My Week in Movies: October 29, '11

I racconti di Canterbury (The Canterbury Tales)
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1972
An uninhibited anthology of familiar themes humorously redressed, Pasolini's selective adaptation of "The Canterbury Tales" - resembling of the center panel in Hieronymus Bosch's "The Garden of Earthly Delights" triptych (and, eventually, the right) - precisely captures Geoffrey Chaucer's delectably muck-slinging vulgarity through rending saliently unethical certain medieval matters traditionally staged with decided regality. Colorful characters populate the vivid landscape with unkempt beards, yellowed fingernails, disarrayed teeth, sweat, dirt and excreta. The poor wear their unchosen grime like a badge as they toil, earning every last scrap of bread before falling under persecution for all they have - their hidden vices - as the wealthy wallow in their filth and profit from said extortion while enjoying similar vices. The latter are justified by their pocket lining yet quiver at sights of one like them executed. The ultimate punishment for these hypocritically righteous blithely purges corruption with still stronger feculence. Nothing is sacred, nor was it ever. Contrary to the later "Salò", here the selfish rich need not underhanded trickery to apprehend their libidos' targets - their right to take whomever they wish however they demand is built in to edict. Neither do they appear capable of philosophical broadening, being instead more impatiently given to impulse, or perhaps simply the exclusive liberty to lust openly. The extent of their profundity lay in their clumsy pick-up lines. Rich and poor blur as one doomed humanity through likened tragic folly. Where the comfortable castle-dwellers are, in time, undone by their own devices, peasants more readily come apart - socially and fatally - in effort to attain greater status, meanwhile putting on airs as simultaneous aggrandizement and defense. From Chaplin-esque slapstick and shamelessly guffawing gluttony to in-references such as Pasolini himself being hilariously, appropriately revealed in the role of Chaucer and a smirking, allegedly historically accurate call-out to the auteur's prior "Trilogy of Life" adaptation, "The Decameron", this "Canterbury Tales" perfectly embodies what the notoriously foul collection might have been were its creator in fact a filmmaker. Screenshots after the jump.

Winnebago Man
Ben Steinbauer, 2009
Many have stories of continued experiences with a certain video of Jack Rebney. Through copied VHS tapes and eventually YouTube, the so-called "World's Angriest Man" has circulated laughter and catharsis for decades, though no one seemed to know where he came from or where he's been. When I first saw the industrial outtake reel in question, I can't say I was too enamored. If anything, I uncomfortably felt the unknown man's frustration with himself in what appeared to be a nowhere gig. Film professor Ben Steinbauer's far more intimate reaction, however, drove him to embark upon this determined shot-in-the-dark documentary, the first half of which plays like a search for Sasquatch while illustrating the allures, causes and effects of what has become a subculture of accidental celebrities made as such through public humiliation on mass scales. At first, though I remained intrigued thanks to Steinbauer's effectively gripping assembly of footage, I worried it was all going to be more or less an extended version of a "Tosh.0" "Web Redemption", and about as enlightening. What the surprising "Winnebago Man" in fact becomes is a fascinating portrait of coming to terms with one's own legacy. Though in a Timothy Treadwell-esque fashion he's isolated himself from while still desiring a platform with what he feels is a dumbing down of society he inadvertently contributed to, in a way Rebney is like a member of the Beatles - a figure with greater aspirations doomed to be remembered for and haunted by but a brief and tumultuous time in his life. Finding and following him through Steinbauer is a real treat - one funny, intimidating and supremely emotional that should resonate with just about anyone.

Der Räuber (The Robber)
Benjamin Heisenberg, 2010
As Rorschach puts it in "Watchmen", a prison's a prison. Whether behind the bars of a cell or the four walls of "free" society, we are confined, all the while reminded by peers and mentors that, in so many words, status quo is the righteous aim. For initially incarcerated protagonist Johann, harmless and eventually remunerative marathon running seems to bring the closest achievable sensation to true freedom, however the man's blank expression ever suggests his bemused outlook. Alternatively, to look in to Johann's eyes during his pop-fueled bank heists is to see a more overt flow of adrenaline, and it is for that adrenaline the heists appear to be primarily conducted, though it is presumable an endgame - freedom via defrauded wealth - is somewhere in mind. Either way, it feels as though he is running, literally and figuratively, in circles; destination: nowhere. When the pure liberation of running meshes with the unsavory rush of robbery, the adrenaline pumps in to the audience as we bite the nails of fingers crossed for our antihero's salvation, be it through flight or rectitude. Graceful New Berlin Schooler Benjamin Heisenberg chooses his words carefully, precisely and almost serenely capturing the thrill of a crime blockbuster with far greater ambiguous depth than is per standard with such things.

Further first-time viewings:

Zombies Anonymous - Marc Fratto, 2006
AKA "Last Rites of the Dead". This entertaining, apparently shoestring outing brings freshness to decaying corpses, becoming almost frustrating when it is considered that all its good ideas were used in such a just-one-level-above-student effort.

Gonzo: The Life & Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson - Alex Gibney, 2008
I have this thing with non-fiction literature... with the right subject and approach I love it for a few chapters, then I get to a point where I impatiently think, "Why can't they just make a movie out of this, already?" Last year this happened when I became fascinated by Toby Thacker's "Joseph Goebbels: Life & Death" only to drop off after having watched Lutz Hachmeister's excellently assembled "The Goebbels Experiment". I haven't read any Thompson, who strikes me as a next generation Kerouac, but while purists may disagree, this loving retrospective feels adequate in quickly acquainting me with the man's work.

Beginners - Mike Mills, 2010
A montage of intimately personal memories that feels more mature than Mills' "Thumbsucker", though I'm not sure it's working for me as well as that prior success' ostensibly aimless angst. It's about the little moments, more than anything - Christopher Plummer's acceptance of a carefully worded death sentence from his doctor; the bonding between father and son via loud exclamations of "fuck!", as though they're learning, or at least celebrating the fact that they can be real people with one another outside their familial roles. Unfortunately the majority of these moments are so nauseatingly cute I want to run the other direction.

Strangeland - John Pieplow, 1998
Indistinct and derivative (particularly of "Silence of the Lambs", even once blatantly thieving that film's famous misdirection sequence), "Strangeland" seems to execute its meager helping of good ideas during its establishment before realizing it has to keep trudging along to attain feature status. Read the full review as part of Horrorthon '11: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II.

Faces in the Crowd - Julien Magnat, 2011
I feel like I say this all the time, but this movie feels like a Lifetime Network original made with a slightly larger budget. The script, despite a moderately intriguing premise that correlates the rare condition of prosopagnosia (face blindness) to other sensory losses such as deafness, is one gaping hole after another, punctuated by clunky exposition and only held together by my darling Milla Jovovich (whose mere inclusion warrants certain forgiveness), who could put forth this sort of bubbly, emotionally tortured performance in her sleep. It must have been neat for the various "reflection Millas" to come in and get dressed up like her. I might have praise for the fun Julian McMahon, though I'm not sure that's really him behind the re-re-recycled twist giveaway of a Savini-esque face beaver he's sporting.

The Ward - John Carpenter, 2010
The atmosphere of John Carpenter's return to feature length directing after nearly a decade is very, well, Carpentery, but possesses little to reinforce the shallow eeriness of its institutional corridors a la the suburbian Haddonfield streets of "Halloween" or the bowels of the arctic station from "The Thing".

The Rum Diary - Bruce Robinson, 2011
Like watching Clark Gregg’s “Choke” with David Fincher’s “Fight Club” in the back of your mind, “The Rum Diary” is more a dull homage to Terry Gilliam’s “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” that happens to also star Johnny Depp. It tidily makes its points and lingers like a bad hangover. At one juncture, in reference to the innocuous pieces he’s forced to print in his doomed paper, Richard Jenkins’ editor-in-chief advises, “There’s a thin veneer between the dream and the reality. You wake the people up, and they’re not gonna be happy.” I want to be woken up. Read the full review.

