What movie was that...?

30 October 2009

Halloween

directed by John Carpenter

Another fine example of an independent film making it big is John Carpenter’s iconic film Halloween, the film that brought us Michael Myers, the scariest franchised horror film character ever imagined. Word to the wise, Mr. Rob Zombie, it was perfect just the way it was! Born to seemingly good middle class parents in Haddonfield, Illinois (which is what makes it so much more unsettling than Zombie’s white trash nightmare), little Michael comes home from trick or treating one Halloween and stabs his sister to death. Flash to twenty years later, and Michael has escaped from the hospital in which he was institutionalized and heads home for a little hair of the dog. Tracked by the tenacious Dr. Sam Loomis (excellent Psycho homage, Mr. C), played with vigor by the marvelous Donald Pleasance, Michael sets his phasers to kill, hacking his way to Laurie (a sweet Jamie Lee Curtis) in one of the most suspenseful, hair raising finales in horror. And that music, also written by Carpenter, can still chill the blood. Can you kill the boogieman? Watch Halloween for the answer to that one.

Jaws

directed by Steven Spielberg

You can thank the failure of technology for the gruesome and stellar reveals in the Spielberg classic, Jaws. Damn robots, they just kept breaking down, but Spielberg used it to his advantage, creating such edge of the seat tension that ages like wine. Roy Scheider is Brody, hydrophobic police chief of tourist trap Amity Island charged with a simple task, keep the beaches awesome and the holiday revenue up. But Brody has a great white problem (get it, great white- nevermind). The chief calls in shark expert Hooper (a non-annoying Richard Dreyfuss) and hires salty dog Quints (George Shaw at his gravel-voiced best) to take them fishing. Upon its release in 1975, Jaws did for swimming in the ocean what Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me did for eating fast food, and apparently my old history teacher was an extra in the infamous beach frenzy scenes, Look closely.

29 October 2009

Ghostbusters

directed by Ivan Reitman

No gore. Minimal scares. But a heaping helping of fun, spectral hilarity, the Ivan Reitman classic, Ghostbusters, is good to the last drop. 3 misfits with an interest in the paranormal start a supernatural extermination company. They recruit a fourth and soon, they’re taking spooks down like gangbusters, until a nasty one named Gozer wakes up on the wrong side of the cosmic bed. From Slimer to the massive Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, from the inspired and everlastingly genius performances of Harold Ramis (as the driest humor in human form, Egon Spengler), Bill Murray (the most lovable prick, Peter Venkman) and a boss script by Ramis and Dan Akroyd, Ghostbusters is a pure, side splitting classic. Are you ready to believe me?

The Crow

directed by Alex Proyas

A marvelous product of its time, The Crow brought the time honored Detroit holiday to the big screen, and it did it with a slick-grit style befitting a city with Motown’s rough rep. Brandon Lee is Eric Draven, killed along with his girlfriend on Devil’s Night by a gang of arsonists and killers. Jump to one year later, and Eric is back, armed with a supernatural crow guardian and general badass demeanor, hunting down the scumbags to take his pound of flesh. Adding to the creepy factor is the tragedy of Lee’s death, which happened on the set just before the film's completion, caused by a gun blank improperly discharged. The original comic, written by James O’Barr as a cathartic response to a personal tragedy, depicted Detroit Rock City as a virtual black hole of chaos and violence, a depiction that still rings frighteningly true (come visit us sometime). Lee haunts a wild and virtually lawless Motor City like a renegade angel. Packing a righteous musical arsenal to boot, The Crow is the darkness and hopelessness of the post-grunge 90s in all its brooding, techno-goth fury.

An interesting note: On the VHS copy of the film (I know, ancient, right?) there is a trailer for the 6th Halloween film, titled Halloween 666: The Origin of Michael Myers. The title, however, was changed prior to release from the aforementioned title to the lame Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. Along with this being Donald Pleasance’s final film, the film features a young Paul Rudd, and sadly, was not good. But why did they change the title?

28 October 2009

C.H.U.D.

directed by Douglas Cheek

Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. Ring any bells? Well, it should. Another fine example of irresistible 80s horror schlock that just aches for repeated viewings, C.H.U.D. is as crappily radical as it was back then. The plot is as thin as they come, a group of New Yorkers investigate a series of horrific murders in the city, and what they find is terrifying beyond their wildest nightmares. The meaning of the acronym was to be the bait to lure in the chumps all over the country who actually shelled out hard earned cash to watch this mess, but I think it prudent to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into when you rent this gem. But I promise this, you will not be disappointed.

