Monday, December 22, 2008

Gus's New Groove: "Paranoid Park"

I was a little confused when I first heard about Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park, because it sounded like it was done in the same style he used in Gerry, Elephant and Last Days. Thing is, those movies were always discussed as a trilogy, the "death trilogy," so I was wondering what was up with there now being a fourth. I really, truly think that Elephant and Last Days are great films, but it seemed like Van Sant had took the style as far as it could go. All three films are slow, sparse and even minimalistic, with little dialogue, often shot in long takes where little "action" happens. As much as I love them, I wanted Van Sant to move on... I couldn't imagine the flashy stylist of Drugstore Cowboy making movies like this for the rest of his career.

So I'm pleased to report that Paranoid Park is something new, a kind of blend of the older, flashier, expressionist Van Sant with the newer, slower, more meditative Van Sant. Paranoid Park still has the slow, poetic feel of his last few films, but with a stronger narrative thrust, more dialogue, more music. And the effect is much different.

Elephant and Last Days were, I believe, both films about the unknowability of their subjects. The characters and stories were distant and deliberately unexplained. Elephant was about a Columbine-esque school shooting, but provided no answers for why the killers did what they did. Last Days is about the death of a Kurt Cobain-like rock star, but gives him no dialogue of substance, and even skips over his actual death, just showing his corpse at the end and not even making it clear that it was suicide. The films are about their own lack of insight.

Paranoid Park, though it too deals with death, is a much more intimate film. The pace here allows us to get into the head of the main character, Alex, a quiet teenager who is being eaten apart by guilt for reasons that only gradually become clear. Whereas the "Death Trilogy" films keep the characters at arms length, here Van Sant gives us access to Alex, via a confession he reads as the film's narration. Though slow and meditative like the other films, they created empty external worlds, and this one creates a rich internal life. The long, quiet tracking shots and extended periods without action establish a similarly somber mood to the "Death Trilogy," but also serve to contrast with the internal drama of the film.

After 3 films that were (for lack of a better word) realistic in their depiction of every day life, with a lack of visual flash and a kind of objective regard for the events of the story, Van Sant ended Last Days with a bizarrely expressionist touch: we see what appears to be the soul of the protagonist climbing a ladder up to heaven. And I think that was a sign from Van Sant to his audience that he wasn't going to be so matter-of-fact any more, and was going to throw a little more flash in. Paranoid Park ain't exactly Goodfellas, but it's more expressionist than the "Death Trilogy," where the visuals are more influenced by the emotions of the film.

Actually, even though this film is certainly not everyone's cup of tea, it's a lot more accessible than his last few films. Beyond the fact that there is a stronger narrative with more dialogue here, there's also a unexpected amount of humor and warmth. Even though we're often watching the seemingly innocuous day-to-day moments of the protagonist, there's a certain amount of observational humor, where we laugh because we recognize moments from our daily lives: Alex bobbing his head to some rap music while driving around in his mom's car, Alex's mom's reaction to an obvious but seemingly unimportant lie he tells her. Best of all is a scene, maybe 2 minutes in length, where Alex's little brother quotes and acts out a bunch of scenes from Napoleon Dynamite to him. I mean, we've all been there a million times, but I can't remember ever seeing it in a movie before.

I don't think this is a great film, it lacks the uncompromisingly single-minded vision and message of Elephant and Last Days, but it's still a damn good one. Van Sant captures the lives of outsiders better than anyone else, and like in Elephant shows an affinity for capturing teenage life in all its mundane glory. This is probably too slow of a movie for most teenagers, but I imagine those with artier tastes might really connect with the material.

This year also brought us Van Sant's Milk, which was entertaining and showed that he stills knows how to make a mainstream entertainment, but had a lot of the typical biopic flaws, including trying to cram too much story in to too little time, making some of the movie feel underdeveloped. It displays great filmmaking, but is far from a great film. Paranoid Park falls short of his best work, too, but I think represents the greater achievement. It shows the style he developed in the "Death Trilogy" evolving into something new, something more emotional and expressionistic. And if he keeps working on it, I think he might really turn out something great next time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Memo from Dan to "Once Upon a Time in America": What the Fuck's Up With the Dump Truck?

So I'm on board with the theory that the 1960's sequences in Once Upon a Time in America are just an opium induced fantasy going through Robert De Niro's mind back in the 30's. Anachronisms be damned, I don't care if De Niro would have no way of knowing about TV or the music of the Beatles. It works as a beautiful expression of De Niro's feelings of guilt, his conflicted feelings towards James Woods' character, his nostalgia, etc etc. It explains why one character doesn't seemed to have aged much in 35 years, while everyone else looks ancient. It explains why one character's child looks exactly as they did when they were young. And it explains why no explanation is given for what happened to De Niro during the 35 years the film skips.

I think it's pretty sweet that a 4 hour long gangster movie ends in ambiguity and mystery. Sergio Leone was a ballsy director. Still, I'm fascinated by some of the final images yet I can't piece together exactly what they might mean.

In the 2nd to last scene in the film, the final scene set in the 60's, old De Niro leaves James Woods mansion. It is night time, and he walks alone outside. A figure that appears to be Woods (although, according to the documentary on the DVD, is actually a double dressed as Woods) watches him.) Then a dump truck drives past Woods, and he vanishes. Something, it's not clear what, is being ground up in a thresher (or something) in the back of the truck. The truck drives off into darkness until all you can see are the tail lights. Then, the tail lights turn into the headlights of an oncoming car, which turns out to be an old tymey looking car like from when De Niro's character was a young man, and the people in the car seem to be of that era as well.

So most obviously, this could just be De Niro's fantasy breaking down, and his return to the real world. This is supported by the unexplained arrival of the old tymey car. There also appears to be an Asian-looking pavilion in the background, which could be representative of the Chinese opium den at which De Niro was getting high.

But what's up with the truck? Why does Woods disappear? Is he being ground up in the back? Curiously, the truck has the number "35" painted on it... the same as the number of years that the movie has supposedly passed over. Is it this fantasy being ground up? Something else? Is it the loss of his memories? The loss of his innocence?

For a movie about bad people, it's shocking nostalgic. But maybe there's a tinge of cynicism in the nostalgia. What do his memories represent, other than a brief escape from his misery? They are just an illusion, like the shadow puppets in the Chinese theater.

I think it's also a movie about movies. It starts and ends in a theater, and De Niro's escape from reality is not unlike our own when we go to the movies.

Also there's a pretty sweet part where they shoot Paulie from the Rocky movies in the eye, if you like that sort of thing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

You're a Good Man, Charlie Manson

Shenan read Helter Skelter a while back, and pretty much became obsessed with the whole Manson Family debacle. She'd start mentioning little details about the murders in conversations, or tell little anecdotes from the book. She even downloaded one of Charles Manson's songs to her iPod, the one that Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys rewrote and put on a Beach Boys' album. I think she's really getting into this true crime stuff... the same thing happened after we saw Zodiac, she went out and got the books and really started digging deep into the subject.

Look, I have some weird hobbies too, okay? Like, for a while back in college I couldn't stop watching all the Slumber Party Massacre and Sorority House Massacre movies. I even went to the trouble of watching tangentially connected movies, like Cheerleader Massacre, or even worse Hard to Die, which is a near scene-for-scene remake of Sorority House Massacre 2, shot back-to-back with the same cast. I've seen Slumber Party Massacre 2, my favorite in the series, at least 3 times, so I can't really criticize how my girlfriend spends her leisure time.

Well, I mean, I can criticize her if I want to, but I'm a good guy so I don't. Instead, I magnanimously extended the olive branch of romantic harmony (or whatever), and suggested combining her love of Charles Manson lore with my love of staying in the apartment and not having to get up off the couch. So over the span of a week, we watched 3 different movies depicting the Manson Family murders.

First up was Helter Skelter, a 3 hour TV movie from the 70's, based on the book. I'll go ahead and say this was probably the best all around of the Manson movies we saw. After a horror-movie-ish opening (the score even reminded me a bit of the Friday the 13th score) showing the build up to the murders, the movie then shifts focus to the long and complicated investigation and prosecution of the murders. This structure, along with the film's interest in weird side details and anecdotes and it's attempt to try to piece everything together, makes it feel a lot, at times, like an early precursor to David Fincher's Zodiac. Minus the ambiguity, and not nearly as good, but similarities exist.

The filmmaking is not the most exciting in the world. Visually, there's not much going on here, in fact probably 1/3rd of the movie is made up of people standing around in an office talking to each other. Still, the story itself is fascinating enough that you're compelled by default, and the movie's strategy of slowly but steadily revealing the facts about the Manson Family and the murders helps, too.