Total: 10

Rewatches (2): Paranormal Activity 3 (Joost & Schulman, 2011); TrollHunter (Øvredal, 2010)

- Wow! Thanks primarily to StumbleUpon (and a little to reddit and a lot to /film) October has blown WTYWtD's prior traffic successes out of the water. As I publish this edition of "My Week in Movies", October currently sits at 37,166 hits - well atop what I had thought was a grand tally of 3,454 for what was formerly my biggest month (this recent August). I've actually earned two whole dollars via AdSense! Of course without a new backlog to semi-spam discovery engines with every month it'll be a long time - if ever - before WTYWtD reaches this level of traffic again but in the meantime I'll keep "stumbling", "digging" (does anyone actually use that site anymore?) and, somewhat more discriminatingly, submitting to reddit ("redditing"?). Major thanks go out again to /film for featuring my "5 Worst Movie Theater Disruptions" on the 300th Edition of Page 2!


REVIEW: The Rum Diary (Bruce Robinson, 2011)

Why does this movie exist? Is it "Fear & Loathing" for wimps? For the most part I think it's trying to be shocking - and some "Loathing"-isms feel so obligatorily wedged in they can't be intended as anything more - but who will it actually shock? Nuns? The San Juan cultures of heavy drinking, odd hallucinogenics, voodoo and cockfighting are tiredly strung out through breathless exposition, wringing them of any potential intrigue. Of course it doesn't help that simply knowing the proceedings are based upon a Thompson work causes one to go in expecting the would-be wild subject matter. It's a pity, since the more overt message concerns the importance of being more than fluffy filler simply designed to entertain a boring audience, yet fluffy filler is precisely what "The Rum Diary" is.


Horrorthon '11: Strangeland (John Pieplow, 1998)

Likely due to my nearly lifelong love of Dee Snider's '80s glam-horror band, when in 2003 I first heard of "Strangeland" - written by and starring Snider - I figured it was made during Twisted Sister's heyday. I was surprised to finally switch it on and find not only a characteristically flavorless '90s aesthetic but also a honing in on late '90s-style internet chat rooms, the horrors of which in the picture's actual release year had yet to be fully extrapolated. Since "Strangeland", we've seen plenty of films such as "Cry_Wolf" and "Trust" about encountering sinister strangers through various, seemingly harmless online networks, though none have captured the allure of such encounters as it was circa 1998, when the internet still felt like a new frontier.

As is hastily depicted (before the underutilized sexiness of Amy Smart briefly shows face), chat rooms have never been a haven for sophisticated conversation. What are now populated by spam bots were once riddled by perpetually repeated "conversational" comments such as "asl" or "type 1 if u like alanis morset". Still, it was instant connection with other people openly desperate to gauge their state of being against consensus and make connections without the pretenses of in-person social activity. I remember answering "23/m/ca" to every inquiry of "asl", because between the ages of 13 and 15 when I partook in the chat scene, 23 felt like a mature yet hip age, I wanted to meet women and California seemed like a place women wanted their men to be from. This invented persona also lived on the third-to-top floor of a modest apartment building and owned two dalmatians to illustrate his unique sensibilities. Besides, what woman in a chat room wouldn't love two dalmations, right? Sometimes I would switch handles and chat with the same person again under a different persona as a sort of social experiment. I did this innocently, but the ease of it shows how simple it is to be taken advantage of in this manner. I don't doubt many of the "women" I chatted with weren't women at all. And maybe the stranger you're instant messaging with right now is in fact an old high school chum looking to dig up dirt.

Unfortunately, "Strangeland" is anything but focused and the first theme to go is that of online anonymity resulting in entrapment. In its place, however, we do glimpse the underground world of extreme body modification, a counterculture wave oddly rare on the silver screen. Off the top of my head, there is a reference to the Mandan origins of O-Kee-Pa suspension in Platinum Dunes' "Amityville Horror" remake and, well, apart from the likes of Ralph Fiennes' tattoo in "Red Dragon", that's it. You'd think we'd have a movie about piercings and/or tattoos coming to life, or at least a Freddy Krueger kill involving as much. Here our killer, pseudonym "Captain Howdy", is driven to achieve enlightenment - or at least subversive sexual gratification - through bringing his body to the limits of pain and alteration. Why, then, is he torturing hapless strangers to death? He's fucking Dee Snider, is that good enough?

Where "Strangeland" really gets bound and gagged, however, is in its tedious approach to heroes and antiheroes. Unlike the great "Texas Chain Saw Massacre", many films - even greats such as "Blacula" - get too caught up in the warranted side of the law, and this is no exception. Am I wrong to be confused when spotlights are shined on the least interesting figures? Highlighting the cop, here father to a Howdy victim, feels like pandering aimed at a demographic outside the target. Howdy and his actions are why we're watching, and make for the film's few genuinely frightening aspects. At least Rob Zombie's successors-in-spirit to "Massacre", "House of 1,000 Corpses" and "The Devil's Rejects", rendered the long arm engaging rather than obligatory.

Furthermore, Howdy's extended storyline is a dubious mess. At first we fear him, a dominant philosopher with a dauntingly shadowed demeanor. Then we pity him as he is harassed and brutalized by cruel yet arguably justified townsfolk, post-apprehension. Afterwards we cheer as he seeks his revenge, though finally we are encouraged to side with his principle adversary the cop - only the second blandest character to be found thanks to his even blander partner - and none of it gels. To look more deeply, one could say "Strangeland" hints at a greater ambiguity (that is, if there can be any in the case of torture) and even allows its would-be protagonist to go out fairly and as he may have pleased, on a note echoing the finale of "Point Break", though I find nothing to suggest these minor observations played part in the intention.

Indistinct and derivative (particularly of "Silence of the Lambs", even once blatantly thieving that film's famous misdirection sequence), "Strangeland" seems to execute its meager helping of good ideas during its establishment before realizing it has to keep trudging along to attain feature status. I would be cautiously optimistic about the long-proposed yet ever uncertain sequel, "Disciple", which would find Howdy mangled as opposed to dead (naturally) and brought by a billionaire to an exclusive body modification cult. Then, reports claim the currently "dead in the water" follow-up would seek Robert Englund to reprise his role as the town's main aggressor (from the mentioned "pity" phase), implying that the originally murky moral compass would also return.


My Week in Movies: October 22, '11

Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom)
Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975
Derived from a work by the Marquis de Sade, the monumental "Salò" likens conscription to wrongful abduction and, likewise, military life to heinous torture. The similarly involuntary, rigidly structured paths share infallible high command from the bourgeoisie, both subject to horrors no average person is intimately familiar with in exchange for prior hopes and beliefs. The difference is in reception - one path is glorified, allowed to become jaded in the face of countless literal deaths in the name of preservation; the other humiliated, forced to suffer and survive infinite false deaths for the sake of entertainment. In this shallow hierarchy we only "earn" the right to humanity through the invented superiority of wealth, the wealthy being the only ones with freedom enough to openly deliberate quandary and express enlightenment ("The limitation of love is that you need an accomplice; ...the libertine's refinement lay in being at once executioner and victim!"). Pasolini's discernibly cold presentations and refined camera placements cart us from shameful arousal in the bowels of depravity through progressively revolting compulsions of sexual abandon, intensifying the ways with which we view our bodies, and our society. It's the anti-eroticism and deprival of will gotten off on by Anne Rice and Eli Roth alike. For as long as I have recognized my passion for cinema, Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson have been the masters by whose work I unconsciously measure all other film. Judging by "Salò", which easily joins Davaa Byambasüren's "The Story of the Weeping Camel" and Peter Brosens' "State of Dogs" (among others, of course) as one of the very best of the best films I've seen this year (or ever), in Pasolini I may have discovered another master to hold in such regard. Screenshots after the jump (NSFW).

Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969
We all dream of a day we'll inevitably become rock stars - modern myths, educed from our varying versions of gods - in a world barely imaginable, reliant on growth and change beyond what we persist in being. With this dream we remain lost children, disbelieving we'll ever truly "grow up" as our once-future image matures in to a dull reflection, that fantasy feeling less and less tangible. Pasolini opens his "Medea" with what could be called a deconstruction of one of the great heroes, Jason, who with his Argonauts is presented to be, while handsome, almost as savage as his adversaries. This first half, in appearances inspired by the barbarism of Robert E. Howard's "Conan" tales and akin to the otherworldly landscapes and practices through which a fledgling civilization propagates in Andrzej Żuławski's later "On the Silver Globe", reminds we the aging disenchanted to discover "magic" in the mundane; to travel this strange earth and surrender to existence's wonders - the real "gods". Tribal North African wind and strings evoke both precise beauty and primitive chaos in a naïvely violent harvest ritual and endure throughout, haunting and illuminating. A wavering of creative conviction surfaces once Euripides' narrative takes over, rendering outstanding events nearly tiresome, though this is not to damage the whole of the film, which, cut from the same brilliant cloth as "Salò", offers a gorgeous realm of legend to sit back and revel in. Screenshots after the jump.

Paranormal Activity 3
Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman, 2011
Judging from the first two films (the priorly viewed second of which is mused over several titles below), I determined the best way to view "Paranormal Activity 3" would be, well, drunk. I cruised to the nearest convenience store, snagged two BOGOs of Mike's Harder Lemonade and went to town. Man, was I ever right. This third entry - and second prequel - in the franchise that took down "Saw" feels like the composed best we've yet seen from the growing collection of "home video" "found footage". It is the most rounded and satisfying cinematic experience of the standing trio and offers new forms of tension via panning surveillance and children's impressionable imaginations (along with new, deliciously retro set design). It's like examining the most active paranormal footage any "Ghost Hunter" could hope to find, which is silly fun enough to finally get this naysayer on the side of "Team PA" (and if that wasn't a thing, I just made it one). The biggest advantage the series has going for it is that so little story is divulged in each entry; we hang on every score-free, semi-realist moment in hopes of gleaning the newest plot point in the continual backlog (which, upon some skeptical double-checking, does in fact reference past disturbances in its chronologically later predecessors... though there are plenty of unanswered questions for a fourth entry to take care of). This is the sort of movie you actually want people in your audience screaming over and commenting on throughout. Step aside, "Shaun of the Dead", there's a new horror comedy in town... and, incidentally, only maybe 5% of the theatrical trailer footage is in the knowingly "Poltergeist"-esque final cut.

The Three Musketeers
Paul W.S. Anderson, 2011
It is difficult to admit my relative disappointment with this much-anticipated 3D follow-up on "Resident Evil: Afterlife" from W.S. Anderson, which is not the technical achievement I had hoped for. Thankfully the letdown was easy - no pretenses are held from the get-go, and the somewhat family-friendly flick has fun with how ridiculous it recognizes itself to be. To be sure, this "Pirates of the Caribbean"-esque adventure features more than enough to admire for one as desperate to come out pleased as I. Here we have an Anderson seemingly, uncharacteristically less concerned with visuals in comparison to his norm, perhaps a side effect of predominant "on location" shoots in various German castles as opposed to more controlled studio environments (though this is not to say there aren't some nice corridors and signature W.S. low angles of vast rooms). Instead Anderson is, for once, focusing more in the unwieldy story at hand - in this case one that has seen many an adaptation over the years, only few of which are worthy (my favorite I've seen easily being the 1948 Gene Kelly version). As a cute and jaunty - if cumbersome despite its obvious efforts against as much - take on Alexandre Dumas' notorious tale that features vexingly modern mentalities on celebrity, fashion and the representation of one's wealth while taking a cue or two from "The Princess Bride", "The Three Musketeers" is in fairest form with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. It falters when blatantly pandering, especially in the case of servant character Planchet, comic relief whose use is aptly compared (in context) to "a fart in a bottle". Not to be discounted are certain performances, primarily the eternally lovely and lovable, leg-flashing Milla Jovovich's of a very giddy and breathy, thereby very Milla-y assassin rendition of Milady de Winter, and a cockily flamboyant Orlando Bloom as the gaudy Duke of Buckingham. Then there's the one-eyed once more Mads Mikkelsen - ever a treat. All builds to the airship battle climax - a grand spectacle the likes of which have rarely been seen since such films as 1961's "Master of the World" - that soars on an inspired score and makes me long for a full-fledged sky pirate picture. As implied, unfortunately little to be found could not have been accomplished without 3D, though I am confident Anderson will wow me once more now that he is back to his more creatively freeing baby with the currently shooting "Resident Evil: Retribution". Speaking of "Resident Evil" (when am I not?), Anderson must love his cliffhanger ending for "Afterlife" - it's shamelessly mimicked, almost beat-for-beat, in "Musketeers"!

Further first-time viewings:

Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer - Leythum, 2011
Now this is more like it. That is, more like what I was hoping for when I checked out "The Consultant" (reviewed prior to this viewing, all the way down below). The sort of understated panache enjoyed here feels restricted from most Marvel tentpoles, which are confined by enormous spotlights and mass expectation. Yes, ultimately it is silly, but I'll be damned if it's not more worth the while (if an approximately three-minute runtime can be considered a "while") than "Thor" itself, or even the mostly enjoyable "Captain America: The First Avenger".

Holy Blood (Santa sangre) - Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989
That it feels like a carnival freak show is probably the best compliment I can pay this capably accomplished yet fatiguingly inconsistent work of surrealism (an artistic movement that so rarely sees successful translation to motion picture, am I wrong?).

Paranormal Activity 2 - Tod Williams, 2010
Better than the dully grating original if only because every other scene isn't that girl saying, "We should get out of here!" over and over. I can respect these movies' minimalism, the chimeric authenticity of which generates the feel of inglorious home video... I even found fair entertainment value in this sequel once its third act settled in... but I think my interest in programs like "Ghost Hunters" and "Paranormal State" has disintegrated my potential to truly enjoy them (note: read thoughts on "Paranormal Activity 3" above to see where I was wrong to think as much).

Bloodlust Zombies - Dan Lantz, 2011
It's exactly what you'd expect - a probably-fun-to-make technical disaster only one step above being softcore pornography, using a porn star's name on the box cover despite that star only being involved for maybe 10 minutes of total screen time (at least half of which is spent in a goofy sex scene). I think what I'm trying to say here is... great movie, you should watch it!

A Serious Man - Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, 2009
When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies, don't you want a Coen Brothers movie to love? In my case, I won't be finding as much in "A Serious Man". Positively, a sharp wit courses through the work, running from a perfectly hypocritical quoting of the lyric mentioned (from one of my favorite albums, the oft-utilized "Surrealistic Pillow" by Jefferson Airplane) and instruction in Yiddish class coming across along the lines of the "Peanuts" teacher's plunged trombone drone to the more subtle consultation signatures the Coens seem to love so much - those that typically take place across an important-looking desk that harbors an unimportant-sounding professional who traditionally exposes the greater insignificance of the proceedings (while maybe mentioning Tuckman & Marsh in the process). I suppose overall I don't have many clear negative points to make about "A Serious Man" (I mean, really, who can finite fault a film rooted in Jewish culture that earnestly cracks a nose-job joke?) but for as optimistic as I tried to be about the odd project, the whole thing fell as boring and flat as a latke. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #026.

Footloose - Craig Brewer, 2011
All you really need to know about this new "Footloose" comes from hearing Kenny Loggins' opening anthem shouted over by an obnoxious DJ, as if the '80s hit isn't enough to get the job done on its own. The energetic 1984 film and its ilk, with their shares of iconic sequences, are distinct entities of their time, and simply cannot be remade in different eras. The goals of "Footloose" in the contemporary world are sufficiently accomplished in their demographics by the likes of "Save the Last Dance" and "Step Up". Worse, apart from neoteric dance moves and signature Brewer soundtrack touches that only come across as lame when you know how they first sounded, not much has been done to update this scene-for-scene rendition outside some incoherent one-upsmanship. Think playing chicken with tractors is kiddie fare? Try "Road Warrior"-style bus racing complete with Stahlhelm-sporting opposition! So this is how most people feel when watching Gus Van Sant's "Psycho" (to provide reference, I find Van Sant's work to be, at least, an interesting experiment). At risk of sounding as fogy as John Lithgow's pastor (recreated here as comically as can be expected by Dennis Quaid), the relevance of dance as a free form of personal expression is negated by the styles of dance on display. Protagonist Ren uses the Bible to defend his case against anti-dance legislature, but I'd like him to show me where in the Bible it says, "Thou shalt grind thy anal sphincter against thy strange neighbor's phallus." All this unwarranted retread really accomplishes is a further justification of solving problems with violence (an issue seen in the original, as well) and the frustration of now having to specify versions when referring to "Footloose" (not that such a reference occurs all too often). Why is Andie MacDowell in this?

Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant - Leythum, 2011
Here, after last week's less than rewarding viewings of fan films "Portal: No Escape" and "Dark Resurrection Vol. 0", I was thinking a "Marvel One-Shot" would validate itself as a proper short film expressing certain creativities generally limited within a fanboy-littered world. Now I quote John Pinette when I say, "Nay nay." Comprising nearly half your film of footage from a preexisting feature (in this case, 2008's "The Incredible Hulk") negates this from being considered as a wholly original work, and the remainder plays as a throwaway special feature (which it in fact is... so good on Marvel, I suppose, for not overstating it... too much).

Total: 11

Rewatches (6): Forward March, Time! (Tarasov, 1977); Deep Red (Argento, 1975); Plus Electrification (Aksenchuk, 1972); Dreamcatcher (Kasdan, 2003); Shareholders (Davydov, 1963); Jumanji (Johnston, 1995)
- With each viewing the powerfully and delightfully abstract assault of sound and image that is "Forward March, Time!" becomes easier to comprehend, to the point that I now doubt my initial interpretation does little more than scratch at certain details surrounding the bigger picture.
- As if I hadn't noted it on my previous two viewings, "Deep Red" is gorgeous! What a load of good-looking fun.
- I don't think I realized how long it had actually been since I'd last seen "Dreamcatcher". I remember seeing it in theaters, totally mind-blown by the real reason behind the quarantine. I immediately stopped at a bookstore to devour Stephen King's source novel, I was so enthusiastic about what I'd seen - the unique conceptual approach to a subject I, at that point, was so in to I was practically writing notes for a could-be textbook from all my tireless research. Now, I'm wondering if this isn't my karmic consequence for disliking "Pet Sematary" so much after years of my girlfriend insisting it traumatized her when she saw it in theaters in 1989. "Dreamcatcher" isn't horrible - with some nostalgia value built in for me, the great cast that brings together Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant and Jason Lee among others and just an overall sense of Kingy fun, it's easily watchable... but man, just for starters (which is as far as I'll go here), is the acting atrocious, or what? It's as though director Lawrence Kasdan was continually reminding everyone, "Now, now, gentlemen, that's fine and all, but this is a Stephen King movie... per the outcome of his adaptations on average, we have a lack of quality standard to hold up!"


Horrorthon '11: The Walking Dead, Ep. 201 - What Lies Ahead (Gwyneth Horder-Payton, 2011)

Another year gone "bye" and "The Walking Dead" is now a household title, with little need for prefacing the way I prefaced it in the 2010 Horrorthon's pilot review. As evident in that review, I had been sure from what I had yet seen that AMC's adaptation of Robert Kirkman's epic of survival in an undead post-apocalypse was right on the money. My chronicled optimism remained stubborn throughout the six-episode season's highs and lows, but again... we're another year on, and with distance from the hype I, myself, was a part of thanks to my devotion to the source material I am more ready to recognize seemingly grave misdirection and warily bland unoriginality.

That patient pilot episode didn't take us much of anywhere outside a general scene-setting, but it was never supposed to. Shouldn't we be somewhere by now, though, in the series' seventh episode - the first of its second season? Oh, we've ping-ponged between an overpopulated campsite's would-be safety and the treachery of Atlanta's infested alleyways, and we've huddled inside an unnecessarily informative CDC facility (all little of which has anything to do with our original tale). Yes, we've been places... but we haven't felt a tone that makes this much more than a group of actors wandering over highways and through forests, spouting clichés the whole way. Contrast this meandering against the black & white comic book's bleak and brutal atmosphere in which no one - and I mean absolutely no one - is ever safe from panel to panel, and before the issues went in to double digits we had already seen a prime example of what civilized life in absence of society can become.

Though assisted by the leeway of its relatively sprawling (approximately 65-minute) runtime, "What Lies Ahead" makes fast with episodic fare in favor of cheap suspense rather than more important thematic content. The disinteresting search for a lost little Sophia had me walking away at each commercial break, unconcerned with ensuring timely returns so I might catch every last instant of programming. Meanwhile we're suffer through more typical jargon integration, this time introducing the term "herd". In Kirkman's books, "herd" is coined by our survivors to reference a large group of "walkers", usually ones lured by loud noises (noises television audiences are redundantly reminded to avoid). The very mention of a "herd" evokes deep fear in any loyally impassioned reader. Here, Laurie Holden's Andrea originates the term, immediately following it up with "...or whatever you call it," to which Jon Bernthal's Shane replies, "That sounds about right." Remember in "X-Men" when Hugh Jackman references the semi-ridiculous matching outfits and James Marsden comes back, "What would you prefer, yellow spandex?"

It's strange knowing the drastic narrative departure of a show has an inherently limited lifespan while, at least according to Kirkman's oft-repeated testament, the comic - commenced in 2003 and currently at 89 issues - is indefinite. Given enough time in that near-monthly publication, everyone dies. Lay of the dead land permitting, we readers are looking at the eventual death of Rick Grimes himself with his protagonist slot likely succeeded by Carl (who has been taking a beating lately, in both of his incarnations). With 5 or 6 seasons of television (that's about how long these things tend to last, right?), it's easy to imagine one day looking back and merely thinking, "Remember that little show that tried to adapt 1/100th of 'The Walking Dead', but missed the mark entirely?" Of course, this is a post-"LOST" world, and I'm sure the capable show creators have something in mind (and post-Darabont, maybe it's a whole new something), but the conceptual and stylistic derivation of other popular television is detrimental. Altogether it reminds me why I'm not so hot on American primetime in general - it's 100% soap-operatic story over execution, and I could glean the same experience from simply reading a plot recap the next day. What is admittedly already quite melodramatic on the page - wherein we're at least permitted to incorporate our own respective voices to form individual interpretations - is not translating well to the here more reductively pinning multimedia.

Now, obviously, I'm going in to this sort of thing at a disadvantage. The purpose is apparently to provide a completely new version of a now-familiar story to comic readers and fresh crowds alike, yet like an avid player of Capcom's "Resident Evil" games who can't get over the fact that Leon is nowhere to be found in movie adaptations 1-4, I'm appalled at the lack of inspiration drawn directly from the source. What's more maddening is that the writers are seeming to purposefully toy with that vaguely aforementioned example of decivilized humanity. This occurred at least twice in season one, and "What Lies Ahead" tugs us along that much more, to the point that we're beyond positive this watered-down version of our beloved comic is finally going to sink its teeth in to the dark territory it needs to tear off in order to truly become "The Walking Dead", only to find it chooses an opposite path.

It's difficult to predict a lack of improvement should things eventually head where they need to head (perhaps once we enter the A.D. age, as in "After Darabont"). At the moment, however, an awful, decidedly soulless job is being done with this dull, flat and drawn-out developmental phase. It's possible it could all turn around in a single episode, but for now this comic fan - comparison to the beloved source or no - is left wondering, "What's the point?"


My Week in Movies: October 15, '11

Michael Mann, 2001
This candid biographical profile of character, freedom and the power to influence stylistically invokes its entitative subject's popular mantra, "Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee." With some of Mann's most beautiful and poignant combinations of gorgeous digital cinematography in urban America (here contrasted with a third act in Zaire) and evocative contemporary music, the free-flowing yet hard-hitting "Ali" embodies without bottling what makes the insurmountable champ the icon he is and what he represents for the people in worlds of prizefighting, civil rights, and hope in general. As opposed to simply being traditionally inspirational, the film investigates what it is to inspire. Had I seen this within three or four years of its release, when I was that much more in to guzzling its brand of punch, it'd surely have joined my most beloveds alongside the comparable likes of the anti-subtle Oliver Stone's triumphant biopics "Alexander" and "The Doors", each of which I've enjoyed countless times and the former of which remains particularly precious (no discredit to Jim Morrison, of course). And who more appropriate than Mario Van Peebles to portray Brother X? Screenshots after the jump.

