Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Simon's Riposte: American Horror Story 1.1: "Pilot," Part 3

Dennis Cozzalio and I are going to recap American Horror Story's first season at our respective blogs. Each Monday, one of us will will start the discussion and we'll go back-and-forth on our respective blogs. Here is my response to Dennis's reponse. You can also follow along with our conversation at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Read on for my thoughts on Dennis's thoughts on my receipt, I mean thoughts on the show's first episode.


 I understand your trepidation, Dennis, and I appreciate that you're trying not to spoil the shit out of this conversation, you old so-and-so. But, if I may be so arrogant/bold, I feel like the fact that we're both coming at this show from different perspectives will only make our conversation more interesting. I also watched Kolchak: The Night Stalker (Love McGavin and the snappy dialogue, but yeah, it's kinda like Supernatural Mad Libs, huh?) and more of the original Twilight Zone than The Night Gallery (Jeff Lieberman just told me a funny story about how Rod Serling actually wore a red carnation when he first met Lieberman!). So yes, the anthology show format is one I also rather like. But I'm positive that you've seen more of this type of show than I have. I dabble, mostly; I'm a dabbler.

Also, I'm also coming at some issues from relative positions of ignorance. I've never watched Glee and I don't think I know anyone that suffers from Down's Syndrome. I only bring up the latter point because I feel that lack of perspective may have only served to de-sensitize to me to the representation of handicapped or autistic people. I mean, I did recently watch The Sentinel. And, after seeing that film's demeaning parade of pinheads, I essentially thought, "Eh, it's exploitative, but so what?" So, y'know, that lack of sensitivity is also a factor to consider. 

Dennis's Song: American Horror Story 1.1: "Pilot," Part 2

Dennis Cozzalio and I are going to recap American Horror Story's first season at our respective blogs. Each Monday, one of us will will start the discussion and we'll go back-and-forth on our respective blogs. I am posting Dennis's response to my post here, but you can also follow along with our conversation at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. Read on for Dennis's thoughts on the first episode of the show's first season.



Right off the top I want to say thanks for indulging with me in this rather ambitious commentary we’ve decided to undertake. I’ve always been a fan of horror on TV, especially anthology shows, but as a fan I’ve always had to acknowledge that though TV has produced classic series in the genre (Night Gallery, Thriller, The Outer Limits, even The Twilight Zone), horror has thrived more in the one-off TV movie format than in series form. (Dan Curtis’ great The Night Stalker begat The Night Strangler, and then of course the short-lived Kolchak series, the enduring fondness for which has more, I think, to do with nostalgia and the legacy of those movies rather than the show itself, which is kind of musty.) American Horror Story exists, as it turns out, as a strange hybrid between the two storytelling formats, something we can discuss later as the attack of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s plan becomes more apparent.

Speaking of which, you and I are approaching this show from different angles—I’ve already seen it nearly in its entirety (I’ve missed now, I think, only one episode), whereas you are at the beginning of your voyage, the pilot being the only episode you’ve seen so far. This presents a challenge for me— to avoid getting ahead of myself and drawing inferences or outright conclusions based on information that has not yet been revealed. I will strive to keep myself (with one non-spoiler-oriented exception in this piece) within the limits of what episodes we have both seen as this discussion progresses.

Monday, July 30, 2012

It Begins: American Horror Story 1.1: "Pilot," Part 1

Dennis Cozzalio and I are going to recap American Horror Story's first season at our respective blogs. Each Monday, one of us will will start the discussion and we'll go back-and-forth on our respective blogs. Check out Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule for more of this week's conversation about, "Pilot," the first episode of the show's first season.


In "Pilot," the not-so-imaginatively named first episode of American Horror Story, show-runners Brad Fulchuk and Ryan Murphy quickly but unhurriedly introduce us to the show's protagonists' and their world. The Harmons, Vivien and Ben (Connie Britton and Dermot Mulroney), move into a spooky old/new home with their misanthropic/teenage daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga). Vivien and Ben have hit a rough patch in their relationship after she had a miscarriage and he subsequently had sex with a co-ed. 
Ben, a character who has a more active subplot but is also paradoxically less well-defined as a character, is also treating a troubled teen named Tate (Evan Peters)--Ben is a psychiatrist, by the way. Ben tries to tell the authorities about Tate, who says he has recurring daydreams of killing his friends at school. But Tate is a liar (he lies about being on medication) so this is probably just a story. On top of that, Ben gets caught in the Web of Patriarchal Bureaucracy and conveniently cannot reach anyone that he can talk to about Tate. Probably because Tate is dead (idle speculation, not a spoiler!) and the shows' writers want to make it easier to reveal that later in season one. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Have You Ever Heard the Words, 'Blue Sunshine?'"

242) Blue Sunshine (1978) Dir: Jeff Lieberman Date Released: ??? Date Seen: July 28, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

I'm quite taken with this film. Can't wait to interview Lieberman for the Village Voice (interview's tomorrow, so be sure to send in your questions, fun-seekers!). That piece won't be done for another couple days though and won't even be up at the Voice's site for another two weeks or so. But hey, you can keep watching this space anyway. We thank you for your patience. Stand clear of the closing doors. *bing bing*

Editor's Note: here it be.