Dark Days

directed by Marc Singer

For the true story of underground dwellers (minus the killings and mutantry), see Marc Singer’s stunning doc Dark Days. Singer takes a camera beneath the streets of New York City to document a close-knit, subterranean neighborhood of the city’s homeless. Filmed in stark black and white and featuring some truly remarkable people, Singer’s doc shines a light on the value of human relationships and the bonds forged in the darkest of times. It is a testament to the endurance of people and the strength of family. The making of Dark Days is just as astonishing as the film itself, including Singer’s quest to convince DJ Shadow to contribute music for his doc. Well worth it.

27 October 2009

The Wraith

directed by Mike Marvin

One of the classic plotlines in the story-telling tradition; boy is killed by thugs, so boy comes back as a car to avenge his death. All too familiar, right? It’s a good thing that Charlie Sheen is on the case this time around, tearing ass around town plotting to put the hurt on a group of a-holes (lead by a grimy as hell Nick Cassavetes) and get his revenge. It’s 80’s drive-in bullshit heaven, replete with a puffy-haired Clint Howard screaming “He’s a wraith, man!” and featuring the ridiculous Dodge M4S. To bear witness to a movie like Mike Marvin’s cult disaster is to peer into the past, a simpler time when all you needed was a Sheen and a dream. For exhibit B, see the excellent Emilio Estevez trashfest, Maximum Overdrive, featuring a murderous pop machine. Yes, you read that sentence correctly, a murderous pop machine!

The Sheen:



The Ma-Sheen:

Psycho

directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock, master of suspense, mystery, and terror, genius of such classics as The Birds, Lifeboat, The Thirty-Nine steps, and Rear Window, gave Psycho to the world in 1960 and oh, what a gift it was. Starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, this jewel of a horror film disguised itself as heister on the run flick for nearly the first half the moive, much like the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez dynamo from Dusk til Dawn. Marion Crane (Leigh) rips off her boss and splits for the coast, hoping for a new start, until she runs into someone she didn’t expect. I suppose there is the slightest of chances that a few of you have not seen this iconic film (hey, I just met a 19 year old kid who works in a movie theater and has never watched any Tarantino films. None!), so I will not get into details and ruin everything for you. Deliberately filmed in black and white, Hitchcock’s gloriously twisted, voyeuristically warped tale of greed, lust and deception will stand forever as the model for the plot twist.
Note: While I greatly respect Gus Van Sant and his cinematic achievements including the come out of nowhere and floor you film, Gerry, the always inspired Good Will Hunting and My Own Private Idaho, I cannot abide by his retelling of such a classic. Please watch the original.

25 October 2009

The Shining

directed by Stanley Kubrick

Inimitable may one of the few words that really sum up the obsessive, callous, and shocking talent of one Stanley Kubrick. And true, while apparently Kubrick could be allegedly fun at times, what resonates from his body of work is a fierce air of superiority, as if Kubrick’s lack of compassion for humanity transforms his films into science experiments. Kubrick films always carry with them such a sterile muteness that makes you uncomfortable from frame one, and usually leave you ashamed to be a part of the human race by the time the credits roll. And never has Kubrick’s sentiment been such a bloody mess as his truly horrific film, The Shining. Jack Nicholson is Jack Torrance, a family man who lands a job as winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel. The fam packs up and heads out, and when son Danny begins somehow communicating with the house (this psychic connection is named “shining”) and seeing horrific images, Jack’s writer’s block turns into a complete mental deterioration. Stephen King’s book and Kubrick’s script percolate with the hedonism of gluttonous consumption, a hedonism that takes prisoners. You may not like what you see, but it doesn’t make it any less worth the watch.

Willard

directed by Glen Morgan

While I have to give credit to the original Willard Stiles, admirably played by the oft-overlooked Bruce Davison (scope the cameo in the remake), my heart belongs to the updated version and the chillingly unhinged performance of one of my favorite actors of all time, Crispin Glover. The remake, unafraid to go for it when the original just couldn’t seem to cross the line, is as disturbingly entertaining to watch as it is to talk about. Loner misfit Willard Stiles lives at home with his mother and works at his father’s company which now belongs to his father’s best friend (a bitter R. Lee Ermey). When Mom asks Willard to take care of a few rats invading the basement, he takes the opportunity to make some friends. And oh, what friends they are. Soon, Willard has his rodent posse trained like an attack squad, gnawing and clawing Willard’s revenge plots into reality. At the head of his rodent gang is Ben, a cat sized rat that soon develops plans of its own, plans to perform a coup d'état on his human benefactor. It’s scuttling, scratching, disease ridden fun that’s guaranteed to have you wriggling in your seats. To add to the freaky factor, listen to the Crispin Glover cover of Michael Jackson’s original hit Ben, written for the original film. It’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Watch it:

