred Kirsten "Snaggletooth" Dunst and didn't look too promising either, did it? Oh, shut up, it turned out splendidly; I love that film to pieces. Anyway, it looks like Crowe is returning to the safe yet iconic kind of material that made "Jerry Maguire" such an indelible hit, only in this case with more family-friendly leanings (maybe... the MPAA rating is not out yet... then again, "Maguire" was wholesome family viewing for me at the unripe age of 11), which could in this case turn out fantastic or, well, less fantastic. The score being orchestrated by Sigur Rós' Jonsi is a good sign.

Melancholia - Lars von Trier
Speaking of Snaggletooth... here's the film that seems to have made intimate apocalyptic portraits trendy, starring the Dunst-cap herself alongside Charlotte Gainsbourg (returning to von Trier after her bloody outing in "Antichrist") and other supporting talents such as the ever-sexy Charlotte Rampling and the deliciously distinct Udo Kier. I... don't have too much to say about this one, now that I think about it. It just looks good. Here's hoping it actually is!

A Dangerous Method - David Cronenberg
A film involving Carl Jung? I'm there! Its main character is Sigmund Freud? I'm doubly there!! And the two are played by Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender, respectively? Please excuse me while I adorn these here bells!!! Add Keira Knightley's ashamed excitement via sexual abuse and it sounds like Cronenberg is deftly continuing his new millenium hot streak that began with "A History of Violence" in 2005.

The Three Musketeers - Paul W.S. Anderson
As has been written about at length at least three times on this blog and even more on film discussion forums, "Resident Evil: Afterlife" not only galvanized my admiration and enjoyment of the "Resident Evil" series, it sparked a new love of Milla Jovovich's lucky groom, director Paul W.S. Anderson, and his under-appreciated action stylings. I'll refrain from further detailing as much here, but suffice to say by the virtue of "Afterlife", "The Three Musketeers" would have been toward the top here no matter what its individual outlook. It helps matters in a big way that the trailers have totally exhilarated me and appear to be utilizing 3D in the same artistically innovative way I hoped/knew they would. W.S. is the only person keeping my faith in 3D alive at this point, though, admittedly, thanks to just about everything I've seen in the format since "Afterlife", that faith is on life support... let "Musketeers" be my defibrillator!


Honorable mentions, in descending order of anticipation:


Swirl (Marins, Jr.)
- In all honesty I only just learned of this one, but oh, my goodness does it look wonderful. Here's hoping it's as up my alley as it appears.

The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (Six)
- Have you read the plot summary for this thing?

Carnage (Polanski)
- I was interested enough in checking out the play, I may as well get excited about a Polanski rendering starring none other than John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet!

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Durkin)
- This looks akin to Reygadas' "Silent Light", which I recently viewed and loved, in its laid back examination of certain peoples' lives. Here's hoping all that storyline stuff is either worthwhile or gets out of the way.

The Ides of March (Clooney)
- Not sure how it'll turn out, but the trailer has grown on me enough to warrant a relatively high placement among these honorable mentions. If it's 3/4ths as good as "Good Night, and Good Luck", I'll be happy enough.

The Descendants (Payne)
- I like "Sideways". I like "About Schmidt". I like George Clooney, who miraculously maintains hyper-sexy status even after years of playing schlubs and schmucks. 'Nuff said.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Bird)
- I have yet to be sold on Jeremy Renner, the trailer is supremely disappointing and after the excellence of the series' third installment, it just plain ol' doesn't look like Brad Bird - of whom I am no devotee, mind you - has not cut the mustard. Still, it's Tom Cruise. It's Mission: Impossible. Come on.

Hail (Courtin-Wilson)
- Trailer looks quite good. Simple as that.

The Muppets (Bobin)
- Jason Segel became an instant favorite after "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", and the fact his Muppets script is being realized is delightful. The only shame is that it couldn't keep its original title, "The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made". Is it really that difficult to remember movie titles? Now that I work at a movie theater, I'm realizing what a hard time many, many people do seem to have with exactly that (if it retained its original title, wouldn't everyone just call it "The Muppets" anyway?). See the next film down for another heinous title cleave.