If there's a major problem with the film, it's the point-of-view, or perhaps lack thereof, on the Manson Family. It just doesn't understand what made them tick, and can't begin to explain why a bunch of people would fall under Manson's influence. The guy who plays Manson is effectively creepy and intimidating, but no effort is made to give Manson any charm or magnetism. It shows that he had a powerful influence over his followers, but doesn't begin to explain how. He's portrayed as a complete looney, with no sense of the real person inside. It's entertaining to watch this nut spouting off shit like "I'm not on trial, you're the one on trial" and trying to attack the judge, but the movie doesn't provide any insight into his character.

This may be because the movie is based on the book by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the Manson case. The narration at the end of the film, a weird sort of last minute attempt at relevance by warning viewers that the Manson case could be some sort of harbinger of doom, suggests Bugliosi didn't really see Manson as anything but pure evil. It's also pretty comical, since this movie is 30 years old, hearing a prediction (that the Manson Family's crimes may inspire generations of young hippies to follow suit) that very obviously didn't come true. It's like if you found some old TV clip of someone calling the Beatles a flash in the pan, or whatever. The irony that they thought Manson would be some sort of influential cultural figure in the future is too rich.

To be fair to Bugliosi, I haven't read his book, so I'm not sure if he paints Manson as a cartoonish villain like this movie does. But if the ending narration really comes from his book, then he must be some sort of crabby, cantankerous, "get off my lawn!" style old man.

Almost 30 years later, they remade Helter Skelter, still based on Bugliosi's book, but this time the story is told more from the Manson Family's POV. This was the 2nd movie on our list. It's not as fascinating as the earlier film, I think due to the fact that the narrative is told more straightforwardly, in a linear fashion. Instead of learning about the events after the fact, we watch them unfold. So we get a lot of the same facts, hear a lot of the same quotes, etc etc, but since we are seeing them in the framework a more standard narrative, they have less impact. The big moments feel less like "shit that actually happened in real life" and more like "shit that happened in this movie." It's about a true story, and hews as close to the facts as the other film did, but it's structure and style make it feel more like fiction. There's some awkward expository dialogue, and not as much dramatic momentum as the earlier film... we're watching a lot of weird stuff, but we're not really invested in it.

So it's not as good of a movie, but there is one massive accomplishment that it has all over the original Helter Skelter that makes it worthwhile, and that is it's depiction of Charles Manson himself, and Jeremy Davies performance in the role. Davies is great in this, and the real trick to his work is that he gives Manson an off-handed charm and sense of humor, while still making it clear that he's a dangerous weirdo. You actually understand why people would like this guy and want to hang out with him. This movie shows Manson as an ace manipulator, who uses a laid-back exterior as a way of getting others to drop their defenses, so he can insinuate his will on to their own. They make especially clear how he was able to manipulate the women, offering his love and compassion to weak willed, vulnerable girls who in turn start to idolize him. Maybe Davies isn't as creepy or threatening as you'd expect in the role, but he feels much closer to an actual human being.

Finally, we watched The Manson Family, a low budget, horror-movie-ish take on the same tale. As we've established, the Manson story has already been told as a police procedural, and as a drama told from the family's perspective, so filmmaker Jim Van Bebber logically tells the story in the only genre left to tell it in: the faux-documentary cum acid freakout cum borderline supernatural horror movie cum behind the scenes story of the making of the faux-documentary cum speculative fiction about a cult of Manson imitators, all edited together as one narrative. Exactly the approach Kenneth Branaugh used when doing his version of Hamlet.

Perhaps I need to explain this further. So there is some TV news dude who is making a documentary about the Manson Family. We frequently see clips from the (fake) documentary, but then sometimes the movie jumps back in time to show us the "actual" events happening. It's a re-enactment for the movie, not for the movie within the movie, and it's a mix of fact-based stuff with weird flights of fancy into what was going on in everyone's head while they were tripping out on drugs. Then, meanwhile, there are some weirdo Manson worshipping heroin addicts hanging out in a basement somewhere, including a dude with an American flag colored dildo strapped to his face, and they are planning to kill the TV news dude for making the documentary. This part also contains weird, abstracted, and I guess drug-induced hallucinations.
Right, okay, if my description still doesn't make any sense, that's because neither does this movie. I'm not going to pretend that this is a good film in the traditional sense. It's confusing, pretentious, the acting isn't very good, and there are a lot of unintentional laughs. Even though it contains a lot of the same facts and details as the other two movies, I don't think you get hardly any insight into Manson or the family. Yet, if I ever watched one of these 3 Manson movies ever again, this would be the one. It's just so god damned weird, and so committed to it's terrible, nonsensical vision that it's fascinating and maybe a little awesome. It's like someone took the strangest parts from House of 1000 Corpses, removed all the polish and stretched it out to feature length. Worse, it's like they took Rob Zombie's style and kicked it in the head until it got brain damage, then gave it a bunch of acid to drop and read Helter Skelter out loud to it, and this is what it was imagining.

So maybe it's a bad movie, but that's a meaningless distinction here. It has like 8 gratuitous orgy scenes, including one where Manson turns into Devil, complete with goat horns. Every now and then people's voices are dubbed over with creepy demon voices. I already mentioned dildo-face, but he hangs out with naked drug addicts who shoot each other up, and there's some dude in bondage gear strapped to his bed. One of the killers in the Manson documentary is being interviewed is in a church dressed as a priest and it's never explained. So what if it's terrible? It's the most remarkable movie I've seen in a long damn time.

I have no idea what the director was going for here. It seems like maybe he's trying to make some sort of statement about the popularity and/or commercialization of Manson's image/status as a public figure, or maybe he's making an ironic statement about people's supposed fears about Manson's influence on the youth. I don't know, this movie isn't coherent enough to figure any of that out. Most reviews I read of this mentioned that the movie was genuinely disturbing. I don't agree. It's not convincing enough, and at times too silly, to disturb. But I guess I will give it some credit for being the only one of the three Manson movies we watched to deal with all the sex and violence graphically. It doesn't gloss-over anything, and doesn't try to present its tasteless material in a tasteful manner, which adds a weird honesty/purity to the movie, if nothing else.

So the first Helter Skelter was the best movie we watched, the remake had the best acting, and The Manson Family was... something else, to say the least. I get the attraction to the material... it's just a damn gripping, strange story, but all three films fail to ascribe any real significance to it. Not that there is anything wrong with telling a good yarn, but none of these filmmakers really cracked why this is an important story to tell. Maybe it's not one. The original Helter Skelter makes a misguided rant against youth culture that falls flat at the end. The remake seemed to try to show Manson becoming a cultural icon, but doesn't really explain why that would happen or what it means about this society. And The Manson Family, I mean I honestly don't know what the fuck that was about. The main common point between all three movies is that the murders were awful, shocking acts. So maybe the Manson saga is more becoming a shared American myth about evil, more than any sort of morally or socially relevant message. And that's cool, maybe Charles Manson is the American boogeyman, and we'll be telling our grand kids about him a hundred years from now.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Final Count

I haven't double checked this yet, but I believe that the final tally is:


Woo woo!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mr. Freedom

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Time to pop those champagne corks, gents, because Tuesday, November 25 2008 marks one entire year of me posting every single movie I watched. And now that the year is up, that is it. I'm done. No more posting every time I watch a damn movie, only when (if) I feel like it. And not a moment too soon, I can't tell you how sick I am of this.

I might try to work up some stats on my year of movies soon, and maybe write a wrap up post. As soon as I stop feeling lazy. In the meantime, I also plan to go back and fix the spelling and grammar on all the posts, and make this damn thing semi-coherent for once. I mean, god damn, I shat so many of these out so fast that most of the posts sound like they were dictated while I was talking in my sleep.

As for this movie? It was a sometimes moderately amusing but mostly boring low budget satire about an American superhero trying to spread democracy. Even at it's best, it's like diet, caffeine-free Jodorowsky served flat and room temperature. But, you know, the point was that it sounded weird and interesting, and isn't that what my K2K was all about, trying new things?

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Monday, November 24, 2008

When I watched this I believed it was based on a true story, but I wasn't surprised afterwards to find out that that's bullshit. This is a story about a group of schoolgirls in turn-of-the-century Australia who mysteriously vanish one day while at a picnic. And sure, people really do go missing in real life, but not quite like this.