24 October 2009

The Descent

directed by Neil Marshall

I have to admit, when this film came out in theaters, I was not interested in seeing it at all, and it was only under the prodding of friends that I decided to give Neil Marshall’s film a chance. This was not because I was not a fan of Mr. M, as I may be one of the rare few this side of the Atlantic to seek out and purchase a copy of Dog Soldiers (they’re werewolves, and they’re killing machines!), it was merely the fact that movies with people completely covered in blood and being chased by what I could only gather to be some sort of subterranean Deliverance offspring don’t really blow my hair back (unless the movie is actually Deliverance, because Burt Reynolds is so my man!). Boy, was I wrong. Marshall’s film is so much more than that, a horror film about a group of people who aren’t frightened into paralysis by their tormentors, a group of people who take matters into their own hands (Craven did it with groundbreaking zest in Last House on the Left). And wait, this group of cave divers, they’re all women? Wait, no man is around to help rescue them? That’s right, Marshall’s film revolves around a group of women not stereotyped into helplessness like so many in the cinematic tradition, women who fend for themselves and take care of business. And I don’t know how the film ended in theaters, but watching Marshall’s film as he intended it to end on the director’s cut DVD was like watching a film that takes it to next level, and frankly, I don’t know how else it could have ended. Bravo, Mr. M, on breaking the women as victims mold and giving us something to get excited about.

Hmmm, I’m noticing something, here. It seems that filmmakers like to embed horror films with social messages. There must be something about calamitous scenarios that are conducive to interpreting erroneous social paradigms. Someone should be teaching a class on this stuff.

23 October 2009

Cabin Fever

directed by Eli Roth

While I am not a fan of Roth’s torture horror Hostel films, I am a fan of his skin peeling, psycho bacteria monster gem, Cabin Fever. Roth got the idea for his opus when he contracted flesh-eating bacteria that resulted, one morning, in his shaving off some of his face. Gross? Yes, it is, but it’s also a campy, suspenseful and clever addition to the genre. As is the case with The Blair Witch Project, if you can make a scary movie without even having a villain you can see, then you must be onto something. But, I suppose I will watch anything that has a crazy hillbilly kid doing karate and yelling “pancakes!”

Shaun of the Dead

directed by Edgar Wright

So really BC, zombies are metaphors for social plight in so many horror films? What about Shaun of the Dead, then? Well, as Freud would say, sometimes a zombie is just a zombie. While the good doctor may be right, it doesn’t change the fact that not only is Shaun of the Dead one of the funniest movies of the past half decade, it is also one of the best zombie films of all time. Simon Pegg is Shaun, mid twenties retail loser whose life consists of going down to the pub with his screw up buddy (a side-splitting Nick Frost) and his girlfriend. She has had enough before the film even begins, as the opening sequence reveals her ultimatum: shape up or ship out. After a failed attempt to coordinate a romantic evening, the freshly dumped Shaun wakes up from a breakup bender with a new problem, how to defend himself against a hoard of zombies. Armed with a bat and a desire for a pint, Shaun sets out to rescue the ones he loves and secure them all inside the local pub. Like the action classic Die Hard, the beauty of Shaun of the Dead is that it simultaneously makes fun of a genre while proving itself to be an indispensable addition to that very same genre.

22 October 2009

Lady in White

directed by Frank LaLoggia


Not exactly horror, Frank LaLoggia’s Lady in White is just spooky, plain and simple. A decade old murder mystery, a ghost and a creepy little boy (a miniature Lukas Haas, and I mean that in the nicest way, Mr. H) mesh to create a mystique that echoes the gothic glory of a bygone era. Haas plays Frankie Scarletti (wonderfully, by the way), a boy who encounters the ghost of a little girl while he is locked in the school cloakroom over Halloween. As he searches for the truth about her death, Scarletti discovers that fact is freakier than fiction. On a personal note, Lady in White was a movie that frightened me as a child on a very elemental, very primitive level when I first saw it, so much so that even as an adult, the film can conjure up all of the little kid terror of a dingy cellar or a dark attic full of boogiemen. A classic story, classically accomplished, Lady in White is a fine example of legitimate scares earned the honest way, not cheaply snatched from its audience with shock and gore like many lesser films.

21 October 2009

28 Days Later...

directed by Danny Boyle

It may not be a pure zombie film, but Danny Boyle’s sensational reimagining of the genre is as scary as they come. Filmed with a grainy intensity, the film follows Jim (Cilian Murphy) as he awakens in a hospital 28 days after an outbreak of a deadly virus (known as “rage”) decimates England, a virus that turns the infected into crazed beasts in need of blood and flesh. Scouring the ravaged landscape for other survivors, Jim and Selena find a father (an earnest and powerful Brendan Gleeson) and daughter holed up in a high rise, where they hear a radio broadcast that hints at the possibility of salvation. In a world of biological weaponry and technological advancements beyond our wildest dreams, 28 Days Later… turns discovery on its head, forcing us to take stock of the primitive and insatiable aspects of our natures. Mankind’s lust for discovery always forges on in the shadow of acrimony, brought into sharp and gruesome focus by the lurid genius of Danny Boyle.