Hugo (Scorsese)
- AKA The Film Formerly Known as "The Invention of Hugo Cabret". I'm just curious what the notorious director's first (only?) crack at 3D will look like. He claims to have learned a lot on set.

Alps (Lanthimos)
- "Dogtooth" didn't blow me quite so far out of the water as it did some, but it did excite me for Lanthimos' next, which is sounding even more ingenious through its decidedly odd insularity.

War Horse (Spielberg)
- Could be pretty. Here's hoping there isn't too much dialogue.

Coriolanus (Fiennes)
- The modern setting came as a surprise, but it's a great Shakespeare story done with what appears to be purely source dialogue added to the curiosity of what Fiennes as a director turns out like. Don't ruin this for me, Gerahhhd!

Immortals (Singh)
- Looks like arse - glittery arse, to be specific - but a recent trailer showed me, through its shots of the Titans, that there may be some true goodness hiding behind the yet-ostensible mess.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Ritchie)
- Also looks like arse, and the first one is terrible... but I often loves me some gratuitous slo-mo.

The Thing (Heijningen, Jr.)
- Strange concept for a prequel (in that, more than in many other prequels, we already know the outcome) that seems devoid of a great hero a la Kurt Russell... but the trailer doesn't exactly suck and the excellent Morricone score is intact.

Moneyball (Miller)
- Don't have to wait long for this one, eh? Doesn't look out of the park, if you will, but I've come around on the notion that it could be a nice surprise.


As for 2012, well, just see paragraph one as to why I'm hesitant to name names too hastily... but let's just admit any form of the list would have to include "Resident Evil: Retribution" (which I'm following via @MillaJovovich on Twitter as I did "The Three Musketeers") and "Rock of Ages". I suppose we could toss in "Underworld: Awakening" somewhere for good, leather-clad measure. We're also probably getting another Terence Malick, another Paul Thomas Anderson, another Quentin Tarantino and another "Lord of the Rings" - how's that for a promising year!? And don't forget Gore Verbinski's "The Lone Ranger" from "Pirates of the Caribbean" writers Terry Elliot and Ted Rossio! Oh... wait... yeah...

9.10.2011

My Week in Movies: September 10, '11

Contagion
Steven Soderbergh, 2011
I am typically hard-pressed to unearth through-lines among Soderbergh's eclectic works, but fresh off "The Informant!" I find the talent-loaded "Contagion" to be, more or less, a serious version of that near-farcical 2009 stroke of brilliance (also penned by no-nonsense scribe Scott Burns). We are behind the scenes of the propagating chaos, following - through what could be labeled vignettes - the protocols of the CDC much the way we followed those of the FBI, with a dash or two of familiar scandal. Plenty of jargon flies over our heads but what's more important are the core concepts and subtexts. Quietly accentuated are everyday actions innocently spreading harm and, subsequently, the rampant fear thankfully left unrealized in our recent outbreak of H1N1. Alighted on is a kinship between viruses and internet trends such as "top tweets". While many audience members will surely be left wondering twixt their snores where all the computer effects and Matt Damon-versus-infected-monkeys scenes are ("I thought 'Contagion' - pronounced with a hard 'g' - was the name of a distant planet; what was up with the poster of Damon in a space suit!?"), the expectedly muted tone, methodical pacing and quarantine-tight script drive those prepared through an engrossing experience that will make you second-guess handshakes for weeks. Listen to further thoughts on Episode 20 of Reel Time.

