Thursday, December 8, 2011

In November, We Were Thankful for Movies

other forms of art,
sicknesses, and [FILL IN THE BLANK/excuses, excuses!] have conspired to slow down my output over the months of November—
That’s right, the 11th month is SO long that it becomes a plural here in the United Provinces of You-Know-Where!—

I still managed to catch some flicks—none in the theater, I’m almost sorry to say, but such is life…—
but via Nflickles (both DVD and streaming); the Public Library’s huge collection of DVDs; and the Intertubes, I’ve caught a nice batch of films.

And I know I’m late getting to this party,
but I’ve just started finding and
watching full-length, not-available-on-DVD movies at various on-line locations—but mainly YouTube for now—
& it’s been wonderful finally getting my paws on some of these flicks (like Ikarie XB-1)!

And Thanks Be To Cthulhu for trailers on-line
(& we loves us some of that Trailers From Hell),
because after seeing their trailers,
I have no need or desire to watch War-Gods of the Deep or Warlords of Atlantis
However, the trailer for Cry of the Banshee (1970) has me hooked—and then I found out that the movie’s title sequence was animated by Terry Gilliam!
I gotta see this movie!

NOVEMBER 2011 MOVIES(in no particular order)

Panic in the Streets (1950)
Excellent thriller, brilliant use of NOLA locations.
Very recommended neo-realistic neo-noir—and a predecessor of flicks like The Andromeda Strain, Outbreak and Contagion: the plot is about doctors and the police trying to stop a plague from breaking out in New Orleans.
Great performances—what you’d expect from director Elia Kazan—but especially from Richard Widmark (cast against type), Jack Palance (very to type as a soft-spoken but extremely menacing hood) and Zero Mostel (as Palance’s weak-willed sidekick).

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
I felt I owed it to myself as a gorehound to finally catch this flick, and while the scourging is pretty damn nasty, Mel Gibson’s magnum opus is too damn boring and overlong. It’s a Hallmark Card movie, with maximum preachiness.
The religious epics of the 1950s are much more entertaining and enlightening for me than Mel’s hubris. I did like the demons, though.
My fave Biblical Epic, however, still has to be Alex’s daydreams from A Clockwork Orange.

Super 8 (2011)
Fast-paced, but shallow and ultimately forgettable.
Also kinda stupid: how the FUCK does a pickup truck derail a serious set of railcars in such an explosive fashion?

I will say that Elie Fanning is going to grow up to be as beautiful and “classy” as Grace Kelly—
if her jealous sister Dakota doesn’t kill her first…

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
SYNOPSIS: Polite, decent, gentlemanly disenfranchised Caucasians from the Southern region are mistaken for psycho-killers by loathsome sociopathic spoiled college students who’ve been brainwashed by Hollywood’s determined misinterpretation and denigration of the life experience of citizens from below the Mason-Dixon Line.

This flick is High-larious! Genuinely, gut-busting, rewind-often funny—the Missus and me were on the couch, our sides in stitches from laughing.

Personally, I just loved this comedy’s subversion of the undying Hollywood myth of Southern Redneck Villainy—Straw Dogs remake, I’m lookin’ atchew, boy.

I truly would love to see a series of “Tucker & Dale” flicks, a la Hope & Crosby or Abbott & Costello or Martin & Lewis (yes, I would include these two newcomers in such august comedy company—this movie made me laugh a LOT!), where they get into all sorts of mishaps in a variety of genres—rednecks vs. James Bond? Versus Godzilla? I can only hope!

For a more in-depth review (that I agree with completely) go visit DVD Late Show.

Rabid (1976)
Because people tend to think of this as Cronenberg’s “Marilyn Chambers” movie—and therefore more of a sex/horror flick (of course this is reinforced by the very sensual way Chambers “kills”)—they forget that there’s a “zombie plague” in this flick as bad as the ones in 28 Days/Weeks Later and both versions of The Crazies!
I love how the killing of zombies and the subsequent clean-up becomes a bureaucratic process: murder as street-sweeping. But it’s done in a way to make you think the entire province (it’s Canada, remember?) is under martial law. Cronenberg does a lot with his small budget and gives this movie an “epic” feeling that others would have missed.

Unlike other “contagion” films, no one actually knows why or how the “plague” is spreading—
While there is a search going on for Marilyn Chambers’ character, it is not because she’s Patient Zero! There’s an anarchic feeling to the movie that is...infectious….

Now I can’t wait to see A Dangerous Method!

Long Live Dave C.!