Chung hing sam lam (Chungking Express)
Wong Kar-wai, 1994
And here I thought I didn't know what to write about "Melancholia". Not that it and "Chungking Express" are similar at all, just that this time I'm actually not conjuring much to articulate in reaction to the effortlessly lovely, romantically poetic work of mood - the first Wong I can attest to having a wholly positive experience with. And that is what it is - a work of mood, felt more than thought about... that touches on the little, covetable moments in life shared between interchanging couples. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #025 (coming soon). Screenshots after the jump.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
Werner Herzog, 2010
Herzog's uniquely atmospheric and cuttingly comical illustration of psychosis set in a tropically pastel San Diego suburb triumphs over his similar yet dull "Bad Lieutenant" oddity, conjuring a character I believe we can all, in deceptively strange ways, sympathize with, relate to and even admire... outside, y'know, the matricide. With more than five under his belt and counting, Michael Shannon has the corner market on screen crazies, and I, for one, am relieved to see someone in the spotlight unwary of being so clearly typecast. Shannon brings a validity and sense to even the least valid or sensible characters; recognizing his involvement in a project is to be sold on that project. All hail Quaker Oats.

Trolljegeren (TrollHunter)
André Øvredal, 2010
Though failing in its central cloy at realism, "TrollHunter" is easily one of the better examples of a "found footage" film I've seen. It takes even its more preposterous bits seriously enough that rumors of it being parody appear false. If it is parody, it is so subtle it makes a case for all of its ilk to be considered as much of themselves. It may not generate wonder in the fashion of "The Fourth Kind" but with a focus on restrained tension-building and original creatures coupled with the innate pleasure of road-tripping o'er new terrain - in this case Norway's deep forests and snowy mountains - it proves that "found footage" doesn't necessarily require that illusion to be worthwhile. Slap some "troll stink" on the believers and go to town. Read the full review as part of Horrorthon '11: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II.

Further first-time viewings:

Maelström - Denis Villeneuve, 2000
Fascinatingly icky and delicate, the juxtapositions and correlations of "Maleström" - some quick and cheap, some slow and intricate, all effective in the end - are the stuff "WTF" is made of. "Une très jolie histoire" indeed.

All Good Things - Andrew Jarecki, 2010
Barring an impending rewatch of "The Tree of Life", "Drive" and "Melancholia" currently lead my best-movies-of-the-year list (the top ten of which also includes "The Ides of March", for the moment) so it was about time I got to the highly recommended "All Good Things", starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. It's... equal parts Goslingy and Dunsty, I suppose, while looking decent for much of the runtime. A little patience-trying, it does feel worth having watched, for its between-the-lines plot point execution in particular.

Fā yeuhng nìhn wàh (In the Mood for Love) - Wong Kar-wai, 2000
The camerawork, specifically the precise focus placement and pulling, is often strikingly beautiful but yet again Wong has left me ice cold. Listen to further thoughts on Reel Time #025 (coming soon).

Kill the Irishman - Jonathan Hensleigh, 2011
It's kind of funny that the director of "The Punisher" is working with the star of "Punisher: War Zone", right? I mean, right? Is it at least funny that Ray Stevenson is looking awful Noah Emmerichy? Well, anyway, this ought to appeal to the "Boondock Saints" crowd, for what that's worth.

Portal: No Escape - Dan Trachtenberg, 2011
This shouldn't even count, really. Neither should the next one down. I don't know... I've made some (far less technically adept) fan films, myself, and I still don't even really consider them "films". They're just for fun. Then, while presenting a neat concept toying with physics from a video game I haven't played, "No Escape" misses out on all the "fun". To my understanding, the game features 100% more snide humor as opposed to the here-utilized dead serious, Nolan-esque melodrama flowing heavy in cinematic currents ("Mortal Kombat: Rebirth", anyone?).

Dark Resurrection Vol. 0 - Angelo Licata, 2011
Yes, its special effects (and its everything, I suppose) are technically superior to those of most (if not all) "fan films", even those few that give it a real college try, but there is absolute toss all to justify the time and money spent. It's like giant deleted "Star Wars" prequel scene gone horribly awry, that is if you can imagine such a thing gone even more horribly awry.

Total: 10

Rewatches (4): The Lion King (Allers & Minkoff, 1994), Resident Evil: Afterlife (W.S. Anderson, 2010), Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011) The Polar Bear King (Solum, 1991)
- Seeing "The Lion King" for the first time in so many years was an unexpectedly emotional experience during the more powerful and dialogue-free moments. The nostalgia mixed with the unadulterated Shakespearean melodrama and phenomenal soundtrack make for many a tissue-reach. It surprised me to realize how breakneck the pacing is, too. It's hardly noticeable as it's generally light as a feather, but just think about the character progression - each scene is so dense it gets its job done and then some for its wide "all audiences" demographic, yet it doesn't suffer for this like other Disney ventures such as the meat of the recent "The Princess & the Frog" do. For example, influential stooges Timon and Pumbaa only get a couple scenes before they're thrust in to battle and the credits roll, while the whole time we hardly keep tabs on the primadonna Scar, who only really reappears after his dastardly ascension once climactically confronted. Watching this with my not-quite-2-year-old daughter made it an extra special treat, as during some of the more spectacular moments she'd declare, wide-eyed, "Woah!!"
- In which I write about "Resident Evil: Afterlife" for the umpteenth time: For a while there I had sworn to never watch "Afterlife" in 2D. I broke that vow after finding a 2D-only Blu-Ray copy on sale for $9.99 on top of rationalizing that I'll probably not be capable of in-home 3D until... well, who the heck knows when. It was... an unusual experience. Almost like watching a panned and scanned version of an originally widescreen feature. The landscapes and artillery highlights suffer the most, losing their definitively W.S.-styled punch. My relatively less enthusiastic reaction to this 2D version only further proves to me that I wasn't crazy all the times I rambled on and on about how W.S.'s  astounding execution of on-set 3D technology is integral to the "Afterlife" experience. In fact, my reaction this time was much more along the lines of what I had been expecting to feel when I sat down in the early afternoon of last year's September the 10th - it's innocent fun with coolly dressed talented babes running and gunning in admirably captured slow motion, well worthy of being in the same franchise as its predecessors, in this case mainly "Apocalypse". The 2D forces one to focus that much needlessly more on the practically bare bones plotting and the, well, two-dimensionality of it all. Though not as robustly, most action set pieces to continue to stand out - primarily the centerpiece escape sequence involving the explosive rooftop skirmish and the soaking Axeman attack - and do showcase expert utilization of both CG and practical effects, respectively, the former only when necessary when it comes to enhancing the intended third dimension. Due to my previously galvanized and re-galvanized adoration of the film as a technical feat unrivaled by contemporary - or even classic - aesthetic-charged actioners, "Afterlife" in 2D still easily provides a comfy pitstop for yours truly, a die-hard fan of the "Resident Evil" movies and Milla Jovovich, but it's neutered. Incidentally, the Blu-Ray's audio peaks frequently during louder sequences. What's up with that, Sony?
- The questionably extended cut of the much-derided, boldly colorful "Green Lantern" opens with a new sequence set in 1993 when Hal Jordan is but a boy (previously glimpsed solely through sufficiently informative yet still distracting flashbacks). This introduction of characters who will only be reintroduced later clutters with a hackneyed paternal theme that goes nowhere, produced with methods so comically cookie-cutter it's difficult to predict many people not loving it. Then, I actually quite enjoy the rest of the thematically intriguing, rhythmically edited, iconically scored effects display (which, to further prove to myself the validity of my "Resident Evil: Afterlife" 3D vs. 2D observations, loses little when "flattened", and that's keeping in mind that it's the sole post-conversion I've had a positive reaction to), so what do I know. The strongest aspect is still the bond established between Ryan Reynolds' Hal and his dying predecessor, Temuera Morrison's Abin Sur - the entire film hangs on the unspoken words in their eyes, and the actors nail it. And you really prefer "X-Men: First Class", consensus? Man, you sure are silly, consensus.
- "The Polar Bear King" (AKA Kvitebjørn Kong Valemon; AKA Der eisbär konig) is almost like Parajanov's "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" (AKA "The Horses of Fire")... only set in Norway and made for children.