The Blair Witch Project

directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez

I don’t know about that one, BC. I always thought the Blair Witch Project was kind of- what? Kind of awesome? Because you’d be right. Screw the hipsters and film geeks who denigrated such a fresh and original piece of horror. It’s like flip flopping about a band that’s “so awesome” until they “sell out” by getting popular. Yeah, that’s airtight logic, like saying Of Montreal totally sounds like Justin Timberlake now that people know who he is. Whatever. Back to the matter at hand, a freaky slice of horror posing as a documentary of pieced together footage discovered about a trio of students who disappeared after setting out to cover a local legend, the legend of the Blair Witch. And their bodies were never found… but seriously, when a movie with no gore, no monsters, and no visible villain can still pin you to your seat, someone has to be doing something right. Did I just spoil anything? No, I did not. Check it out for yourself, and if you have seen it, watch it again with an open mind. But tighten those belts people, because apparently there is a correlation between fear and losing one’s pants.

18 October 2009

Planet Terror

directed by Robert Rodriguez

Guilty pleasures unite to form a powerhouse of good old fashioned trashy, disgusting and crass awesomeness. Leave it to Robert Rodriguez, the jack of all trades craftster responsible for such gems as El Mariachi, Desperado, and the truly astounding Sin City, to rig up a preposterously fun story about a dive bar overrun by zombies. Like his partner in crime Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez dismantles his film element by element, even removing an entire reel (as Tarantino did for his Death Proof theatrical release, but later “discovered” for the DVD) to create the dragged behind a Buick feel of a heavily played, heavily neglected exploitation film. Where Rodriguez and Tarantino diverge from one another is in their handling of the exploitation and grindhouse genre. While Tarantino seeks to comment on and even redefine the genre in an almost homage-like sense, Rodriguez seeks to make his own addition to the canon, which he does with flying, ultragrotesque colors. And it doesn’t hurt when you can wrangle up such greats of yore as the underrated Jeff Fahey, the solidly excellent Michael Biehn, comeback kid Josh Brolin (who came back with a vengeance with No Country for Old Men, Planet Terror, and his portrayal of the Dubs in W.), and add a ridiculously cool Freddy Rodriguez to the mix. If only the Weintsteins would package the duo’s films together into one, glorious double feature, complete with the trailers directed by Eli Roth and Edgar Wright. Pretty please? It would be so choice.

16 October 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (Review)

directed by Spike Jonze


Well folks, the verdict is in, and I know that you know that I knew, deep down in my heart’s soul, that Spike Jonze’s most stunning achievement to date was to be the most wonderful (I believe I called it heart swelling and colossally magical) filmic experience of this or any other year. Ladies and gentlemen, I have to tell you, I was right! Raw, emotional and dangerous, Jonze’s masterpiece (right again) about childhood, divorce and isolation hits closer to the bull’s eye than any other attempt on the subject. Max (Max Records) is a little boy with a big imagination, and his attempts to reel others in on the rumpus just seem to fall apart. But when he discovers a world populated by wild things (did you read the book?), he sets out to build a world of his own, a world of fun, of comfort, of companionship. In Jonze’s roughly tender embrace, the peaks and troughs of childhood are as frenzied, sinister, dangerous, and accurate, as anything us adults endure. Max’s gang of wild friends are like the dark prism of his psyche, all struggling to live together in a fortress that proves too ambitious. What Jonze succeeds in doing is creating a world ruled by youth, and all the problems, simplicity and freedom that result from the flawed logic and ample optimism of such a place. Masterful direction, exquisite cinematography, a script artfully attuned to the spirit of youth, all the elements are there, but try as I might, I simply couldn’t bottle the wonder and beauty of such a film into a mere review. I suppose breathtaking might come close to describing it. Just go and experience it for yourself.