This is an almost Zodiac-esque story, where there are all sorts of tantalizing details, but they never lead to a definitive answer. The girls are last seen ceremonially taking off their shows and hiking up Hanging Rock. A friend sees something terrifying... but what? She can't remember. One of the girls is found a week later, but she can't remember anything either. I guess you'd classify this movie as a drama, but the mystery becomes so tense, unsettling and frightening that much of the film plays like a horror movie. Ambiguity has never been so scary.

This is a great movie, with a lot of rich themes, but I think the ambiguity is the most powerful part. It's about our inability to understand or explain this infinitely complex universe in which we live. One minute the girls are here, the next they are gone, and no one will ever understand why. In the middle of it all is Hanging Rock, which seems like an almost sinister force and sometimes, from some angles, even looks like an enourmous face peering down on the people below. But it's mysteries are unknowable to us, and in the end we are no closer to a solution.

All That Heaven Allows

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wow, sorry to be getting to this so late. It's a somewhat busy time at work, plus with Thanksgiving break last week, I didn't really have time to get this done.

Way way way back at the start of my K2K I said I was planning to watch some Sirk, and it's only taken me about 11 months to actually do so. Better late than never, I guess.

From what I can tell, the conventional wisdom on Sirk's films is that, while they are melodramas on the surface, there's a certain ironic slant to them, an element of satire. As if the movie has air quotes around it.

I don't know enough about Sirk's history to speak definitively on this, but that just wasn't the sense I got from this movie at all. I think it really is melodramatic, somewhat cliched and corny in places, but it's also beautifully filmed and fairly effective and satisfying. As far as corny melodrama goes.

I could be wrong here, but my guess is that Sirk's new found reputation as an ironist has less to do with the films themselves and more to do with his audience. The critics and film buffs use this "he was being ironic" argument to deal with the fact that, you know, maybe they really enjoyed a corny-ass movie because it was well-made and entertaining. It's easier for them to argue that the movies are more sophisticated than people give them credit for, than to admit that they liked a cheesy movie. I liked it too, guys, but I'm not going to pretend that it seemed like a secret satire or whatever. It was just good melodrama.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ostensibly this is a crime picture, but it is so strange, and dark, and creepy that it feels more like a nightmare. This was Fritz Lang's follow up to his great M (and actually something of a sequel, as one of that film's major characters returns) and maybe it's not quite as good, but it's still pretty amazing. It's about a criminal mastermind, Dr. Mabuse, who is locked up in an insane asylum. He doesn't talk, or even move much really, but all day he constantly scribbles things down on pieces of paper. These turn out to be complex plans for different criminal endeavours, which are being acted out by a mysterious criminal organization... which may actually be psychically controlled by Mabuse himself. And then it gets even weirder.

Monday, November 24, 2008

True Lies

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This movie has taken on a whole new dimension now that I live near DC. Now I can't help but play "spot the location that you live near," especially during the horse/motorcycle chase scene.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A fantastic, and fascinating, documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, which if you didn't know, had one of the the craziest, most tumultuous shoots ever. What really stands out about the movie, besides all the ridiculous anecdotes, is the figure it paints of Coppola. On the one hand, the admire the shit out of this guy for what he accomplishes, for seeing his out-there vision of this movie all the way through, and completing it despite all the shit he goes through, all the struggles, etc. On the other hand, you also see how his ambitions are fueled by an unbelievable sense of importance. In the beginning of the film, they show a clip from an interview where he says "This film isn't about Vietnam. It is Vietnam." That's pretty crazy, but the more of the documentary you see, you more it becomes clear that Coppola not only believed that his film accurately depicted exactly what fighting in Vietnam was like, but that the shooting of the film is somehow comparable to the war as well.

Gotta disagree. The shoot, while admittedly a fucking nightmare, was not so bad that one would understand what it meant to be a soldier in Vietnam. But tell that to Coppola, who seems to think that he somehow recreated and relived the Vietnam war. His ideas are so self-important that you almost get turned off the film... until you realize that, well, if he didn't honestly believe this crazy shit, he never would have made a film this good. Unless you hate Apocalypse Now, in which you're gonna think Coppola is the biggest shithead ever after watching this.

Apocalypse Now

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I have seen this before, but not in a long damn time. As a statement on Vietnam, I'm not sure that this film is an entire success. My dad always said it was about how, the deeper we got in to the war, the less sense it made. I like that, but the problem with that theory is that Apocalypse Now starts with madness, and only gets crazier as it goes along. It already has a screw loose to begin with.

The characters can't really be accepted on a literal level, so there's no real emotional entry point in that sense. The story is so strange and even surreal at times that it can't really be accepted as an accurate portrayal of the war. By the end, when the movie becomes overtaken by Marlon Brando's insane Colonel Kurtz, the story seems so far removed from what came before that you practically forget that it's a war movie.

Okay, so maybe it doesn't work as a political statement, or on an emotional level, or as a plot. But who gives a shit. This movie is an intense, powerful vision... a vision of madness probably, not signifying much to me in a literal sense, but a remarkable use of the medium to try and grasp something bigger, greater. A film that tries to be more than a film.

If nothing else, this has to be one of the best looking films ever. Like Leone's Once Upon in America, every shot feels so unfathomably complex and beautiful that you struggle to take it all in. There's not a shot that feels like a throwaway, that seems to lack in interest or visual beauty.

It dawned on me watching it that it's a bit like Aguirre: the Wrath of God. Both films tell of a journey up a river and into the wild, where all sanity seems to break down and the movie descends into madness on such a great scale that you begin to suspect that the filmmakers went as mad as the characters do. Both films tap into this larger vision that few dare to go. It's a stare into the void/void stares back type situation.

I would still call The Conversation my favorite Coppola film, but this is a great film too, and you can't help but be bowled over by it's audacity and ambition. Coppola tried to set out to create something that was more than just a movie. You can't succeed at that, but he gets as close as anyone has.

Where the Buffalo Roam

Friday, November 21, 2008

I'm not really a Hunter S. Thompson fan, but I guess the idea of Bill Murray as Thompson was intriguing to me. This movie is funny enough to get a pass, but it feels like a wasted opportunity. The biggest problem is that it lacks any sort of POV on Thompson, and instead just tries to recreate his writing. Which would be fine, but they don't really figure out a great way of doing it, mostly resorting to having Murray dictate everything he does into a recorder as an excuse to work a bunch of Thompson's prose in to the film. I found it a little awkward. Obviously adapting something like this wouldn't be easy, since what people like about HST's works is the style in which they were written, not so much because they have a strong narrative thread... it's not very cinematic. So it doesn't translate well as a satisfying movie, but Murray is good in it, and it's funny enough that you won't waste your time with it.

The Last Detail

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I've seen a lot of love for Hal Ashby out there, but I had never been too impressed by the guy. I mean, Harold and Maude and Coming Home are okay movies, I guess, but they were both underwhelming. I knew I'd give him another shot some day, and when I saw The Last Detail named as a favorite movie by both Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, I thought it was worth a try.

It's definitely the best one of Ashby's that I've seen. It's funny and even weirdly likable. I say weirdly because it has to be one of the most cynical, bitter comedies I've ever seen. Two navy officers (one of them played by Jack Nicholson, who is great in this) have to escort a young enlisted man to jail. His sentence is complete bullshit, he's getting 8 years for trying to steal $40, so Nicholson takes pity on him and tries to show him a good time before they lock him up. Problem is, Nicholson's ideas of a good time are not really compatible with this shy, withdrawn kid. Nicholson gets the kid to indulge in a bunch of drinking and sex to cheer him up, basically going on a series on misadventures on the way to the jail, but all it really accomplishes is making the prison stretch seem that much more miserable. What's worse, Nicholson is kind of a shithead, and it might be rubbing off on the kid.

So it's about an asshole trying to show a good time to a kid not much interested in having a good time, and in the process corrupting him and giving him a taste of the freedom he's about to lose. It would be bleak if it wasn't pretty funny.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Easy Rider

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Easy Rider is incredibly entertaining and might even have potential for greatness, but is hampered somewhat by a few false steps and abrupt twists. The best parts of the movie are 1) an early Jack Nicholson performance that is so oddball and so funny that, even though he's only around for 20 or 30 minutes, he manages to steal the entire film, and 2) the scenes of the character's getting stoned (a lot of the movie) which, if nothing else, contains a lot of weird observational truths about the way people talk and behave when they are high. I'm not so keen on the random violent sequences and the virulently anti-redneck message of the film, as it just seems to distract from the rest of the film. The ending, where the protagonists are killed for no reason by some rednecks in a truck is abrupt to the point of feeling kind of stupid, but even worse is earlier when a major character is killed by rednecks (again for no real reason) and then in the next scene it's as if the characters have forgotten about it and no one mentions it again.