Batman: Year One (2011)
Such an absolutely, completely, down-to-mimicking-the-panels-of-the-comic-itself faithful adaptation of the graphic novel/comic book that this animated film is a total snooze.
And BTW, fuck Frank Miller.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
It’s tough for a feature-length film to maintain the momentum and humor of the shorts that inspired it, but Rare Exports does a valiant effort—and further blows the lid off the Satanic myth of Santa! This film is really a “Boy’s Own Adventure” tale rather than a horror story—and as such, it’s a blast.
Perfect double feature with Trollhunter, its fellow Norwegian genre flick dealing with local legends in an unconventional manner.

ADAM-12 “A Sound Like Thunder” TV episode
This episode from the show’s second season of 1969 is one of the few times it strays from its non-judgmental beautiful cop android protectors of White Man’s America and their “just the facts, ma’am” antics—

Reed and Molloy are visiting a ghost town (?!) with their chicks, when a biker gang, the Satan’s Sinners MC shows up. Headed by veteran character actor Bruce Glover (and Crispin’s dad), the gang surround the cops and there’s a mediocre low-rent Straw Dogs/Rio Bravo thing going on—
This episode of Adam-12 is pretty typical of the standard media depiction of the motorcycle aficionado in the mainstream/corporate media—at least Adam-12 is honest enough to make the bikers human, as opposed to almost all other cop shows from the 1970s (and even till today—with the exception of Sons of Anarchy)—
which generally present motorcycle clubs as cabals of cyborg werewolves with super-powers, or things equally implausible.

But what makes this interesting is the moral war waged between Glover’s biker and the cops’ girls: they argue about why he’s doing what he does and how his talents are wasted, and he’s just jealous—and a snob.
Y’know, the beautiful heavy-handed pretzel-logic sermons we have come to love from Jack Webb.
BTW, I don’t think the episode’s title is a reference to a Ray Bradbury story…

Winnie the Pooh (2011)
As a kid I LOVED the Winnie the Pooh films, so watching this restart/retcon was a nostalgic and fun trip down memory lane—and the film itself is often full of Dumbo-style psychedelia; great stuff all around.
And the voice casting was spot-on!
Although I knew John Cleese was not involved in the original Pooh cartoons, he has the perfect sound.

Lion of the Desert (1981)
War movie buffs should check this out—
Epic about Italy’s invasion of Libya, made on location—this flick looks like it cost a LOT of money to make; great battles backed by good perfs by Anthony Quinn and an excellently underplayed Oliver Reed (as the Italian commander).
Rod Steiger’s cameo as Mussolini is a hoot, as well.
Director/producer Mustapha Akkad (RIP) went on to produce Halloween, BTW.

The Venture Bros. Season 4.5 (2010) TV-series
Awesome craziness—jeez, how long can they keep the quality this high?
And what IS a “rusty venture”?

Crossing the Line (2006)
Although it feels unfinished, this documentary about American defectors to North Korea needs to be watched with a cynic’s eyes, I feel.
Nothing these traitors say can be trusted and their words need to be scrutinized.

Gattaca (1997)
I can see why this is a cult fave, but lordy! I couldn’t stand this pretentious, constipated, smug-in-tone-and-manner movie—
And dig this: while I recognize the unfairness of this future world’s genetic profiling, there’s still the question of some jobs needing certain refined physical skills—like jet pilots and astronauts need to have perfect vision (can’t risk a contact lens popping out while in orbit) and excellent cardiovascular systems (no heart palpitations at Mach 4, please).
So lead character Ethan Hawke WANTS to be an astronaut, and so we should root for him—even though there is the possibility of unknown negative health effects and the resulting failure of a costly and important space mission?
A space mission so important, I may reminder viewers, that the head of the space program commits murder to protect it?
No, I’m not buying it. (And tough shit about any spoilers, if you haven’t seen Gattaca, you shouldn’t, so if I’ve ruined any potential viewing experience, good.)

The Night Stalker (1971) TV-movie
The original TV movie is showing its age, but for horror buffs with a nostalgic bent, is still a joy, especially Darren McGavin’s prickly character (who was “sweetened up” substantially later for the classic Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series)—and the shots of Vegas back in the day? Oy, it was great to see it. Written by genre grandmaster Richard Matheson.

Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow (1964) TV-movie
Awesome scarecrow mask!
A flick with nary a wasted moment and an almost breathless pace! This movie is tense, exciting old school action from the House of Mouse that is deliciously anti-authoritarian.
It is not the deepest of entertainments, but worth a look.
Loving Patrick McGoohan is a cinematic law here in Ivanlandia—
Of course, his landmark miniseries The Prisoner is justly praised—required viewing, actually.