Night of the Living Dead

directed by George A. Romero

The zombie paradigm has long been the go-to motif in which to embed a political or social message (Danny Boyle took a page from this book when he created the shockingly pertinent 28 Days Later…), and hats have to go off to the grandmaster of the zombie film, George A. Romero. When it comes to using zombies to represent social unrest as it relates to civil rights, the Cold War, consumerism, or even the “look at me” generation of social networkers, bloggers- er, wait, I mean a culture of completely normal behavior of interacting via the Internet (whew), Romero delivers the goods, and Night of the Living Dead is, on top of being Romero’s personal best, the absolutely quintessential zombie film. Two siblings are chased by some zombies into an old house where they are saved and protected by Ben, and when they discover a few more people hiding in the cellar, tensions lead to more trouble. Now, in 1968 this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you add to the brew the fact that Ben, the hero, is black, and all of his white counterparts seek to second guess his leadership when he continually bosses up and takes care of business, and you interpret the zombie metaphor as the oppression of the The Man, then all of a sudden you have a startlingly potent criticism of a white dominated social system in which minorities can’t get a fair shake. It’s a shame that things have not progressed as far as they should have by now, but that’s why Romero keeps giving us zombie equals some social plight horror films. Thanks, Mr R, for there is no better way to address the problems facing modern America than by turning them into brain eating reanimated corpses.

15 October 2009

Reign of Fire

directed by Rob Bowman

Hands down the best futuristic dragon slaying movie starring Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey ever! A guilty pleasure in the truest sense, this film is so bad it makes bad look acceptable, but what saves this movie and makes it a film worth viewing is the commitment made by its twin heroes, the "I saw one of these dragons kill my mum when I was a lad so now I’m kind of a big deal, and super radically overzealous" intensity of Christian Bale, who brought way more to the table than what a script of this caliber called for. Bale plays Quinn Abercromby (really? Wasn’t there a more British sounding name they cold have come up with?), sort of leader of a band of survivors trying to make it in a world where dragons have decimated the land of tea and crumpets. Enter Denton Van San (with the crazed Patton strut of a lunatic McConaughy, also being way more excellent than he needed to be), Uncle Sam’s Ahab for all those fire-breathing Moby Dicks. Denton can do Quinn one better, he killed hisself a gol’ darn dragon back home in Kansas. Take that, Britain! It looks like even in a dragon ravaged future, the USA has to boss up and kick some ass (really? Is he really describing a movie that was actually made? This sounds awful). Yeah, it is awful, awfully awesome! Come on, we all like to tout the genius of Kubrick and Truffaut films, and they are geniuses of the craft, but sometimes we need a little Reign of Fire.

American Psycho

directed by Mary Harron

Jeez, they say corporate America is tough, but I had no idea. Thanks to Brett Easton Ellis’ marvelously corrosive look into the vacuous and materialistic quagmire of yuppie culture and Mary Harron’s shrewd direction, American Psycho has become one of those films that everyone knows, even if they have never seen it. Word to the wise, if you haven’t feasted your eyes on this disgustingly mesmerizing film, do so immediately. It is easily one of Christian Bale’s best roles, which is a big deal in itself. Bale plays Patrick Bateman (excellent Psycho homage, Mr. E), yuppie scum and attention whore so preoccupied with how his peers see him that it causes him to freak out a little and hack to pieces friends, colleagues and complete strangers. In world where appearances and connections are more than everything (peep the sequence in which the business card becomes a fetish item around which all the ivy leaguers breathe heavily), Bateman seeks catharsis in the only way he see fit, by destroying things, committing murder and, of course, reciting his own album reviews of such 80’s artists as Huey Lewis and the News, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston. It’s money grubbing corporate culture treated as an epidemic, and it’s never been as much twisted fun as this.

12 October 2009

Prophecy

directed by John Frankenheimer

How’s this for an inconvenient truth? Toxic chemicals dumped into a water source royally screws the balance and harmony of nature. No, I’m not talking about the tacky heart string yanker A Civil Action, I’m talking about a movie with gonads, and enough Armand Assante to wet anyone’s whistle. I’m talking about John Frankenheimer’s super nutso, nature gone batshit protest film disguised as mere horror. I’m talking about The Prophecy, the only place where you’re going to find a true Armand Assante vs. mutant bear scenario. Do I really need to convince you further? Didn’t think so, just go watch it already, and imagine for yourself what kind of awesome, laser-tongued frog that giant tadpole would have turned into.

10 October 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

directed by Michael Moore

If you want to see a truly scary film this Halloween season, be sure to check out Michael Moore’s newest muckraker, Capitalism: A Love Story. Moore, in typical Moore style, seeks to uncover the reasons why our economy took a dump last year and finds (are you really surprised?) the political system at the center of the shit storm. Even if you think Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are brands of drug store “fancy candy,” this alarming doc about the corrupt and evil system known as capitalism will have you reaching for your torches in no time. With a not too subtle “I told you so,” Moore revisits his first work, Roger and Me, and finds the same problems he faced twenty years ago. It’s like a sequel to a horror movie in which all the same things happen again but on a grander scale. Such is the fate with all sequels; the ante has to be upped. So thanks, capitalism, for raising the stakes and turning the Friday the 13th of Roger & Me (with its GM terrorizes Flint scenario) into the Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan of Capitalism: A Love Story (this time Jason is the entire democratic system, and the victim is the entire country). America always loves a really scary sequel. And now that I think about it…




Spoooky.