Dennis Hopper really hates rednecks, is the message here.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Got to give props to this one in the excitement/entertainment department, if nothing else it's pretty watchable. I was a little diappointed with the characterizations, though. Mainly, when the shit hits the fan, I felt like the characters stopped behaving like real people and started doing things to further the plot along.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Heaven Can Wait

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back in college I saw Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise. You forget what they could get away with pre-code in Hollywood, so I was pretty stunned by how funny, sexually suggestive and cheerfully cynical it was for an early 1930's comedy. It was pretty awesome, so I'm surprised it's taken me this long to watch another of Lubitsch's films.

Heaven Can Wait starts off with a similar style and sense of humor as Trouble in Paradise, but deepens into something more as the film progresses. It's about a man who dies and heads to hell, believing that's where he belongs, but before he gains entrance, he has to tell his life story, in order to determine if he's really in the right place. So he tells of his exploits as an ace manipulator, smooth talker, and womanizer.

At first there's a lot of darkish but high-spirited humor... he woos his family's French maid when he's just a teenager, he steals his cousin's fiancee... he's kind of a lovable shithead, but as the movie goes along you start to realize that maybe he's not such a bad guy, he loves his wife, loves his family, ultimately will try to do the right thing. Before you know it, the movie goes from charming comedy to a touching meditation on life and growing old. It never becomes overtly dramatic, it always stays classy and well-mannered, but still somehow accumulates some power and dare I say some of that movie magic I cherish.

That of course would be the famous "Lubitsch touch," which is enough to bring me back for more of his movies. But I'd also like to throw a shout out to Don Ameche, who played the main character. He was in his 30's when he filmed this, but with makeup he ages from his 20's to his 70's during the course of the film, and fairly convincingly. Watching this guy grow old, you really come to love him, and Ameche's charm has a lot to do with that.

The Spiral Staircase

Monday, November 17, 2008

I'm guessing that Bava, Argento and maybe some of the other giallo-ists were fans of this film. It's got a killer in a coat and black gloves hiding in the shadows, killing young women, in a murder mystery plot etc etc, just like a giallo. Thing is, it's a black and white American movie from the 1940's.

There's even a shot of the killer's eye, as he hides in a closet, that's nearly identical to a shot in Deep Red. Good shit. The seeming influence it's had on giallos is enough for me to dig on this one, but it's also pretty good all around, especially the visual style. Ahead of it's time, perhaps.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Satyajit Ray is a filmmaker I've been meaning to check out for a long while, and I'm glad I finally did, although it may be the last one of his I watch for a long while. This seemed like a pretty wonderful little movie, I think the first movie from India that I've ever seen, but the experience was sullied by perhaps the worst subtitles I have ever had the misfortune of reading. Not only were there frequent spelling and grammar errors, but words were sometimes left out, sentences seemed out of sequence, sometimes they wouldn't be on the screen long enough to read, and for about half the movie they were out of sync by a good 5 seconds, making it difficult to determine who was saying what. A few years back I downloaded some shitty, fan-made subtitles to an Oldboy bootleg I had before it came out on DVD, and they were more clear and better synced than these were.

Still, I'm pretty sure it was a good movie. Kind of reminded me of an Indian version of an Ozu film, where the characters are everyday people, and there's no big conflict necessarily but a lot of warmth and insight. It's from the 60's and is about the gender roles of the times, with a bit of a feminist message. I'm assuming this is a somewhat accurate representation of India at the time it was filmed, and it's almost funny how casually sexist everyone is. Early in the film one of the main characters teases his daughter for studying. Why bother, he asks, when she's just going to spend the rest of her life in the kitchen, like her mother? If a character said this in an American movie, this would flag them as an asshole. But here, the father is a sympathetic character who represents the old fashioned values of the culture.

All the Ray movies on the Netflix were released by the same company, so I'm assuming that the subtitles are equally awful. Until they release some better DVDs, I don't think I'll be watching any more of his movies any time soon, which is a shame.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Sunday, November 18, 2008

Amongst other things, this is the best broadly over-the-top action film we've had in a long while. This is far from being Zemeckis's best movie, but he uses the motion capture animation style to achieve a lot of crazy, entertaining stuff that I much appreciate.

It's A Wonderful Life

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bam. What? Bam. Yeah, that's right. I had never seen It's a Wonderful Life before. I told you I had an embarassing one coming up.

I don't know, I guess I was too busy watching Jason movies or jerking off during Christmases past and missed it.

Well, my favorite Christmas movie is and will always be A Christmas Story, but I'm not Grinch enough to deny that this is a great film. Obviously it's charming as all hell, and I'm not afraid to admit to tearing up like a little bitch at the end. Mostly though, there's something comforting and reassuring about this film, it's like a friend, and I can see why people would return to it year after year. It's unashamedly inspirational, maybe even sappy, but it's so well done, and so genuine, that it works.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The fact that this is a good movie is overshadowed by how disappointing it was. Casino Royale, while not great, was the best Bond movie in a long damn while, and really seemed to set the stage for a new and improved Bond series. It seemed like they had a lot of new ideas for the series, but it looks like I was wrong. Unless you count "shamelessly rip off the Bourne movies" as a new idea.

I could nitpick a bit about the writing, the plot, and the supporting characters as all being a step down from the last movie. I'm not going to, because while not great, it's all serviceable. And the movie is certainly entertaining, you get you're money's worth, you aren't bored, all in all it's a respectable Bond movie.

No, my big complaint here is the action. It seems like a lot of cool stuff was going on, but I couldn't tell, because it's all shot and edited in what almost seems to intentionally be the least coherent style ever.

It's an attempt to ape the Paul Greengrass style of the Bourne sequels, only the filmmakers don't do it properly. Yes, Greengrass had his crew shake the camera around a lot, and then edit a lot of shots in rapid succession. But he also had them shoot the subject from a far enough distance that we could clearly see what it was, and then edited it all in a clear manner that worked to help establish the geography of the action scene, and establish all the participants' locations in relation to each other. Some of the action scenes in Quantum of Solace feel like little more than series of incoherent, shaky-cam close ups. Half the time I couldn't tell who was who or what exactly happened until several seconds after it was over.

Some isolated moments are good, especially a fight scene in a small hotel room, but a lot of the major action sequences are a wash. This might play better on DVD on a smaller screen, I think the human brain might be able to process and understand the visuals a little better. That could explain how a bunch of professionals managed to work on this and not notice how hard to follow much of it was, they would have edited the film on a smaller screen. But until I watch it at home and potentially come to a newer appreciation of it, I can't fully endorse an action movie that lacks good action. Even if the rest of the movie is decent.

Midnight Meat Train

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I can't tell you how much joy the trailer for this movie brought way back... what, last year?... when I saw it. It looked like the closest we've come to an American Argento movie (although it turns out the director is Japanese) plus it had the most amazingly awful name ever. (I don't know if this is confirmed or not, but I read somewhere that the filmmakers wanted to change the name but Clive Barker insisted that they didn't. I guess he thinks it's scary to name a piece of fiction something that sounds like a frat boy euphemism for a cock). Although logically I knew it would probably disappoint, it seemed like it had the potential for entertaing style and violence meets profound silliness that could make it the new Demons.

And it actually fell somewhere in between my two expectations. It's not great, but it's fun and worthwhile for people who like this kind of weird crap. It slows down a bit too much in places, but there are enough oddball details to keep it going. It's about a photographer who becomes convinced that there is a serial killer roaming the subway at night. Only no bodies ever turn up, so no one believes him. The serial killer is some kind of butcher, and he kills people with some weird giant metal mallet and hangs them upsidedown like a piece of meat. Only early on we realize that something else weird is up, because in one scene the butcher is trying to kill some guy, but the guy fights him off, so the train conductor comes out of the front and finishes the guy off. Then he chastizes the butcher for not doing a better job.

So that's some pretty memorable weirdness, but that doesn't even come close to the amazingness of the end of the movie. I wasn't going to spoil it, but then I remembered that no one is going to see this movie because it was barely released in theaters and it's not out on video yet and they've only premiered it on Comcast In Demand. So here we go: the hero and his girlfriend chase the killer to some weird subterrean cavern in the subway that's filled with corpses. The hero manages to kill the butcher, but then the conductor comes out and cuts the hero's tongue out and murders the girlfriend. It turns out that the conductor works for some race of monsters who live under the subway and (I guess) are powerful gods or something like that. They feed on people, so they employ a butcher to go around the subway killing people for their dinner, and the hero was actually being groomed the whole time as the new butcher. So at the end the hero walks around the subway with a big mallet looking to kill people.