Cop Land
James Mangold, 1997
Word on the street is right - Mangold actually has made one genuinely good film! I typically enjoy criticizing the jobber (along with Marc Forster, from whom he is indeterminable) for his decisively safe filmmaking that has produced such beleagueringly harmless pictures as "Kate & Leopold", "Identity", "Walk the Line" and "Knight & Day", none of which I out-and-out loathe but none of which leave any impression beyond some inherent sentimentality, if that. Mangold is a reliable bet for big studios to cash in on innocuous scripts with. It's also probably a reliable bet that his status as such was garnered via his auteured "Cop Land", which has proven to me a captivating ride through the intrigue of corrupt internal affairs. The remarkable ensemble cast led by one of my favorites, Sylvester Stallone in a meek turn, certainly doesn't hurt.

Burning Palms
Christopher Landon, 2010
There's more to this anthology than first meets the eye. Its five tales of paranoia tap in to oft-lascivious horrors of the everyday, entertaining for their sardonicism and provocative for their ambiguity over who the real victims are, with segues clearly inspired by "Creepshow". Only one of these five is a stinker, and four out of five ain't bad. Rosamund Pike graces the screen as she can never do enough in the involving "Green-Eyed Monster", Jamie Chung goes where no actor has gone before in the humorously relatable "Little Piggy" and a very Jim Caviezel-looking Anson Mount is winningly believable as a flamboyant and misguided adoptive father in "Buyer's Remorse", all before Zoë Saldaña steals the show as a rape victim with an unprecedentedly sadistic revenge plot in the appropriately darker finale, "Maneater". Screenshots after the jump.

Out of Sight
Steven Soderbergh, 1998
Perhaps I typed too soon regarding my sense for Soderbergh's through-lines. Seeing three of the director's films in close succession (bringing my total viewed to 11, that is if you include the Yes concert) while attempting to mind stylistic similarities has shown me that while, yes, Sodie is indeed marked by his unpredictability, he can be recognized through certain medium-wide interior compositions (equally favoring both floor and ceiling, actors often in the frame's lower half), focus on relatively less mainstream facets of definitively accessible material, pacing that doesn't dawdle in the least yet refrains from being too in-your-face and a preference for massive casts of name actors. "Out of Sight" is arguably middling but deftly entertains throughout with a subtle wit and sexy textures. Listen to further thoughts on Episode 20 of Reel Time.

The Incredible Melting Man
William Sachs, 1977
'50s sci-fi meets the late '70s slasher, with strong twinges of mortal existentialism? From its opening ten minutes, we can only hope "The Incredible Melting Man" - following an astronaut returned from a mission-gone-awry in Saturn's rings as he, explicitly aware of his impending doom, violently yet introspectively wanders through his past - keeps up the screaming awesomeness of its hospital escape sequence. Lucky for us, it only gets better as the delectably splattered cheese multiplies with every scene, taking pit stops to beauteously ponder its morose anti-hero's post-traumatic dilemma - a morbidly despondent decay of glory symbolized in the man's titular melting.

Tub
Bobby Miller, 2010
Short films are tricky. How do you distribute your short without compromising its potential in the process? As I've come to learn through experience, not only do you have to resist over-thinking matters throughout the various stages of production, you have to seriously weigh all your limited options between online distribution (which may not be legally possible depending on certain contracts in union cases) and festivals that will actually accept you (likewise). According to this /film article, wherein one can also view the film in its 12-minute entirety, Bobby Miller took similar steps to bring his project to fruition as my team did ours, so in spite of our effort's failure I at least know we seem to have been on the right path. "Tub" itself is as though Lynch's "Eraserhead" and Svankmajer's "Otesánek" mutually masturbated in the shower and somehow spawned a voguish baby. The jaunty piece is quite literally jaw-dropping, and emotionally stimulating to boot.

Hanna
Joe Wright, 2011
An adolescent female borne of technology and raised through nature combats her own repressed nature on a mission against technology. Did I get that right? It's about all the story I could find behind the visual reliance of the emptily cyclical "Hanna", apart from the axial character's naked origins marauding as something secreted away before the finish (a finish which might have become more interesting had it opted for proverbial turned leaves and the running theme of a longing for a childhood as opposed to further bitter violence). This isn't too detrimental a quality, however, considering Wright's consistently pummeling, Chemical Brothers-assisted aesthetic with a penchant for magic hour. Sequences involving dynamic lighting, bold camera movements and, in certain cases, fascinating tracking shots, don't just steal the show, they are the show. Screenshots after the jump.