Alien

directed by Ridley Scott

The science fiction, horror, futuristic art film. Who would have thought? Ridley Scott’s fundamental must see of all mentioned genres delivers on all fronts to create a shockingly, heart poundingly satisfying film experience. Tom Skerritt is Dallas, the captain of the commercial ship Nostromo on its way home when it receives a distress call. Upon inspection of said signal, an alien life form hatches and attaches itself to one of the crew (a pitch perfect John Hurt), but when the alien releases itself and everything seems to go back to normal, Scott unleashes one of the classic shockers in film history. Now it’s up to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, one of the baddest asses in sci-fi) and the crew to protect themselves and kill the alien before it kills them. Marvelous performances by Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holm, Weaver, Skerritt and Hurt only add to the richness of a genre defying film, a film that begs to be analyzed and interpreted with every viewing. And also scary as all get out.

09 October 2009

Poltergeist

directed by Tobe Hooper

Maybe not as shocking as Tobe Hooper’s groundbreaking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but certainly as entertaining, this interesting experiment to combine two drastically different points of view results in a perennial crowd pleaser. The points of view to which I refer are, of course, the ever hopeful, ever seeking the good in people sentimentality of Steven Spielberg, a true giant of the craft, and the seemingly hopeless, rotten to the core outlook of Tobe Hooper, and I do not mean that as an insult to either party. What’s so fun to watch, other than Craig T. Nelson practice high diving in his bedroom, is how these two forces mingle. The Freelings are a regular American family trying to make a life out in the suburbs, when some strange things start happening. The Freelings press on, that is, until the littlest Freeling (a kind of frightening Heather O’Rourke) gets sucked in the television and held hostage by the boss ghoul (how’s that for a lesson on watching too much TV?). The Freelings call in the experts to cleanse the house and find their little girl. What unfolds is face melting, meat-spewing, possessed tree fighting, slime dripping fun, and that long take with the stacked dining room furniture is out of sight! It’s haunted house meets Manifest Destiny, suburban sprawl, and guess what suburban sprawl? You just got served.

08 October 2009

The Lost Boys

directed by Joel Schumacher

“There’s one thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach. All the goddamn vampires.” So spaketh Sam and Michael’s grandpa at the end of Joel Schumacher’s Saturday night classic, The Lost Boys. From the opening sequence, set against a fantastic Bauhaus song, to the explosively blood-filled finale, Schumacher’s finest piece of pulp trash is just as good now as it was then. Before you judge me, imagine a friend, someone you trust, holding out two movies. In one hand, an existential and heady foreign film starring a true master of the acting craft, maybe it’s even on a few of those greatest films of all time lists. In the other hand, you read the cover of a red case peopled with a group of kids all at the heights of their 80’s majesty. You read the tag line, “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never Die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” and suddenly an image flashes in your mind of an absurdly muscled, strangely oiled saxophone player shaking his hips obscenely (that image is branded on my memory for all eternity). The decision has been made already. You know what you have to see. It’s Lost Boys, no question. Now that I’ve calmed down, let’s explore the plot. Single mom Dianne Wiest packs up Sam and Michael (Corey Haim, Jason Patric) and heads to live with her dad in Santa Carla, a crazy carnival of a town known for its high murder and missing children rates. Michael falls in with the wrong crowd, a crowd of vampires lead by the creepiest of creepsters, Kiefer Sutherland! It’s now up to Sam and the Frog Brothers (a solid Cory Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to hunt down all blood suckers so that Michael can rejoin the land of the living. Such family loyalty, it’s like a Rockwell painting.

You know you want to watch:

07 October 2009

Death Proof

directed by Quentin Tarantino

If you have been living Unabomber style for the past decade and a half, or perhaps you’re one of those militantly anti everything “cool” types, then there is, I suppose, a remote chance that you didn’t catch the sensational double feature Grindhouse, directed by two of the most incredibly gifted and cinematically fluent directors of our generation, Robert Rodriguez and the master of the cult film as art, Quentin Tarantino. If you didn’t, then you need to get your priorities straight, friend, because you missed out on some of the raunchiest and jaw-droppingly entertaining pieces of cinema since Rodriguez’s masterpiece Sin City or Tarantino’s mesmerizing Kill Bill I and II. Like Sergio Leone, Tarantino is so fluent in film as to be considered a freak of the craft, but he, like Leone, embraces his fanaticism and wields it like a master swordsman. Blending genres, films, and even characters into a cohesive and tantalizing whole that is truly greater than the sum of its parts, he manages to bring the cult and pulp to the level of true art. In the case of Death Proof, Tarantino pulls from the vast well of exploitation, driving and horror films to deliver a film that’s almost not even a film, more of an essay on film technique. Dialogue (Tarantino’s forte), sound and color, including using mistakes in both areas as punctuation marks or brush strokes, and some of the most high octane driving sequences ever to be filmed. The plot revolves around Stuntman Mike (a Kurt Russell so perfect it should be illegal), a killer who can only gets his rocks off when he’s vehicularly penetrating his victims. But he picks on the wrong group of young ladies, unleashing a hellfire of scorn and fury. I said it before on my review of White Lightning, a film in which driving pro Buddy Joe Hooker proved his mettle by giving Joseph Sargent a veritable Detroit muscled money shot over the head of Burt Reynolds, that Hooker’s chops are too righteous! His talent behind the wheel is most prevalent in Death Proof, as is Kurt Russell’s ability to be just as awesome as he was in his Carpenter heyday. If there were to be a cult actor Hall of Fame, Russell would undoubtedly be the first inductee. Mr. R, will you come to my next birthday party?

06 October 2009

Three Kings

directed by David O. Russell

David O. Russell proves in his stellar film Three Kings that a war just isn’t a war without a little larceny, or in this case, a whole lot of larceny. Russell also proves that you remake a film plot without remaking the film itself, the wartime gold theft plot in this case coming from the classic Kelley’s Heroes, but this time around it’s based on a true story! Wait- what? Did he just say true story? Yes I did, but instead of lamely trying to retell the events with the names and dates changed and with a more interesting composite of three of four less interesting people, Russell does it the fun way, by using the true story as inspiration for his highly entertaining work of fiction. Revolving around three Gulf War soldiers, Detroit native Elgin (a great Ice Cube) “on vacation” from his job at the airport, Straight shooter Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg in one of his best roles), and Barlow’s hillbilly admirer Conrad Vig (what, Spike Jonze can act, too?), who find a map that identifies the location of one of Sadam’s gold bullion stashes. Why not jack a little dough from the prick? Enter Archie Gates, wonderfully underplayed by the fantastic George Clooney, the idea and resource man capable of piloting such a mission. Using saturated colors and crazy anatomy class camera shots (CSI had to get those sweet ideas from somewhere), Russell creates a trippy look into a war that didn’t really seem like one. Not to be underestimated, Russell’s film is a powerful one, a film well worth seeing, or seeing again.
For additional awesome content, check out Russell’s short doc Soldier’s Pay, which deals with the notion of the war from various perspectives. Totally worth it.

05 October 2009

Edward Scissorhands

directed by Tim Burton

The NRA had Charlton Heston. Global plight and windbags everywhere have Bono. Applebee’s has John Corbett. And since his feature debut, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, the outcasts and oddballs have had their own celebrity advocate, the ever-twisted, ever angst-riddled visionary whose tender embrace has enveloped so many like an awkward hug. I’m talking, of course, about Tim Burton, and when I think Tim Burton, I immediately think of my favorite film of all time, Edward Scissorhands, starring the dreamiest dreamboat Johnny Depp at his most sincere, and his most unusual (and that’s saying something). The story is a simple fairy tale updated for the 20th century; stranger arrives in town, stranger is embraced by town, then somehow, stranger is rejected by town, usually in the form of an angry, torch bearing mob. Plotwise, Burton doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but what he does do is create a magic so unique to his world, a magic that envelops you in spite of yourself. Depp plays Edward, a young man built in the laboratory of a scientist (Vincent Price in his final role) who passed away before he could complete his creation, leaving the unfinished Edward with scissors for hands. Edward lives alone in the old mansion on a hill until a visit from the local Avon lady (Dianne Wiest is perfection) brings him down to the world of suburbia. Easily his funniest, most genuine, and most personal film, Burton’s talent has never crystallized so beautifully into a single, heartbreaking vision. There are simply too may moments worth mentioning in the film, too many delicate, sweeping, outrageously funny and poignantly stinging moments for one review. From the delightfully sugary disposition of Dianne Wiest to the hilarious oblivion of Alan Arkin (in one of his best roles ever), Edward Scissorhands is a film for the ages. A film that has to power to reveal itself anew with every viewing is a wonder to behold, and I don’t think I should live to see the day in which I grow tired of such a thing.