Now, this doesn't completely come out of left field, but that is some crazy ass shit, especially considering that it starts off like a routine slasher movie. That alone was worth the price of admission (which was free, actually).

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Friday, November 14, 2008

I can't wrap my brain around the people who liked the other Indiana Jones movies but for some reason didn't like this one. I just don't get it, this movie rules, and it rules in the exact same way the old ones did. I think it's just the nitpicky, fanboy movie culture we have these days, where everything from their childhood is viewed with rose-colored glasses, and everything new is dissected and over-analyzed to the point where half their complaints don't make any god damned sense. This is a great fucking movie and, if you like this kind of spectacular blockbuster shit, you should do yourself a favor and cherish it.

The Last House in the Woods

Friday, November 14, 2008

Yet another in a long line of recent horror films that wants to be both genuiely scary/disturbing and over-the-top ridiculous at the same time, and ends up failing at both. This time from Italy, which means it's a little weirder than other films in this genre, but that's the only thing that distinguishes it in any way. Maybe not quite Inside terrible in the gap between how serious it wants to be and how silly/retarded it actually is, but still pretty shitty.

Band of Outsiders

Friday, November 14, 2008

First, holy shit there is less than two weeks until this blog hits it's year anniversary and I stop posting for every movie I watch. Damn.

Second, I'm a good guy. Even though I really disliked Breathless when I saw it back in college, I was stilling willing to give Godard another chance. I mean, people love the guy so damn much I figure it's not fair of me to write him off because of one movie. And even though I didn't exactly flip for Band of Outsiders, it was good enough that I bet I'll check out another one of his some day.

Band of Outsiders is actually kinda similar to Breathless. Both are sort of a French New Wave riff on American crime films, where the main characters are so laid back that they spend more time hanging out and bullshitting than they do committing any crimes. But the big difference here is that I found BoO to be entertaining and even a little charming. Breathless, at least the way I saw it, wanted to capture this idealized notion of rebellious youth and romance inherent in the genre, but I found the style obnoxiously self-conscious and, frankly, I kind of hated the main characters and didn't want to hang out with them. It's not just that they were bad people, but I found them vapid and boring too, and the movie seemed so in love with their free-spirited-ness or some shit that it completely turned me off.

The Band of Outsiders aren't exactly great people themselves, but they have wit and charm that I thought the narcissist creeps in Breathless lacked. The best stretches of this film are when the characters are just chilling out... an extended dance sequence where the narrator explains what's going on in everyone's head is particularly memorable.

I wasn't crazy about this one, but I liked it, and more so than Breathless could at least understand why someone might love this film. It was a lot more charming and inviting, so much so that you almost wish Godard would have left all the crime stuff out and made it into a more Truffaut-esque comedy-drama.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Branded to Kill

Thursday, November 13, 2008

There has been some tension for me during my K2K between watching important art films and watching more fun, entertaining films. Watching more cult movies might have been a nice compromise. This is not a great movie, but it's just so oddball that I had to enjoy it. It's a b&w Japanese crime movie from the 60's, only done in some weird absurd style. It's about trials and tribulations of the Yakuza's #3 hitman, who amongst other quirks is sexually aroused by the smell of boiling rice. The movie at times feels like a less offensive precursor to the films of Takashi Miike.

So there's all sorts of strange acts of violence and inexplicable happenings, several naked Asian ladies and a lot of weird humor. I wasn't blown away, but it was a fun watch. I noticed that Jim Jarmusch stole a moment from this film in Ghost Dog, where a guy kills another guy by shooting up through a drain pipe into his bathroom. That was sweet. The highlight of the film is an extended sequence later on, where the #1 killer moves in with #3, both aware that the other wants to kill them, as a way of psyching him out. They follow each other around all day, even to the bathroom, although at one point #1 just pisses himself rather than turn his back on #3. I'm not really doing it justice, but it's a hilarious section of the film.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I'm down with 80's teen movies. The John Hughes canon, Real Genius, Better Off Dead, River's Edge, hell even Back to the Future is kind of a teen movie. It was a good era for the genre.

Cameron Crowe has written and directed several movies I absolutely adore, namely: Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky and Say Anything (also one of the great 80's teen movies).

And Amy Heckerling, maybe I'm not a huge fan, but Clueless is one I'm quite fond of, one of the best and funniest teen movies of the 90's.

So a head on collision between all three should be something right up my alley, especially since Fast Times at Ridgemont High has something of a klassik status. Turns out it kinda sucks, though.

Mostly, it's just not very funny. The characters are a bunch of cardboard stereotypes defined by only one character trait, and the the movie's idea of depth is to reveal that they also have a second character trait. Wow! So it's all goofy and broadly done, though not particularly amusing, and then somewhere in the middle it actually gets kinda serious at times, which is just fucking deadly.

There are a handful of laughs, but I was left pretty mystified as to why some people seem to cherish this one so much. Was it just because of Phoebe Cates's tits?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This is the strangest, most interesting of all the Elm Street movies, and it had potential to be the best, but I think a few shortcomings hold it back. Before Craven made the uber-meta Scream, he made this one, which is even more meta. It's about how Craven and the cast of the Elm Street series are being haunted by a real life version of Freddy Krueger, or at least some supernatural force that has taken Freddy's likeness.

There is a lot to like here, but also a few elements that hold it back from being a classic. I think my big complaint is that too much of the movie is focused on the young son of Heather Lagenkamp (the actress from parts 1 and 3, playing herself) and how he may possibly be possessed by Freddy. Most of it is just arbitrary, generic Exorcist wannabe stuff, and unfortunately it takes the emphasis off the dream motif of the series. Which is a shame, because the times when Craven does focus on the nightmare imagery, he scores. I'm particularly fond of the dream where a casket opens up into some dark underworld that's made of the same lining the casket has.

It's a pretty good movie, though, and I'm a sucker for the line between fiction and reality stuff, especially all the references to the original film Craven peppers in. But it always feels like it's on the cusp of excellence and never quite makes it there. Craven had found a new style and point of view, but he didn't quite perfect it yet, not until Scream.

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare WITH 3-D FINALE!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Since this lacks the fascinating homosexual undertones of Freddy's Revenge, I'm going to call this one the worst of the series. The main problem being that, at this point, they went way too far in making Freddy wacky instead of scary. It's not just his awful one-liners, the whole movie is a series of Looney Tunes inspired sight gags (complete with goofy sound effects), and few of them are particularly funny.

Still, even though it's a pretty bad movie, I have to admit that a lot of the special effects and dream sequences have a certain entertainment value to them. Obviously, the great thing about this series is the dream motif, which allowed not only for a lot of weird special effects, but certain touches of oddness and surrealism that's often lacking in mainstream horror films. It's not exactly Bunuelian, but it's still cool how it lets the filmmakers unleash a lot of weird ideas, even in a crappy movie like this one. Sure, they never made the dreams particularly abstract or inexplicable, like real dream can be, but it's still neat. (Wouldn't it be a trip if they had tried that? Like a nightmare about abstract shapes and colors that give off a bad vibe and kill you. Or one of those dreams where sometimes you're there and other times you're just watching, or you're a different person or have a different history.) I especially like one guy's dream, where he keeps unfolding and unfolding a roadmap until it fills his entire van.

There is an interesting theme in this one that all the kids are at a troubled youth center, so their nightmares all involve getting abused by their parents. The 3D finale is a fun (if shitty) gimmick, and I also appreciate that they convince you that one guy is the main character, then kill him off halfway through the movie. But like I said, jokey-ness of the screenplay and visual style is a failure, plus the movie is completely lacking in the creative-kills department, and they somehow managed to make Freddy's death anticlimactic and unsatisfying. Unless you're an obsessive nerd like me (I'll probably watch this a handful of times again in my life), it's skippable.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

To Kill a Mockingbird

Monday, November 10, 2008

I don't remember the book well enough to know if it had the same problems, but the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird is absolutely fantastically wonderful when it's about the comings-of-age of two kids in the South, and kind of a bore when it's about the trial of Tom Robinson. Which is weird, because I'm pretty sure the "racism is bad" message of the movie is the most famous part. Problem is, these days the message seems unremarkable and out-of-date (especially since Tom, the black guy, is a vaguely defined character) and trial itself is overwritten and heavy handed, and after seeing about a billion courtroom movies in my life it seems completely average. Maybe it was influential, I dunno.