Further first-time viewings:

The Adjustment Bureau - George Nolfi, 2011
Though the bureaucratic take on guardian angels is ludicrously finite and flooded with arbitrary nonsensicalities (that I can hope function more smoothly in the great Philip K. Dick's source novella), "The Adjustment Bureau" charms its way above all that with a consistent streak of levity and Matt Damon's infectious smile. John Toll's captivating cinematography is the standout, which seems appropriate as the decorated DP also shot my beloved "Vanilla Sky", a film this one seems to take more than a few notes from. If anything, the piece just confirms what many of us already knew - Linus Roache controls our fates.

Your Highness - David Gordon Green, 2011
Ha, okay, so this is a reedy amalgam of the decided histrionics of "The Lord of the Rings", the sprightly camaraderie of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the novel adventure of any swords-and-sandals/sorcery outing from Harryhausen's grandiose "Clash of the Titans" to the kitschy "Gor", with all the absurdity of Demy's "Donkey Skin", perversity of Henson's "Labyrinth" and wyrdness of Polanski's "Macbeth". Though, yes, rife with hit-or-miss era-bending gags (that involve narcotics much less than expected), the humor stems primarily from what appears parodic exaggeration before we realize, oh, this is just like any other epic quest film - and actually captures the allures of "questing", in the sense many contemporary online gamers know it, better than most - it's just that in this case we have been granted open permission to laugh at/with its ridiculous theatrics.

Precious - Lee Daniels, 2009
It's the opposite of subtle, but a winning main characterization carries "Precious" through to its potent climax with ease.

Mary - Abel Ferrara, 2005
The imaginarily dramatized press tour for "The Passion of the Christ"? Matthew Modine and Forest Whitaker are fantastic, as per standard. This redundant piece is interesting enough but never quite comes together, leaving me without much to say.

Less Than Zero - Marek Kanievska, 1987
On top of the young Downey, Jr.-ness, James Spader and Andrew McCarthy are always a treat. The trio brings this monotonous "drugs are bad" film to passable watchability.

Count Yorga, Vampire - Bob Kelijan, 1970
AKA "The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire". With essentially the same - though not as well accomplished - formula as Hammer's iconic "Dracula" and personal favorite American International's "Blacula", "Yorga" brings moderate dose of fun and a visceral fright or two amidst its overall stagnation. After a sequel, Kelijan went on to helm the worthy "Scream, Blacula, Scream", co-starring Pam Grier.

Fright Night - Craig Gillespie, 2011
Director of the shockingly not horrendous (thanks in large part to Susan, not to mention her talented Sarandons) "Mr. Woodcock" Craig Gillespie's "Fright Night" remake is, also, not horrendous, though it suffers in a general fashion through being nothing more nor less than, well, a "Fright Night" remake. And that's no slight against Tom Holland's original, which has garnered a considerable cult following since its 1985 release, but more an observation of that forerunner's winning blend of class and kitsch, spooks and sex that casts an inescapable shadow over this remixing. As though someone has placed the ingredients of Holland's film - both itself and its imprints - in a bingo ball draw, such is this new incarnation and thus may lay a key reason for my lukewarm response. Read the full review.

Bullets Over Broadway - Woody Allen, 1994
Irritating. Rigid. Irritatingly rigid. Given, this is perhaps the point, but still. I'll take "Hollywood Ending" for my Woody work about Woody working, even if in direct comparison that one suffers a severe Jim Broadbent deficit.

The Boy with Green Hair - Joseph Losey, 1948
"Please don't tell why his hair turned green," infamously declares the William Castle-esque poster of this scantly comedic and absolutely white-bred social examination with an oddly conveyed political message. I almost want to make a "Family Guy" reference here, disobeying the pleading tagline and saving you two long, boobless hours (well, okay, the movie's only 80 minutes) but a finite reasoning behind the preposterously society-rattling hue shift is never actually spelled out. There is a slight focus on environmentalism, so let's just say his hair turned green as a gift from Mother Nature so he could be better recognized when speaking out (directly into camera) against war.