- Wow! WTYWtD has been featured on /film's 300th Edition of Page 2! The list "The 5 Worst Movie Theater Disruptions" is highlighted four items down on the first page, just below the "Star Wars" characters alphabet and above the "Dr. Who" police box made from balloons. This is my version of Nicolas Cage's final moral from "The Weather Man", isn't it? "That's where I live. Behind Fabian Gonzalez' 'Star Wars' alphabet; okay. But in front of the 'Dr. Who' police box made from balloons. Hello, America."
- In other news, I've been following the newly commenced production of "Resident Evil: Retribution" through Milla Jovovich's Twitter account (as I did last year for "The Three Musketeers"), and although I haven't received any responses on the matter from Milla herself, one of her BFFs tweeted back at me regarding an unrelated topic. That kinda counts, right?


Horrorthon '11: Trolljegeren (André Øvredal, 2010)

The "found footage" fad continues to expand. With titles like "The Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield" making major waves, for better or for worse we've seen the likes of "Quarantine", "Paranormal Activity" and "The Last Exorcism" pop up with similar premises involving small, camcorder-carrying and/or security camera-surveilled groups documenting supernatural horrors before never being heard from again due to one climactic tragedy or another. The style typically comes with a greater illusion of authenticity than the traditional third-person composition, creating in more convincing examples a unique fear for audiences, some of whom are certainly tantalized with the wonder of what's real and what's not.

A personal favorite of mine is the Alaska-set 2009 reenactment/"found footage" combination, "The Fourth Kind", starring none other than my darling Milla Jovovich. Jovovich introduces the film as herself (as director Olatunde Osunsanmi himself does epilogically), stating up front that she is dramatically recreating, "Rescue 911"-style, the true events "actually" recorded by her character or the authorities - recordings often shown side-by-side with the "recreations" in distressing comparison. This example's more overt fashion of blurring fiction and reality - which also included false websites registered by Universal Studios to back up character legitimacy through archived newspaper articles, etcetera - went so far it incited a lawsuit from the Alaska Press Club that was eventually settled out of court for $20,000.

Of course the "Fourth Kind" seduction is aided by its subject matter - very believable and credible-sounding cases of alien abduction. André Øvredal's "TrollHunter", charting the reveal of legendary troll existence in Norway - a monstrous subject rarely traversed - through a team of collegiate journalists and a disgruntled employee of the TSS ("Troll Security Service"), is more difficult a pill to swallow to the point that I can hardly imagine anyone taking it as factual for so much as an instant. The title card introduction setting up the finding, editing and professional evaluation of the would-be earth-shattering footage is hokey and transparent, the story progression is clearly scripted, the computer effects characteristically stand out from their practical backings... yet, really, none of this hinders the picture's core entertainment value.

Another rampant fad is the demystification of established lore. As with anything, this can go both ways, and it's all subjective. We've seen contemporary sense made through garlic/crucifix-scoffing vampires and moon-immune werewolves in countless modern horrors/actioners such as the "Blade" and "Underworld" series. These imagined disclosures, to me, are interesting and involving. Contrarily, we've seen superheroes taken down similar roads, keeping it too real to the point of glorified mundanity in Christopher Nolan's influential "Batman" installments.

The demystifications in "TrollHunter" qualitatively fall somewhere in the middle of these, sending up secret anti-environmental government bureaucracies to humorous and poignant effect while dubiously selecting what is and isn't true about Norwegian troll myths. For example, yet again Christianity is highlighted, though in rather an odd, possibly contradictory manner. The trolls here - with hulking presences evocative of "Shadow of the Colossus" - can detect the odor of Christian bodily fluid, rendering atheism a stealth armor of sorts. The altering of blood, sweat, etcetera, caused by Christianity seems to acknowledge the existence of a higher power while simultaneously pointing out the weakness of belief in that alleged existence.

Further "facts" derived from troll legend include genetic and biological details that go as far as to scientifically explain why the beasts only emerge at night and why some explode and others turn to stone when exposed to sunlight. It's all intriguing enough for an hour and a half - and it's all there, troll piss, troll farts, troll... well, unfortunately we don't get dangling troll genitalia - but it never clears the leap from the realm of fantasy. Still, again, this never hurts the fun one stands to find within, particularly as the various details determine the interesting practical tactics the titular hunter employs to regrettably detect, track and dispatch his mystical and endangered prey.

Ultimately, though failing in its central cloy at realism, "TrollHunter" is easily one of the better examples of a "found footage" film I've seen. It takes even its more preposterous bits seriously enough that rumors of it being parody appear false. If it is parody, it is so subtle it makes a case for all of its ilk to be considered as much of themselves. It may not generate wonder in the fashion of "The Fourth Kind" but with a focus on restrained tension-building and original creatures coupled with the innate pleasure of road-tripping o'er new terrain - in this case Norway's deep forests and snowy mountains - it proves that "found footage" doesn't necessarily require that illusion to be worthwhile. Slap some "troll stink" on the believers and go to town.


My Week in Movies: October 8, '11

Lars von Trier, 2011
I hardly know what to say yet on the matter of Lars von Trier's entrancingly lovely latest. I haven't been able to shake its feeling from within me (as if I'm trying to). For the sake of review I can resort to nitpick and mention that the first few nods to the approaching apocalypse are agitatedly patched on, but this is mere fallback to clearer observation. Thinking generally, "Melancholia" is also surprisingly comedic and features a unique use of jump cuts contrasted with a literally jaw-gaping, occasionally "2001"-esque slow motion sequence that pleases me generously. But how to describe my true reaction to the picture? It leaves me aching for another viewing - the way we ache and obsess over potential end times and, as von Trier forces his characters to do more immediately, ponder what we'd do with the brief remainder of our lives were our world's end imminent. Do these final moments of dust-scraped existence as we know it on our globe epitomize our character? Do they excuse anarchy? Each member of the crucially intimate on-screen party is on a different level of plausible psychosis, regardless of ever-nearing disaster - disaster that, to an extent, can be interpreted as in the mind of the most self-destructively depressive psychotic. If that one wrote an allegory about the planet's undoing to wrestle with her despondency, this is likely the most brilliant piece she could come up with. I guess I can't make fun of Kirsten Dunst anymore. And hey, Charlotte Gainsbourg got to keep her lady bits this time. Listen to further thoughts on episode 24 of Reel Time.

Milyang (Secret Sunshine)
Lee Chang-dong, 2007
Perhaps the greatest element of the cinema is its ability to allow us to vividly experience alternate lives we're otherwise prone to never so much as recognize. When such an allowance is achieved with depth, detail and breathing room it makes for some of the most rewarding individual films. "Secret Sunshine" boxes in none of its subjects, honestly profiling the prohibitively tight-knit community of its title through the eyes of a dreadfully luckless newcomer. Director Lee isn't necessarily looking for the most striking compositions, but rather a perpetually mobile image of this slice of humanity. His reverence for each characters' story is infectious, his dedication to their brutal realism emotionally wrecking.

The Ides of March
George Clooney, 2011
Where "Good Night, and Good Luck." spoke through a resonating Edward R. Murrow on relevant matters of information media, "The Ides of March" looks to expose with drama the inner workings and unreported scandal of political campaigns just in time to enter our minds for the upcoming 2012 United States presidential race. From luxurious hotel rooms with spreads of complimentary refreshments all paid with campaign donations accessible platform concepts are reworked along with more than a helping of backstabbing that never gets old. This is Clooney doing Lumet, and while familiar it works like a charm. Indubitably, on the merits of Clooney’s assured hand and Gosling’s veritable talent (which here reminds me of a young Al Pacino), “Ides” is one of the year’s best. Read the full review and listen to further thoughts on episode 24 of Reel Time.