But the stuff about the kids is magical, even touching. The story isn't realistic, per se, but I think there's a lot of truth and insight about the way kids view and misunderstand the world around them. If it were just about Scout and Jem's misadventures, this would be a great movie. With all the trial stuff, I think it has to settle for "very good."

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sometimes I forget that a movie can be a klassik and also feature a lot of people getting the shit kicked out of them. I've never been well versed in the cinema of Kung Fu (I did go through a big Jackie Chan phase in my teens), but my buddy Patrick had vouched for this one, and I concur, it's one of the best of it's kind that I've ever seen.

Thing about most kung fu movies I've seen, is that you perk up during the fight scenes, but zone out during everything else. The great thing about The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is that the "everything else" is pretty entertaining too. The largest chunk of the movie deals with the main character being trained in kung fu, and although predictable, his stern tutilage under the guidance of Buddhist monks is a lot of fun to watch.

La Strada

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I don't think I had a sense until recently just how delightful Fellini could be. I tended to lump him in with more pretentious art house guys, even though I love 8 1/2 and it's a pretty fun movie. Maybe it's because up until recently, the only other one I had seen was La Dolce Vita, which I guess some people find fun, but I found all the characters to be insufferable. This year, for my K2K, I saw Nights of Cabiria and half of Amarcord (gonna finally finish that some day soon) and got a whole new conception of the man.

Guilietta Masina (Fellini's wife) reached unfathomable levels of adorability in Nights of Cabiria, and she's pretty much at that same level of lovable-ness here. This is an almost fable-istic tale of a young girl who becomes the assistant for a cruel roadshow strongman. They eventually join a circus, and she falls in love with a tightrope walker, which creates conflicts with the strongman. It's strange, magical stuff, and seemed on track to be a great one, but I felt unsatisfied with the last act. There's kind of an abrupt twist near the end, and then the final scenes follow the strongman instead of the girl. Problem is, the girl is character we've really been following and caring about the whole time, so we're less than moved by the final scenes focusing on the strongman. Overall it's still a good one, but it fell short of greatness.

Rachel Getting Married

Sunday, November 11, 2008

Despite all the great reviews, the only reason I actually got off my ass and saw Rachel Getting Married instead of waiting for video is that my friend Joe was an extra in it, and I wanted to see if I could spot him. Spot him I did, although it was only one shot. Still, he's there! Everyone who knows Joe should go see it.

But not just for Joe, also because it really is one of the best movies to come out this year. Anne Hathaway plays a recovering drug addict who takes a break from rehab to go to her sister's wedding. Hathaway's intentions are good, but she's such a narcissist and a tornado of drama that she essentially threatens to make the whole affair about herself and not her sister. Conflict ensues.

This is all wonderfully done, engrossing, powerful, moving stuff. Hathaway, who gave one of the most embarrassing performances I have ever seen by a major star in Havoc a few years back gives one of the best performances of the year here (right under that guy who played Alan in Return to Sleepaway Camp). But even better than all that is the style the film is done in. It has a digital, handheld look that almost makes the movie look like a home video. In most of the film's best moments, it achieves a realism/naturalism that's startling... you almost want to look away because it feels like you're eavesdropping in on peoples' private conversations.

Even beyond that, the film has this free floating style that just sort of drifts from place to place, and the wedding takes on a life of it's own. The sense of place becomes so great that the actual drama of the film often takes a back seat and the main characters blend into the crowd and the movie just watches the crowd interact, listens to the music, sees everyone have a good time. They create such a rich tapestry of characters, set design, music and atmosphere that at times it stops feeling like a movie and feels like a real event that you're a part of. Director Jonathan Demme may be the first filmmaker to take Robert Altman's style and add something to it, bring it to a new plateau. It's hard to believe this film was made by the same man who did Silence of the Lambs.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

What can I say, Role Models put me in a Mclovin mood.

Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

Saturday, November 8, 2008

So this has some of the worst writing and acting in the series, and yet even though I remembered it as sucking, it's still pretty fun. These movies were even better than I remembered, and I liked them enough to buy the entire series.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Return to Sleepaway Camp

Saturday, November 8, 2008

So back in the 80's, some folks made 2 sequels to Sleepaway Camp. The original director was not involved. They are fun movies, but they are really just lightweight goofs and completely lack the fuck-you attitude and weirdness of the original. Angela is made to be more of a wisecracking killer in the Freddy Krueger vein, and the movies are basically god for a few laughs if you like that kind of stupid shit.

A few years back, the original director decided to make his OWN sequel to the original, as if parts 2 and 3 never existed, and after a few years in limbo it's finally on video. And it was worth the wait. Robert Hiltzik, the director, must have listened closely to all the fans, because he made a sequel that takes all the stuff you loved about the original and kicks it up a notch. Namely, the foul mouthed screenplay and the bizarre, over-the-top kills. Little effort is put into actually making the movie scary or anything like that, and instead just piles on the curses and murders and builds to an ending while not as creepy or classic as the originals, is at least as crazy and fun.

So right there, that would be enough for me to recommend this movie: a sequel that actually manages to recapture the unique vibe of the original. But there's something else about this one that makes it at least as good as the original, and that is the character of Alan. I guarantee you, you have never ever in your life seen another character like this in any other movie. He's a fat kid who looks older than all the other campers, but acts like an 8 year old. He likes to pick on the other kids, but the second anyone is mean to him he gets upset and complains that everyone is mean to him. Almost all of his dialogue is yelled. When he gets really upset, he runs off into the woods and plays with frogs, who he claims are his friends. He also claims that he had "rheumatic fever" when he was little and that's why everyone is mean to him. He gets into argus with everyone, including the counselors, and his main comeback to everyone is "your ass stinks!" which he probably says 4 or 5 times in the movie.

This seems like an impossible role to play, but somehow they found the perfect actor for it, and if it were up to me I'd give the guy an Oscar. 

If I have one complaint with the film, it's that even though they bring back Ricky, the best part of the original film, he's not in the movie enough. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Supposedly Hiltzik might make another one, so I'm hoping Ricky, foulmouthed and with as bad an attitude as ever, has a bigger role.

Angela, on the other hand, the way they bring her back is perfect, but I won't dare spoil why.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Just in case it seemed like I was actually kommitting to klassiks there for a minute, here's another October purchase.

Phantasm was even better than I remembered. On the one hand it's a strange and eerie and unique low-budget horror film, with an unplaceable nightmarish feel almost like an American Fulci film. On the other hand, it's got a lot of oddball humor mixed with some badass action, making it kind of the proto-Evil Dead. And maybe that's the best way to describe it... it's like The Beyond meets Evil Dead 2, with a little action movie thrown in for kicks. The action stuff is especially fun because it involves characters who don't at all seems like action hero types, which makes their heroics all the more badass. Especially the kid, who's maybe 13 years old, but still pulls off badass shit like shooting out the tires of a car he's trapped in and jumping out the back window.

Might have to rewatch some of the others in the series eventually.

In the Heat of the Night

Saturday, November 8, 2008

This may have honestly been the first Sidney Poitier film I've ever seen. That's pretty embarrassing, but just you wait, because I'm going to be getting to quite a few more embarrassing revelations before the end of the month.

I don't think the racial politics of this one are as compelling today as they were back in the 60's, but this is still a solid detective movie. The arc of the racist sheriff and the black detective from up north follows a pretty predictable route, with both men coming to understand each other better, but I did like that the film showed restraint and made it pretty low key. The sheriff isn't magically non-racist by the end, he's just less of a dick to Poitier's character, and that feels a lot more believable.

Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ugh, okay, I know. October is over and I'm supposed to stop watching horror movies and try to respectably wrap up my K2K. But back last month I ordered the entire Nightmare series for only $20 of Amazon, and it didn't show up until this past week so I couldn't help myself.

I've always been more of a Jason man, myself, but I think I forgot that objectively, the Freddy movies are better. Not only are the production values better, what with all the elaborate special effects, but they tended to be more imaginaitvely written and directed, and effort seems to have been made to make the victims likable and sympathetic. So maybe I need to re-evaluate this whole Jason/Freddy dichotomy.

I remembered this one as being a more "average" entry, but it turns out that it's even better than I remembered, maybe not quite as good as part 3, but still pretty good. A big part of that is the direction, this time by Renny Harlin, so you know if nothing else, this is visually stronger than 90% of other horror movies.