Patrick McGoohan was a fantastic, if somewhat limited, actor—limited like Bronson or Eastwood, but perhaps a tad classier—and what a weird and eclectic career! A violently moral individual, McGoohan would reject roles on principle.

Vera Cruz (1954)
Great Robert Aldrich western with a fantastic cast,
and, what looks like to me,
a huge influence stylistically on Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.

Your Highness (2011)
Jeez, this flick was so unfunny, I had to turn it off after 20 minutes, even though I really wanted to see Natalie Portman(‘s double) in a medieval bikini! (see above)

Angel-A (2005)
Speaking of hotties, Rie Rasmussen is SCORCHING in Angel-A, and the sole reason to ever pop this waste of polycarbonate into your DVD player—
It’s a perfume ad about the most annoying pest of a man who somehow gets an actual ANGEL—and Lordy!, Rie is STONE FOX—to help him and he still screws up the deal.
Only Rie’s utterly breathtaking beauty redeemed the time wasted screening this movie.

Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone (2007)
What can I say? Every once in a while, I am overcome with the urge to watch some megacheese Japanimation.
This was fun to watch, but I couldn’t tell you if it is a good example of the schoolchildren-coerced-into-piloting-colossal-combat-megarobots genre.
Decent enough sci-fi adventure, though, that literally drops you into the middle of a crazy battle at the very beginning—
Lots of animated explosions, too! The teen angst is a drag, but there’s plenty here for stoner fanboys.

Pet Sematary (1989)
An overwrought B-movie ghost-story/tribute to William Castle that I wound up really liking—good gore, good scares—
Supernatural atmosphere established well—
Either inadvertent camp—or camp so subtle, played so well that it approaches genius.
Damn good horror flick!

The Botany of Desire (2009) PBS documentary
Michael Pollan’s companion piece to his very good non-fiction book from 2001 about humans’ relationships with four distinct plants: potatoes, cannabis, tulips and apples.
Good, informative, well-paced documentary with plenty of excellent extreme-close-up plant photography, especially the reefer, which looks like it comes from Venus or Jupiter when you look at it that close. Triffids!

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Whew! This montage of close-ups of faces is still probably one of the most intense movies ever made—
Finally watched because it is referenced/name-checked heavily in Steve Erickson’s excellent novel Zeroville; a book that feels like it was written expressly for me; a book so marvelous that after reading twice, I still haven’t been able to express how wonderful it is except by jumping up and down and shrieking, “Read it! Read Zeroville now!”
Zeroville is my new favorite book.
And it made me watch The Passion of Joan of Arc, a genuinely legendary piece of cinema.

[REC] (2007)
First I saw the US remake Quarantine (which I liked), then [REC]’s sequel [REC] 2, which I also liked a lot—and recommend highly—so I thought it was about time to catch up with the original:
It is the best of the bunch, and still very effective even though I essentially knew everything that was coming. (And I prefer [REC]’s exorcism/virus as opposed to Quarantine’s rabies-variant.)
Like I’ve said before, I’m a fan of the “handheld/found footage” subgenre, and [REC] is one of the best.

Alien Abduction: Incident at Lake County (1998) TV-movie
Speaking of the “handheld/found footage” subgenre, Alien Abduction is one of the first—and while it is not available via standard home viewing formats, you can watch it on-line

Alien Abduction: Incident at Lake County holds up still!
Set on Thanksgiving (and watched by me just before Turkey Day, BTW), this movie wisely doesn’t present a “normal” family—this family has problems: Dad’s dead, Mom’s drinking too much, one brother is an angry racist, the other is a stoner, the third is the neurotic cameraman, and so on, and this makes the family more “normal” than if they had been presented with no problems whatsoever.

I’d seen this before—and y’know—the version I watched recently on-line was different from what I’d seen way back when—
But I liked this “new” version—which I think is the genuine original that was then re-edited with new “interview” footage for the UPN-TV broadcast. (Or else I recently saw the “original” Alien Abduction: The McPherson Tape.)
(So it’s “new” to me. )

The tension is high, the performances are good, the flick is tight: moving at a fast pace, with many, many creeeeepy moments (which I don’t want to ruin).
Highly recommended.

Zulu (1964)
This classic war film about “The Thin Red Line” never tires me, and was watched in preparation for my upcoming screening of The Sands of the Kalahari, the follow-up film by Zulu’s director and producer/star Cy Enfield and Stanley Baker, respectively.
Screened the night before Thanksgiving from the rug in my mother-in-law’s living room.

Sorority Girl (1957)
Unavailable on any format, except for the glorious YouTube!