The Beast with a Million Eyes - David Kramarsky, 1955
Think "Giant from the Unknown", then replace the unintended humor with barefaced lameness. I guess, according to IMDb, anyway, Roger Corman is an uncredited director on this.


Total: 17

Rewatches (3): Labyrinth (Henson, 1986), Paul (Mottola, 2011), Watchmen (Snyder, 2009)
- Unlike another childhood favorite, "The Dark Crystal", which seems to prosper with each revisit, "Labyrinth" is very on again, off again with me. Sometimes I only to find myself totally alienated by its utter and unrelenting battiness; sometimes I am absorbed and mesmerized. This time was perhaps the most positive viewing yet. Henson unchained!
- In terms of 2011's reverence to late '70s, early '80s extraterrestrial cinema, "Paul" (initially reviewed for Icon Magazine upon its March release) may have a leg up on "Super 8", if only thanks to the latter's now notoriously mediocre third act. Of course this candidate for the title of Ultimate Fanboy Film is chocked full of direct references to "E.T.", "Close Encounters", "Back to the Future", "Alien", etcetera, etcetera... hell, its very existence is a legacy of that wave's infamy... but man, how did I miss all those "Star Wars" references the first time 'round? I mean, sure, you've got an Ewok and Leia's bounty hunter get-up, but there's also the cantina song, the "Boring conversation, anyway" utterance... ba-bow. Overall, not simply referentially, "Paul" has got a little bit of everything.
- Who watches the "Watchmen"? Okay, that's way too cliché, but indeed I did, for a fourth time. I checked out the Blu-Ray's "Maximum Movie Mode", which turned out to be quite the disappointment. Snyder himself hardly intervenes with comment (or, more accurately, interferes with picture-in-picture), the film/comic comparisons aren't brought up enough and the their world/our world parallels are almost all uselessly random and lacking in correlation. All else would have been suitably viewed as a separate special feature. It's almost an interesting experiment but it's not exploited to its fullest - basically, there's nothing truly "Maximum" about it - and would have been better off as your standard director's commentary. Neatest thing I did learn, though: the nuke Veidt is shown overseeing the construction of is named "S.Q.U.I.D.". As for the actual film, or at least what of it I was actually watching as opposed to glimpsing in the background behind a talking head interview or time lapse set construction, while Dr. Manhattan is without question the most interesting aspect of any "Watchmen" incarnation, in film form the best bit, in my opinion, is the sex scene between Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II - the perfect culmination of their intertwining psyches. I also still totally dig the "All Along the Watchtower" sequence, though admittedly it has a new aftertaste to it now that I've seen how insubstantially overboard Snyder went with similar uses of music in this year's "Sucker Punch".

9.08.2011

REVIEW: Fright Night (Craig Gillespie, 2011)

Director of the shockingly not horrendous (thanks in large part to Susan, not to mention her talented Sarandons) "Mr. Woodcock" Craig Gillespie's "Fright Night" remake is, also, not horrendous, though it suffers in a general fashion through being nothing more nor less than, well, a "Fright Night" remake. And that's no slight against Tom Holland's original, which has garnered a considerable cult following since its 1985 release, but more an observation of that forerunner's winning blend of class and kitsch, spooks and sex that casts an inescapable shadow over this remixing. As though someone has placed the ingredients of Holland's film - both itself and its imprints - in a bingo ball draw, such is this new incarnation and thus may lay a key reason for my lukewarm response.