Role Models

Friday, November 7, 2008

Okay, so when Kevin Smith made a movie that tried to cash-in on success of the Apatow/Rogen films (or, less cynically, made a film that emphasized the similarities his films already had with Apatow's), that made perfect sense to me. Their styles were already close enough. But when I saw that David Wain, best known for silly, borderline-surreal comedy like The State, Stella and Wet Hot Amaerican Summer was forging into Apatow territory, I was a little confused. This whole genre of dirty-minded guy comedies actually seemed pretty removed from Wain's brand of lunacy.

So color me surprised that not only was Role Models a formula comedy, but one of the funniest, most satisfying formula comedies I've seen in a good long while, funnier and more watchable than last week's Zack and Miri Make a Porno. I'm pretty sure even folks who hated Wain's other projects would like this one, mainly because it bears almost no resemblance to them. The weirdness is almost entirely gone (save for one joke I loved, involving a non-existant Wings song that multiple characters seem to all inexplicably know) and is replaced by a lot of foul-mouthed humor being spouted by a bunch of immature but lovable guys, more or less Knocked Up 2. It gets no points for originality, but when a comedy works, it works, and there's no use complaining about that other stuff.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Last Picture Show

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Like Hud, this was based on a Larry McMurtry novel, and also like that movie it's pretty wonderful. And like The Hustler, it also has a sequel that was made decades later that isn't considered very good. So the question again arises... do I bother to see it?

The Hustler

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Continuing to expand my knowledge of Paul Newman, this is a pretty darn good one, and nice mixture of art and entertainment. The question now is, do I ever bother to see the sequel The Color of Money that Scorsese directed? Word on the street is that it's one of his worst.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

49 Up

Monday, November 3, 2008

So that's it, we made it through this entire series. If you want my thought, see my other posts. There won't be another one of these until like 2013 or something, so I guess there's no use getting eager... yet.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Okay, October is over and it's time to get back to business and work on my K2K. This is the final month after all.

The night after I watched this, I chatted it up with Andy about its finer points. I told him that even though I've liked Fellini a hell of a lot more than I've liked Antonioni, I appreciated L'avventure more than I did La Dolce Vita. The two are often compared because of the subject matter. And if I had to pin down why this one engaged me more than the other, even though this is plainly a slower, less entertaining film, is it's sense of mystery and it's open-endedness. I can't exactly say what the message of L'avventura was, but I was engaged in pondering the significance of things.

This is the 3rd Antonioni film I've seen, and they've all had one stylistic touch in common. The plots of all three films seem like thrillers or mysteries, but the styles are so obtuse and open-ended that you barely notice it. There's an emptiness at the center of each film, and a deliberate distant feeling that is strange and, to varying degrees fascinating.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Back to the Future

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Maybe this movie isn't as good as I once thought it was.

Just kidding. It's still my favorite movie ever.

Death Proof

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I'm holding out that one day Tarantino will make an actual horror movie, and not one where maybe 15 minutes of it kinda feels like a horror movie and the other 75 minutes feels like Dazed and Confused meets a car chase from The Road Warrior.

Pulp Fiction

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I forgot how funny this movie was. There are more hard laughs in "The Bonnie Incident" segment of the movie than there are in the entire running time of most comedies.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Saturday, November 1, 2008

With the rise of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan, I thought Kevin Smith might have his first bonafide hit on his hands. Sadly for him, it looks like this one is performing exactly in line with his other films. Doesn't seem like there's anything he can do to break the cycle.

He has a lot of haters, but I love Kevin Smith. What did I think of his new one? It's not his best, but it's still pretty funny. Maybe the problem is that he's too obviously trying to jump on the Apatow bandwagon, and he's lost a little bit of his personal voice. Or maybe that's just me reading into things because of the cast he selected for this one.

Smith's style has always been to make filthy minded comedies about sweet, likable people, and this one might have the sharpest contrast between the sweet and the filthy. I'm all for that, but he's done better before. The sweet stuff, and the romantic element, aren't as affecting as his work in Chasing Amy, I think mainly due to the slightly artificial rom-com structure he forces on this one. And the movie, while funny, just isn't as funny as, say, Clerks 2. Smith is a master of dirty humor in movies, and the older he's gotten the more he's upped the ante... but maybe he goes to far. Not to say that his movie is offensive, in fact he makes the least offensive dirty movies I can think of. Rather, sometimes it's like, in an effort to make his movie a little dirtier, he forgets to put in a solid joke. I mean, you know, refernces to ass fucking and strapons aren't immediately funny, but sometimes Smith presents them that way.

Friday, October 31, 2008



I don't think I need to explain why this was the last movie I watched in October.

I watched 71 movies this October, how nuts is that? 59 of them were horror movies. I'm going to go ahead and declare "Your Vice is a Horror Movie Marathon and Only I Have the Netflix Queue" as a resounding success. Go me.

This now brings us into November, which will be the final month of regular posting. My first post was for November 26, 2007 when I watched the unrated cut of Live Free or Die Hard. On the 26th this year, I will stop posting every day, as I'll have a full year of data to look over. Looks like my average is going to be approx. 1 1/2 movies per day.

After that, I hope to continue posting from time to time, only instead of posting whenever I watch a movie, i'll just post if I have something to say. This has been a cool experiment for me, but I have to say, I've gotten fucking sick of posting all the time, and usually not having much to say. It's gotten to be more of a chore lately, so I won't miss it.

Trailer Park of Terror


If you're like me, then you probably just rolled your eyes when you read the title. I mean, it sounds terrible, right? I thought so, but then I read a positive review of it on the Onion's AV Club, and thought I would give it a shot.

This is definitely in that genre I'm starting to think of as "nu-horror," mid-range budgeted horror movies that try to combine Re-Animator style over-the-top gory funness with Last House on the Left style disturbing viciousness. Mostly, I've thought these movies, like Wrong Turn 2 and Severence have been failures, but this may be the best one I've seen so far. I'm not sure if I can exactly give it the thumbs up, but at least the silly stuff didn't negate the disturbing stuff, and vice versa. I think the problem here is that there are several effective scenes, but it doesn't all work as a whole.

Tourist Trap


I used to see this box in the video store and thought it looked like one of those no-budget, camcorder horror movies that are unwatchable. The box was just that shitty looking. But it turns out my impression was wrong, this is a lost minor classic from the 70's that I will highly recommend to anyone who likes these kinds of movies.

It's basically a spin on House of Wax's story, with some weirdo who lives in the middle of nowhere and abducts people, kills them and makes them into mannequins. Also he likes to dress up as mannequin versions of his victims and treat his mannequins like they are real people (some of them seem to be alive) and at one point keeps shouting "little girl!" while chasing one of his victims around.

I don't care what any Andrew McCarthy movies lead you to believe in the 80's; mannequins are fucking creepy as shit and are not to be trusted. There are a lot of scary as fuck mannequins in this movie, and other creepy shit like people being smothered to death by wet plaster, and at least one weird twist that has to be seen to believe. But there's also some really strange dark humor that pops up now and again, usually involving the killer talking to his mannequins.

It's a bit in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre vein of oddball low budget horror movies from the 70's, and it's just so weird and creepy that I think it's a must-see for fans of this stuff.

Return to Horror High


Here we have the final push for YVIAHMMAOIHTNQ, a marathon of four movies on Halloween night, climaxing with the original Halloween because, well, I mean that should be pretty obvious.

I'll give this movie a little credit for being ahead of its time. It sorta did what Scream did, only ten years earlier, in that it tries to satirize slasher movies in a self-referential way while being a genuine slasher film at the same time. It doesn't do it very well, and unlike Scream it's just not a good movie, but at least it was doing something different for the time.

The main problem is that it's just not very funny or clever, but it ceaselessly tries to be. The plot spins around and around, there are constant movie-within-a-movie sequences and it-was-all-just-a-dream fakeouts, it tries to point out its own cliches, etc, while still trying to have some genuinely creepy and suspenseful moments. But since it's all so lightweight and tongue-in-cheek, you just don't really give a shit about what's happening.

Scream was a well-directed slasher film that subverted the genre by having jaded characters who had seen all the horror movies and knew all the cliches. Return to Horror High is a competently but unremarkably directed film where the filmmakers are jaded, not the characters, and maybe feel superior to the material.

The Phantom of the Opera

Thursday, October 31, 2008

No, I didn't accidenally post this twice, I did a double feature of Phantom of the Operas. This is a version from the late 80's that tries to tell the Phantom story more in the style of the Nightmare on Elm Street films. So it's fitting that they cast Freddy Krueger as the Phantom.