Lars von Trier, 1991
At once the aesthetically astonishing "Europa" feels as though a remastered release of a technically and conceptually progressive film from its year of setting - 1945. As otherworldly as its lunar title implies, von Trier's Germany is seen from a train thrust deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole of choose-your-own-adventure arthouse that structurally recalls David Lynch's early masterwork, "Eraserhead". Rear projection and set windows outside which all is obscured by blackness bolster the nebulous aura. Our fittingly sleeper car conducting American protagonist is living a lucid dream, endeavoring to maintain its pleasance, attempting to stalwartly evade a stubborn nightmare of WWII in the time of the Nazi Werwolf. Sadly all this becomes lost once the nightmare takes over, as though we've made a poor selection in our adventure book, with only Max von Sydow's hypnotically commanding narration to intermittently reconcile our involvement. At an hour, the ravish of "Europa" could be one of von Trier's better efforts. At two, it renders itself but a worthwhile experiment. Screenshots after the jump.

Tales of Terror
Roger Corman, 1962
In the realm of immediate physical reactions to film, "Morella" runs the gamut - you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cower with heebie-jeebies. The "Cask of the Armontillado" portions of the anthology's second chapter amuse greatly, while its odd amalgam with "The Black Cat" leaves me wishing I'd simply watched a different version of "The Black Cat". Finally, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" intrigues the mind and chills the bone. These three breezily accessible and simply effective "Tales of Terror" are a "Pricey" treat for any fan of classic horror and Edgar Allan Poe (is that redundant?).

Poltergeist II: The Other Side
Brian Gibson, 1986
So that's why Chief really fled the institution. "Poltergeist II" proves to be sheer entertainment from beginning to end with no time to rest between set pieces and satisfyingly practical effects. Not by any means should it go down as any great example of the cinematic medium, but it represents why many of us so enjoy silly horror flicks when they're done with spirit, and it's certainly returned me to the temporary habit of thinking twice before opening my closet, or glancing over my reflection's shoulder at the bathroom sink. Read the full review as part of Horrorthon '11: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II.

Further first-time viewings:

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop - Rodman Flender, 2011
Don't get me wrong, I'm a long time Conan fan, and for better or for worse I wouldn't go as far as to call the irresolute patchwork of "Can't Stop" anything but a must-see for other fans, but the at least watchable post-debacle documentary offers detrimental little of enlightenment outside performances from the wan, ultimately mediocre "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television" tour and progressively revealing hints that behind all the sarcastic self-deprecation, Conan is actually rather egotistical and selfish. The real story here is about the non-celebrity culture people surrounding an openly annoyed Coco, primarily personal assistant Sona Movsesian.

Pet Sematary - Mary Lambert, 1989
What brings the film down more than anything is Stephen King's screenplay adaptation of his own novel. King struggles to kill his darlings, those being remnants of the literature that clearly weren't translating well to a 100-minute film. Just like the characters of the story who are selfishly kept alive beyond their time, throwaway implications of greater detail and deeper consequence and convoluting plot threads such as Ellie's subconscious premonitions hang around where they shouldn't, only making matters worse than they already are. Read the full review as part of Horrorthon '11: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II.

The Big Bang - Tony Krantz, 2011
Yet another direct-to-DVD dose of palpable cheapness (in this case, cheapness trying to be quelled by colorful, early '90s-esque lighting) in which a bevy of recognizable faces are merely cashing paychecks. At least we get to see Claire Forlani gyrating in her skivvies.

Scream 4 - Wes Craven, 2011
Some movies are so bad they make me want to vent about their awfulness for days, weeks, months on end. The "Scream" franchise, which carves its reputation solely on the names of past horror icons those involved claim to adore and honor but can't help picking apart, is the kind of bad so exhaustingly stupid I hardly want to continue thinking about it at all. In all its tiresome exposition of exposition, "Scream 4" is saying nothing we couldn't learn by simply looking down a list of mainstream 21st Century horror. Are we meant to point and smile and declare, "Yes, this movie must read the same blogs I do!" upon bitterly uninspired narration on the condition of contemporary scare cinema amidst further blurring of the on-screen world's maddeningly fake "reality"? Read the full review as part of Horrorthon '11: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen Part II.

Total: 10

Rewatches (6): Boogie Nights (P.T. Anderson, 1997), Poltergeist III (Sherman, 1988), The Long Goodbye (Altman, 1973), Hall Pass (Farrelly & Farrelly, 2011), The Haunted World of El Superbeasto x2 (Zombie, 2009)
- Still one of the best of the best, the greatness of "Boogie Nights" only seems to grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow... cue the montage-capping disco routine, please.
- Don't mind me... just checking... and... yep, I wasn't crazy in my youth; "Poltergeist III" is actually quite good (or maybe I've just never stopped being crazy... but seriously, I think people are unfair to this third outing just for the fact that its tone deviates from the more overt special effects onslaughts that are its predecessors). The unique, intricately mirrored skyrise setting is a spooky pleasure to wander through for 90+ minutes, guided by human and otherworldly voices incessantly calling, "Carol Anne!" Craig T. Nelson is missed, but Tom Skerritt fills the paternal shoes nicely (not as the same character, of course), and Lara Flynn Boyle... man, her late teens were good to her... she is Hotcakes von Hottenstein without a doubt. It's nice to see the credited call-out for Julian Beck and the dedication to Heather O'Rourke, whose untimely death spurred a reworking of the film's ending, which depicted her as temporarily lifeless (this original ending can be read about and viewed in as much detail as possible via set photos at www.PoltergeistIII.com). Regarding the resulting ambiguous ending for the Scott character, my guess is that the actor simply couldn't make it to the reshoot. We are left to wonder whether the Scott that was ejected from the frozen pool and deposited in his own apartment following a questioning is in fact the real Scott as he seemed to be, or if the evil, cheek-tearing "reflection" is all that made it out.
- Sure, "Hall Pass" goes out of its way to be accessible to wide masses and contains product placement to a point of humor ("5 Dollar Foot-Long!")... it even gets a little too uncharacteristically outlandish at times... but these things never hurt its quest to tap in to the modern monogamous male psyche and provide an anti-"Hangover". I love it. And Jason Sudeikis is a puppy dog.
- Because I'm a man of superior taste, I will take [yet another] order of your tasty "Haunted World of El Superbeasto"!


REVIEW: The Ides of March (George Clooney, 2011)

Where "Good Night, and Good Luck." spoke through a resonating Edward R. Murrow on relevant matters of information media, "The Ides of March" looks to expose with drama the inner workings and unreported scandal of political campaigns just in time to enter our minds for the upcoming 2012 United States presidential race. From luxurious hotel rooms with spreads of complimentary refreshments all paid with campaign donations accessible platform concepts are reworked along with more than a helping of backstabbing that never gets old. Our lead character, a straight-laced prodigy who lives work, all but literally disappearing in to campaigns, becomes a victim of circumstance prescribed a bitter dose of his own medicine and must weigh his options between the converse items you might see glamorized on a television spot - loyalty and betrayal. Our focal candidate is a cathartically candid pipe dream modeled after what one might imagine the idealized version of Obama to be - favoring gay rights, against the death penalty, etcetera. You know, the kind of impossible candidate that just seems to "make sense". The sort Tea Party members will flee auditoriums in disgusted revolt over. This is the perfect candidate to contrast with the depictedly grueling and ruthless business of winning office. This is Clooney doing Lumet, and while familiar it works like a charm. Indubitably, on the merits of Clooney’s assured hand and Gosling’s veritable talent, “Ides” is one of the year’s best.


Horrorthon '11: Scream 4 (Wes Craven, 2011)

Some movies are so bad they make me want to vent about their awfulness for days, weeks, months on end. The "Scream" franchise, which carves its reputation solely on the names of past horror icons those involved claim to adore and honor but can't help picking apart, is the kind of bad so exhaustingly stupid I hardly want to continue thinking about it at all. The infamous "rules" (practically non-existant ones that have been toyed with as far back as "Friday the 13th" and assuredly further) that may have single-handedly defined what was to come in the sequels irk me so - it obviously implies the characters, many of them faux-cinephiles, realize they're being watched in their own horror movie but with the contradictory sense that we are supposed to buy their experiences as "real", all the while insulting true genre masters by placing them in a tight nutshell. Each "Scream" movie is only one hypocritical step away from being parody without wanting to confess as much, "Scream 4" being the worst culprit.