"Fright Night" opens with its strongest, most atmospheric sequence - a balanced blend of source reverence and originality, all rooted in what made many 1980s films so respectively palpable when compared to the contemporary blur of anonymous anytowns. It establishes not only a lasting whimsy but also a surreal sense of Nevadan isolation not unlike that of the forgotten residential development in Alex van Warmerdam's "The Northerners". Then, slowly, we are offered a number of time consuming, cutting room floor-worthy expansions (one involving soon-to-be "that guy" Dave Franco) and almost by-the-numbers plotting that feels at times like a "Disturbia" retread (and, seriously, who would ever want that), revealing the script's barely inspired nature. The plethora of direct references to the original will tickle devotees open to an alternate vision of their beloved (with maybe one discernable declaration of arrogantly self-proclaimed superiority), but from my not-quite-as-enamored vantage all that follows, while not particularly atrocious or abominable or abhorrent (or alliteratively abounding) by any means, is just kinda boring.

For as much as I adore Colin Farrell, who does a fine job taking a more youthfully sinister bite out of a Jerry the vampire, the hunka hunka burnin' Irish love's got nothing on the dapperly turtleneck- and sweater-wearing (and now quite Dennis Hopper-looking) Chris Sarandon's more faceted performance. Toni Collette provides a major draw for me as well, though where the actress has built a career on earnestly playing the homely odd woman out, here her dolled-up cougar could have been accomplished by any actress approaching 40. A convivially straight Midori-drinking David Tennant plays the new millennium Peter Vincent as though Russell Brand spoofing Jack Sparrow, so take that as you will. Finally, while it's probably easy to whine about eternal sidekick Christopher Mintz-Plasse, in what may be an unfair but still a default comparison McLovin pales against the maniacal Stephen Geoffreys.

Is the modern mainstream afraid of psychological sexuality? We get our T&A in super-spades, sure, but is this era doomed to shy from the subsequent inner goings-on? Holland gave us a provocative seduction in his original, a sequence memorable for the fact that our protagonist's love interest is, for one reason or another depending on your interpretation, quite willingly pawned in to the devious charms of another. Here, the same occurs devoid of subtext. Jerry is evil; the girl is a victim, period. There are even rumblings the upcoming "Straw Dogs" remake won't imply but from a sniveling antagonist's perspective that Dustin Hoffman's - I mean, James Marsden's - wife is battling dual mentalities regarding her catalytic manhandling. Piquing subversiveness, thy name is not Hollywood.

Proximately, what's the deal with the further paring of "good versus evil"? The '85 "Fright Night" isn't exactly ambiguous, but we are able to sympathize with both sides as Jerry is given a confidant (in the form of an undead live-in carpenter) and the story often dwells on his attempts to remain inconspicuous. Jerry 2.0 is bad to the bone from the commencement and doesn't hesitate to blow up a whole house before (not) worrying about subsequently blowing his cover.

Now, the 3D. Yeah, I know, but hey, this one was actually filmed in the format! That means Gillespie was able to adjust his stylings on set to better exploit the more evident third dimension, right? Uh... not quite. There are some neat floating embers and indeed the continuous car pursuit footage Wondercon went so nuts about is swell, but otherwise nothing is done that wouldn't have been just as if not more serviceable in regular ol' 2D. Incidentally, this was my third film in RealD 3D as opposed to Dolby 3D and the first film in which I've noted the much complained-about murk side effect of the disposable in-auditorium technology. My first RealD, "My Bloody Valentine 3D", preceded James Cameron's bubble burst, so if the glasses halved the projection bulb's lumens I must simply have taken it to be the film's intention. My second, "Piranha 3D" (surprise, these are all remakes), was disappointing for many reasons but took place mostly during the bright daytime so I still did not recognize any undesired darkness. This time at many points I could barely make out the characters' facial expressions as they appeared as mere silhouettes. Basically, I paid an extra $3.50/ticket to see half of a movie.

As if we needed any, Gillespie's "Fright Night" is definitive proof that Hollywood is going through the motions. It takes what was a prior generation's inspiration and renders it a generic product with glaringly economical shortcuts to contrast the original's inventive practical effects. Wait for DVD or Blu-Ray so you can sit at home and take shots every time some awful computer graphics "pop out of the screen".