It started off well enough. It looked like it had a decent budget, good cinematography, good special effects, and an okay cast for one of these movies. There's a cool bit where the phantom sews a bunch of fake latex skin to his face and puts on makeup to look normal. But mostly the movie is mediocre and uninvolving, with a stupid "it was all a dream... or was it?!" ending that makes no sense and drags on forever.

I will give special recognition for achievement in bad dialogue in one scene. Some dude is telling the owner of the opera house about the legend of the phantom, and he lets loose this pearl: "I don't believe in phantoms or legends, Mr. Dutton, but I do believe in facts. And the fact is, this man - -this creature - -is still alive. Still alive, and living under your opera. " Uh, I'm pretty sure that means you do believe in phantoms and legends, moron.

The Phantom of the Opera

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Dario Argento version, which I had always avoided because I never heard anything besides terrible things about it. Is it his worst movie? Quite possibly. Is it worth seeing? Maybe, if you're an Argento fan. I can't call this a good movie at all, but I can say that it's got some fucking shit that rivals, and in places surpasses, the craziness of Argento's Phenomena.

Like the fact that the Phantom is raised by psychic rats, who give him psychic mind powers. And I think in one part they even suggest that he might get sexual with the rats. Then there's the part when the Phantom fantasizes about a bunch of naked men with ratheads caught in a giant rat trap. Or the part where some dwarf rides around on a giant rat catching machine and gets decapitated.

I'm not going to lie and pretend that this is at all a good movie. I'm just going to say that it has its moments.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

I mentioned this movie before, because it was originally directed by Lucky McKee, but then production was shut down and he either left or was fired, and when it started back up another director took over. Both are listed as director in the credits, so it's really hard to say how much of this movie is McKee's, what he shot, how close this came to his plan for the film, etc. I can't really compare it to his body of work, or make any statements about how he's progressing.

I can, however, say that this is a top-notch slow-burn-style thriller marred slightly by a weaker final act. It's about an aging widower who one day while minding his own business is confronted by a group of teenagers. One of the kids, a total creep, kills the man's beloved dog Red, for no good reason. Later, the man tracks the kids down and tells their families what happened, hoping for an apology and for the kids to be disciplined. Instead, the rich asshole father of two of the kids brushes him off, and buries any investigations into the matter to keep his kids from getting in trouble. This leads to a back and forth that builds slowly but inevitably to violence and tragedy.

It's clear from early on that this story is going to end in violence, but the last 20 minutes or so start to feel a too heightened and over done. The build up is tense and involving, and the acting is great across, especially from Brian Cox in the lead, so it's a shame that the last chunk of the movie (while still well done) stretches too much credibility. Then, strangely, the final scene of the movie is a inappropriately upbeat, bordering on corny. I cared about this character enough that I was glad the movie had a (somewhat) happy ending, but the music starts swelling and there's even a little puppy dog, it feels more like some Lifetime movie or some shit.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Pit and the Pendulum

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cloverfield suffered because I had just recently watched Quarantine and it looked worse in comparison. On the flip side of that, I think I enjoyed Stuart Gordon's The Pit and the Pendulum a little bit more because I had just sat through Seed. Gordon pairs broad satire (of religious extremism and corrupt public figures) with scenes of torture and degradation. The combo is a little off-putting and cancels itself out at times... even in the span of a single scene, it's like some actors are in a comedy and the others in a harrowing drama. It undercuts itself.

Despite that, the film still works because Gordon knows how to build a moment, and he certainly knows how to disturb. There's a scene where a character gets their tongue cut out that's way more squirm-inducing and effective than anything in Seed, and they don't even graphically show it.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I knew I had to cram in at least one Uwe Boll movie for YVIAHMMAOIHTNQ. In his heyday, no one, not even Ed Wood, made more hilariously bad genre films than Boll. House of the Dead, Heart of America and Blackwoods are three of the all-time achievements in so bad it's good filmmaking.

Problem is, Boll isn't in his prime any more, and in some ways he's improved as a filmmaker, which means his movies are worse/less watchable. Lately, his movies are shitty in a boring and unremarkable way, instead of achieving the unique accidental hilarity of House of the Dead. I thought we might have had a chance here for a classic, as this is Boll's take on the torture porn genre. Instead, outside of some occasional laughs, it's a bore.

Boll was trying to make a genuinely disturbing horror film, and from that standpoint, Seed is a miserable failure. The main problem is that it wants to be a bleak, graphic and unsettling horror film, but it has a ridiculous story with a ridiculous villain. The killer (actually named "Seed," which is lame) is just a Jason knockoff, a big dude in a mask who performs impossible feats of strength, like pushing a man so hard that his head squeezes between two jail bars and is crushed. The movie can't reconcile silly, over-the-top Jason X nonsense like that with it's serious tone. So, the violence works on neither level. It's too overblown to be disturbing, yet the tone of the film is too somber for the violence to be fun. It's lose-lose.

And man, does he try to work in the bleakest ending possible, but it's too stupid to take seriously. The main character is somehow locked in the killer's house, and he sees on a TV screen that the killer has abducted his wife and daughter. Seed wants him to kill himself to spare his family. He won't, so Seed kills the wife. The cop relents and shoots himself in the head. The movie ends with Seed locking the little girl in the room with her dead dad, where he will presumably leave her to starve and die like his other victims.

I don't get it either. Did the cop really think that Seed would just let her go? Couldn't he have tried to pretend shooting himself? Or tried to break out of the room? Or anything else besides killing himself and leaving his daughter in the clutches of a serial killer. I'm sympathetic to characters in horror movies making mistakes, but this one just defies all sense.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Like you could resist that title either. This is, all around, a pretty unremarkable giallo. It has all the staples of the genre, but not enough of a sense of style, or energy, or how to build suspense. Of course, for me, even a below average giallo like this one is at least watchable.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Uncle Sam

Tuesday, October 29, 2008

So this is about a solider that comes back from the dead, dresses up as Uncle Sam, and goes around killing people in various America-themed ways, like impaling a dude on a flag. And what's even better is that the tone of the movie is serious, like it's actually trying to be scary and make some sort of statement about America and its foreign policy.

There's fun to be had, but given this premise and treatment, it should have been more awesome than it is. It's too boring, with not enough happening for long periods of time. The ridiculous, awful slasher-gimmick coupled with the straight-faced tone could have lead to a classic, instead it's a disappointment with a few memorable moments.

I will give a shout out to the ending, which is an (I think accidental) homage to the ending of City of the Living Dead. It's clear that they shot a happy ending but that at some point in post production they decided that horror movies can't have happy endings. So they have this happy scene of the main character kid and his mom, but then for no reason creepy music cues up on the soundtrack, and it goes into slo-mo for a few seconds and then freeze frames on the kid smiling. Then suddenly the picture appears to shatter, for no god damned reason. Fucking awesome.

Day of the Dead

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

This is not the original Day of the Dead, nor is it that inexplicable "sequel" Day of the Dead 2: Contagium. This is the remake of original, which I guess also kind of makes it a sequel to the remake of Dawn of the Dead. It's got the fast zombies like that movie did, and they both star Ving Rhames, although he plays a different role in each. So maybe they just want you to think that this is a sequel.

Romero's original Day of the Dead is (much like his recent Diary of the Dead) one of his worst movies, made somewhat entertaining by Romero's flair for zombie action and graphic violence. This remake, by a guy who did some of the Friday the 13th movies, is I guess in someways more competent and more watchable than Romero's film, but it's so ho-hum in all respects that there is nothing that sticks out about it. I guess I wasn't bored, but I don't think there was a single standout scene or idea in the whole thing. It's the very definition of mediocre. Romero's film sucked, but it at least showed ambition and vision.

So we got the fast zombies here (seems unavoidable post-28 Days Later) and I'm not really a fan of them to begin with, but here they're handled especially poorly. The director uses this awful effect, I don't know if the footage is sped up or if they are under-cranking it or whatever, but they move in this artificially fast manner, and do weird impossible shit like jumping ten feet in the air and climbing on ceilings. I think they're trying to convey a manic energy in these scenes, but it just looks retarded.

As a remake, it doesn't have much to do with the original. There are zombies, and soldiers, and a guy name Rhoads, and a zombie that takes orders, so they at least saw the original. But otherwise it's just a generic zombie movie with a stock cast of (unlikable) characters, it's violent without having any memorable special effects, and it's competently but ineffectively shot and staged. The final result feels more like a Sci-Fi channel original movie than something you'd actually pay to see (oops)... in fact, it feels like it could be one of those lame Return of the Living Dead sequels Sci-Fi showed a few years back. And now that I think about it, that's the perfect criticism for this movie: it's like an average made for TV movie.