It's all concept over execution, yet again. Not only are forebears from the '60s, '70s and '80s boiled down to plot points as opposed to what really makes them legendary, the film - as is series standard - gets its "meta" points across through blatantly overwrought heaves of dialogue. That sort of thing is fine if it's a Kevin Smith comedy and all there is to do is talk, but "Scream 4", like the others before it, is trying to be a slasher proper in its own right. The characters may as well be talking right in to camera, dramatically winking to ensure the audience is catching on to its hazy, would-be cleverness. No subtlety would be lost.

Appeal-wise, this unwelcome return to Woodsboro - filmed with a bland, true-to-the-'90s absence of visual style to its credit or detriment, depending on your outlook - puts itself in its pre-established fans' corner, even opening with brash attacks on haters such as myself. Yet, with its clear attempt (not that it was trying to be vague) to spark a new trilogy, it fails to give even those fans what they want. As a verbose depiction of the contemporary Hollywood horror climate, we're loaded down with "remake" characters intended to represent what the original "Scream" might play like in a new millennium rendition. Returning cast members go through the anticipated motions, not quite overshadowed but certainly sifting through a questionable mess that's difficult to care about in any form. Though it may have been panned as generic, for my money this flick would be better off providing pure, innocent fanservice with recognizable faces and zany twists. Anything in the realm of "trying" is just embarrassing, in this case.

Worst of all, in all its tiresome exposition of exposition, "Scream 4" is saying nothing we couldn't learn by simply looking down a list of mainstream 21st Century horror. Are we meant to point and smile and declare, "Yes, this movie must read the same blogs I do!" upon bitterly uninspired narration on the condition of contemporary scare cinema amidst further blurring of the on-screen world's maddeningly fake "reality"? If something spells out for you why it is so lame, does it really stop being lame just because you're nodding in agreement?

It may not be saying much to call "Insidious" one of the better horrors of recent years, but I can at least thank its wide release date for quashing the potential "Scream" seemed to have for another two self-righteous installments much the way the same director's "Paranormal Activity" quashed "Saw 8" (and even then, "Saw 7" apparently had the sense to recognize its death knell and go shamelessly all-out in the fanservice department).

There. I'm done with "Scream" - watching it, talking about it, writing about it - hopefully for good.

Horrorthon '11: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (Brian Gibson, 1986)

So that's why Chief really fled the institution.

One of the highest - and most obvious - compliments one can pay a horror film is to say it persisted as a catalyst of fright beyond its viewing. This is something I can now say about each "Poltergeist" film, as after finally bridging the gap between multiple outings with both the 1982 original from Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg and the much-derided '88 threequel I can confess to being vividly reminded of those afraid-of-the-dark jitters I was so familiar with as a child. Long hallways, mirrors, shower curtains, etcetera... let's keep 'em on an as-needed basis for a few days, 'kay? Thanks.

I suppose I have an odd relationship with the "Poltergeist" trilogy, since, contrary to popular opinion, I find the original to be void of substance beyond the scares. Oh, the scares are extraordinary and enduring, to be sure (can't sleep, clowns will eat me, for real), but where I often think it would be interesting to create a film based solely on horrific vignettes that occur within a haunted house involving little in the way of rhyme and reason, whenever I find something brushing on that territory I realize I desire more solid grounding and the '82 film is absolutely an example of this. What's more, despite its heinous lack of Craig T. Nelson I've always found a certain charm in "Poltergeist III" - the deep, mirrored and sepulchral skyrise setting, the chillingly seductive interactions between a Lovecraftian "other side" and the eerily adorable, immortally young Heather O'Rourke, that neon puddle a supple Lara Flynn Boyle complete with timely hair teases is unforgivingly tossed to - it works nicely for me as an unexpected and spooky diversion.

"Poltergeist II" proves to be sheer entertainment from beginning to end with no time to rest between set pieces and satisfyingly practical effects. Even in their refuge the returning cast is relentlessly bombarded by tricky, demonic presences through always-unsettling electrical fiddling, manipulation of physical objects (the toys are back), the trusty act of possession and, finally, gruesome manifestation. All the while they are tracked by a church song singing spectre - Henry Kane, portrayed by the skeletal Julian Beck who perished prior to the film's release.

There's not much more to say than that "Poltergeist II" is, quite simply, a load of fun through and through. Not by any means should it go down as any great example of the cinematic medium, but it represents why many of us so enjoy silly horror flicks when they're done with spirit, and it's certainly returned me to the temporary habit of thinking twice before opening my closet, or glancing over my reflection's shoulder at the bathroom sink.


Horrorthon '11: Pet Sematary (Mary Lambert, 1989)

"But he's not God's cat; he's my cat. Let God get his own cat if he wants one!" This dialogue, spoken by the now-blazing Blaze Berdahl as a worried little Ellie, is likely the most chilling moment of the already antique "Pet Sematary". The central family (last name Creed, all too fittingly) lives with Christian teachings as infallibilities, and the young child's excusable selfishness regarding the life of another begins a series of similar instances resulting in greater and greater transgressions against their God's plan - challenges of both devoutness and a basal ability to cope with loss.

"Sematary" hits all the notes you could want - or, at least, expect - from a run-of-the-mill late 20th Century horror. That is to say, it is just as ham-handed and blind to detail as any number of its contemporaries in the scream business. Along with an overly deliberate tone and knack for some of the more extreme exclamations of "Nooooooo!" you're apt to hear, our lead character - a decidedly uninteresting follower - might just be the worst doctor ever, seeing as when a recently deceased patient of his reanimates before his eyes alone without immediate explanation he just sits there watching, not so much as buzzing for a nurse. This is but one example of the hilariously MST3K-able scenes, another of which features a drawling Fred Gwynne matter-of-factly stating as condolence for a dead cat - named, what else, Church, - "At least it doesn't look like he suffered," when the feline victim had obviously dragged itself from the middle of the road to the lawn on which it painfully perished.

What brings the film down more than anything is Stephen King's screenplay adaptation of his own novel. King struggles to kill his darlings, those being remnants of the literature that clearly weren't translating well to a 100-minute film. Just like the characters of the story who are selfishly kept alive beyond their time, throwaway implications of greater detail and deeper consequence and convoluting plot threads such as Ellie's subconscious premonitions hang around where they shouldn't, only making matters worse than they already are. Incidentally, the script seems to have been altered plenty on the path to production. Much of King's dialogue, presumably cleaved from its source pages, has been further dumbed to the point of becoming near parody of cinematic genericness - the sort lead actor Dale Midkiff (from countless television movies, go figure) is seasoned at working his theatrics around.

One of the reasons horror tends to merely be the little genre that could (but often doesn't) may be because it so often attempts to render more obviously scary subject matter that isn't. The theme of keeping alive what is meant to be dead for one's own reasons - subsequently creating the excess of the upsetting of a divine plan and the perverting of the demeanor of your once-lost loved one - might carry with it material worthy of a great horror entry with the understanding that "horror" does not necessarily mean "scary". The way "Sematary" is constantly reminding us we're watching a horror film by reveling in irrelevantly eerie background music and resorting to blatantly predictable, would-be jump frights cheapens it. A wise and creative director can make any subject haunting, but one cannot simply go through the motions just because one is under the King banner, particularly considering that "King" only very rarely equals "good movie".

To be fair, the film does build fair first act tension with its giant tank trucks that carelessly zoom in close proximity to the family's home, keeping fleeting mortality close at mind, and features at least two genuinely creepy moments centered on an exaggeratively depicted spinal meningitis patient who moves in unexpected fashions... only to break the mood with goofy witch cackles. Furthermore, the idea of the cemetery itself being a dark, hidden nook with quietly mystical powers does alight upon occasionally effective horror territory, yet again this is soiled by goofy effects and ridiculous histrionics.

"Pet Sematary" is far from the worst thing you'll ever see, but when I say it's a laugh, I don't mean it as a compliment, per se. If anything, it'll give you a better appreciation of a certain "South Park" episode and have you trying on a blindly persuasive Fred Gwynne impersonation for hours. "Uh-yeah... it's your cat, now, Louis. Sometimes dead is better."