WOW! Roger Corman directs this supernihilistic post-adolescent melodrama (with a fantastic animated/expressionistic title sequence) that’s kind of heart-wrenching:
Sexy Susan Cabot’s Sabra is a total inadvertent-Iago character, being hurtful and planning long-term torment and destruction, but also hating herself for it!
The poor maniac tries to get help, but she really has no idea how to ask for it.

Sorority Girl would be a good companion piece to both The Todd Killings and the novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. This film might not be as “good” as those other creative examinations of “bad seeds,” but for something made very quickly on the cheap, Sorority Girl is certainly worth a look.

BTW, Susan Cabot looks swell in her tres chic black one-piece swimsuit.

Nightfall (1957)
This script felt like a first draft—the flick’s half-baked, not hard-boiled enough, and far too talky.
Young Anne Bancroft is delicious, and it was great seeing James Gregory (who I don’t think ever looked young) playing a “genuine good guy,” but this movie can’t be recommended.

Ikarie XB-1 (1963)
Unavailable forever, finally I caught this via YouTube. I first learned of this film in the mid-1970s via Philip Strick’s excellent history of science fiction films.

Like Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, Barbarella, Planet of the Vampires, Lost in Space and Disney’s The Black Hole—and unlike 2001, Alien or Silent Running—the sets and effects of Ikarie XB-1 are hardly realistic or extensively detailed (although I love their spacesuits!).

The effects are fun and quaint in that L.B. Abbott kind of way, but this movie isn’t about effects anyway:
It’s a heavy flick, with fear as a main theme, as well as the oppressive terror of the great unknown these intrepid cosmonauts are flinging themselves into.
The exquisite B&W cinematography keeps things properly somber—

Not so much a plot as a series of vignettes, the influence of Russian SF giant Stanislaw Lem can be felt—this film feels like one of those sci-fi books made up of chapters previously published as stand-alone stories in some pulp sci-fi mag.
Set in the far, far future, the film’s highlight is the exploration of a derelict spacecraft, a decadent gambling vessel, from the late 20th Century,
but the subplot about the crazed radiation-poisoned cosmonaut goes on for far too long—one plus is how the film deals with all the mundane stuff that a long-range spacecraft on an over-a-decade-long mission would have to undertake.
I think I would have appreciated this movie much more had I seen it when I was a kid and discovering other serious “deep space exploration” movies of the period, like Forbidden Planet or This Island Earth.

Many say that Kubrick screened Ikarie XB-1 in prep for 2001, but I see more of Ikarie’s influence on Tarkovsky’s Solaris, actually.

PERSONAL GRIPE: Who the HECK names their ship “Icarus”? (Ikarie is Czech for Icarus)
Icarus fell! He FAILED. (At least name your spaceship after Icarus’ successful father, Daedelus.)

A Cold Night’s Death (1973) TV-movie
Perhaps not perfect, this film is overflowing with tension as acting greats Robert Culp and Eli Wallach stress out at a remote Arctic research station. The pace is relentless, aided by Gil Melle’s excellent electronic music score (which is mixed with a variety of unnerving sound effects: howling wind, shrieking monkeys, and so on), with a “twist” ending that has now become legendary.

For some reason A Cold Night’s Death has never been given any sort of “home viewing” release, even though it’s one of those TV-movies that an entire generation of genre fans remembers fondly, if not atavistically (because the movie’s so tough to come by).
I think I actually caught the movie’s last broadcast in the NYC area in the late-1980s on ABC-TV’s incredible and sorely missed 2AM movie series….

But it’s out there if you know where to look!

Baron Prášil (1961)
Another flick unavailable in your standard North American home viewing format except via my new best friend, YouTube.

A delightful—if quaint—romantic fantasy,
also known as “The Fabulous Baron Munchausen,” this 1961 Polish flick is an example of style and design OVERLOAD, and I would not be surprised if this movie was not only an influence on Terry Gilliam’s subsequent Munchausen movie, but on the director/designer’s overall style as well.

This movie is also something perfect for stoners: it’s optical-printer madness throughout, with tons of starkly-colored animation of all kinds.

A cosmonaut lands on the moon, and there is found by the Baron and other literary/fantasy figures, like Cyrano de Bergerac. They think the cosmonaut is actually a moon-man, and the Baron volunteers to show the “Lunarian” the earth—flying home in a sailboat pulled by mermaids (if memory serves…)—
but it’s the 17th Century historical-fantastic earth, and the Baron gets the cosmonaut in all sorts of troubles/adventures with angry Turkish armies, hungry whales, coy princesses and so on, with tons of excellent old school special effects.

Baron Prášil is an Eastern European movie from the early-1960s, so remember: its pace will be deliberate. But give it time, you’ll be rewarded.