03 October 2009

Whip It

directed by Drew Barrymore

In today’s dreary economic climate, with its flurries of layoffs, corporate bailouts and health care bickering, who hasn’t felt the urge to strap on a pair of roller skates and lay into someone like a crazed hick at a town hall meeting? I know I have. And if good old-fashioned safe comedy is what you’re after, then Drew Barrymore’s film Whip It has it in spades. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its moments, but those moments are few and far between, most of them containing either an always reliably fantastic Marcia Gay Harden, a humorously earnest Andrew Wilson (you’ll always be Future Man to me, Mr. W), and Barrymore herself. But I digress…Ellen Page is Bliss Cavendar, a reluctant pageant daughter who finds a new calling after a chance encounter lands her at tryouts for a roller derby team called the Hurl Scouts, coached by the trash-glam Razor (Wilson). Does she make it, you ask? Relax, she does, and as she learns to “get some” on the track, she learns about the person she longs to be. I know, I know, does it earn a merit badge for originality? No, but I don’t begrudge the film that shortcoming. What it lacks in that department it makes up for with heart, and sometimes a little bit of heart is all it takes. Now go out and get you some!
Note: Can it be? Can I believe what I'm seeing? Editor extraordinaire Dylan Tichenor with the nickname "Final Slut Pro"? I wonder if he got that from P.T. Anderson or Andrew Dominik? How cute.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

directed by Steve Barron
Peep this!

When it was released in 1990, it was the most successful indie film ever. Little known fact, but it was also the most ninja-fightinest, gnarly, pizza-eatinest comic fantasy ever filmed. Stop me if you heard this one: 4 turtles and a rat happen upon some ooze that mutates them into humanoid ninja crime fighters trying to rid the world of evil, one ass-whooping at a time. Uh oh, sounds like the perfect time for the appearance of an arch villain. At the helm of the awesome force of the foot clan is Shredder, the human Ginsu knife who has his cross hairs honed on the classically named amphibians. Armed to the teeth (do turtles have teeth?) and assisted by the most realistic crime fighter in comicland, Casey Jones, the shadow of ninjas (I just came up with that collective noun for a group of ninjas, isn’t it sweet?) set out to get back their kidnapped sensei Splinter and destroy the fiend known as Shredder. Excellent! When it comes to realizing the dreams of countless youthful imaginations, nobody did or has done it better than Steve Barron. If you’re interested in exploring more of Barron’s whimsy mixed with vinegar world, I strongly suggest his excellent film Rat, starring Peter Postlethwaite and filmed right around the block from where I used to work in Dublin. What fun!

02 October 2009

Shallow Grave

directed by Danny Boyle

Trainspotting. A Life Less Ordinary. The Beach. 28 Days Later. Sunshine. Slumdog Millionaire. If all of these filmic charms hung together on a necklace, then the chain itself would represent none other than the warped, pop-trash genius of one Mister Danny Boyle. And it all started with Shallow Grave…
The plot is a timeless one; 3 yuppie friends find a fourth roommate for their flat, but when number 4 kicks off mysteriously and the trio find a suitcase full of money in his room, they decide to stash the cash, and the body. Simple plan, that is, until doubt, paranoia and a few more corpses start gumming up the works. It’s just too much dark fun to ruin for you with more explanation. Ewan McGregor shines as glib prick Alex, but it’s Christopher Eccleston who brings home the bacon as quiet accountant turned paranoid, semi-homicidal nut job David. Who says money can buy happiness?

01 October 2009

Into the Wild

directed by Sean Penn

It’s high time I paid proper respect to Sean Penn’s epically moving film Into the Wild, based on Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name. And while I’m at it, I’d better take a moment to grovel at Emile Hirsch’s feet in gratitude for his colossally inspired portrayal of Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, a college graduate who gave away all his possessions and set out traveling the country in search of vitality, purity and honesty, and always with his compass pointing toward Alaska. If you’re not familiar with the story, don’t worry, the film will tell you all you need to know, and if you have read the book, think of the film as supplemental material. Penn’s film sports a dazzling supporting cast (once again, the importance of stellar supporting cast proves too true) including Catherine Keener (magical), Hal Holbrook (sincere beyond words), William Hurt (simply amazing) and a Zach Galifianakis so good that it didn’t occur to me that it was actually him. That’s not to insult Mr. G, of course, but to shine a light on his supreme acting talent as well as his supreme comedic genius. A superb soundtrack by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder punctuates the entire feeling of the film with a primordial verve. Hirsch, as Supertramp, is a marvel to behold, the perfect embodiment of reckless idealism. Some may call McCandless rash, careless, a city kid who got in over his head, and they may be right. But Penn and Krakauer pose another theory, that Alexander Supertramp may just be the last American Hero, a trailblazer in search of a thing so elusive as to render it invisible to most eyes, save those willing to become lost to find it.
You be the judge.