In Which Tomas Milian Eats Spaghetti

240) Run, Man, Run (1968) Dir: Sergio Sollima Date Released: ??? Date Seen: July 28, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

241) Companeros (1970) Dir: Sergio Corbucci Date Released: April XX, 1972 Date Seen: July 28, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Though Companeros may be my favorite of the three Corbucci-directed westerns I've seen, it's probably not the best (The Big Silence is pretty good). I did however like Run, Man, Run, even if its pacing was even stodgier than The Big Gundown, a film which it is technically a sequel to. Run is more of the same from Sollima and Milian but it has a lot of good Looney Tunes-style violence and it's fun to hang out with Cuchillo. So I can't complain really. See my forthcoming Inessential Essentials profile on Companeros for Movieline. Watch this space for the link.

Editor's Note: here's my piece on Companeros.


239) The Paradine Case (1947) Dir: Alfred Hitchcock Date Released: January 8, 1948 Date Seen: July 28, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

I didn't read up on The Paradine Case before I checked it out at the IFC Center and I'm glad I didn't. The reputation that surrounds the last Selznick/Hitchcock collaboration is a bit dispiriting. Until Farran Nehme Smith said she also liked the film, I felt rather freakish for enjoying this courtroom melodrama. And now I feel even more silly for having ever felt silly in the first place! The Paradine Case is, for my money, not only typically well-directed but also admirably tense and well-acted. I've heard a couple of people say that some of its cast were, um, mis-cast, particularly Gregory Peck, but I don't see it. Peck plays a hot-shot and a pillar of virtue whose fascination with Alida Valli, whose performance reminded me of Simone Simon's in Cat People (1942), concerns and worries everyone around him. I can't comment in depth about why other people felt this because again, I have avoided reading anything except the opinions I solicited on Twitter. But I never felt like Peck didn't play his part well or that he was the wrong man for his role. 

Also: Charles Laughton was perfect as the corrupt judge Peck's character has to convince. And the ladies in this film really impressed me. I absolutely loved Ann Todd as Peck's perceptive but doting wife, particularly when she gives that worried speech to him about how he doesn't really love Valli. And Ethel Barrymore's impassioned speech to Laughton at the end was really moving, even if the speech itself is a bit pokey. 

I don't know, I feel like the film's plot may be a bit contrived and its main thematic revelations--a damsel in distress does not always need rescuing and a cavalier affair based on projection is doomed to failure--are ho-hum, but only when considered in the abstract. While I was watching this film, I was totally absorbed. Two hours really did fly.

Though This Film is Playing at the Quad, and It's Title is Rather Suggestive, Kindly Keep Your Minds Out of the Gutter for a Moment.

236) Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (2011) Dir: Fredrik Gerrten Date Released: July 27, 2012 Date Seen: July 26, 2012 Rating: 1.75/5

Lidda bidda pick-up work for the Village Voice. Should be in next week's L.A. Weekly, if not just on the Voice's site. Watch dis spaaaaace.

Editor's Note: here it be.

Bad Idea Podcast #14: Fun in the Sun, and A Day at the Beach

233) The Horror of Party Beach (1964) Dir: Del Tenney Date Released: June 1, 1964 Date Seen: July 25, 2012 Rating: 2/5

234) Get Down Grand Funk (1968) Dir: Frank Willard Date Released: XX 1968 Date Seen: July 26, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

235) Cheerleaders Beach Party (1978) Dir: Alex. E. Goitein Date Released: September XX, 1978 Date Seen: July 26, 2012 Rating: 1.25/5

237) Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) Dir: Andy Sidaris Date Released: July 27, 2012 Date Seen: July 27, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

238) Models (1999) Dir: Ulrich Seidl Date Released: ???? Date Seen: July 27, 2012 Rating: 2/5

We were a bit tired when we recorded this podcast. But hey, we still had a good discussion. So you listen to this when it gets posted, and you listen well! Watch this space for a link to the new Bad Idea Podcast, which should hopefully be up within a week.

Editor's note: you can listen to this now.

Oh, Ralph Bakshi.

232) Fritz the Cat (1972) Dir: Ralph Bakshi Date Released: January 26, 1972 Date Seen: July 22, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Yes, it does have a certain appeal, I admit. See my appreciation of this flawed, X-rated cartoon over at Capital New York.

Fuck This Movie.

231) Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) Dir: Rupert Sanders Date Released: June 1, 2012 Date Seen: July 22, 2012 Rating: 1/5

And the award for most incompetently helmed/blocked/covered/directed film goes to: Rupert Sanders for this piece of shiiiiiit.

Seriously, I have not (recently) been more viscerally put off by the utter clanging incompetence of a filmmaker's approach to already cheesy material than while watching Snow White and the Huntsman. I checked my watch when I was 30 minutes in and the remaining 90 minutes felt like an eternity. If nothing else, this ridiculous attempt to Nolan-ize a Grimm fairy tale--think of it as Snow White Begins, which I'm sure is how it was sold at a pitch meeting--makes me appreciate just how good Christopher Nolan movie is at making, well, Christopher Nolan movies. 

There is no soul, no wit and no guiding intelligence to this pseudo-dark take on the character's story or her world (ooh, the wicked witch may or may not be schizophrenic and she eats hearts and OH FUCK THE FUCK OFF). All of the film's cast members, from the winningly vampish Charlize Theron to the totally wasted (har har har) Chris Hemsworh, were underserved by Sanders's grossly incompetent, Cathryn Hardwicke-level direction. Sanders does not even know how to hold a shot on an actor. His camera is as restless and Hardwicke's often is and the man clearly did not know how to shape his film in the editing bay. Because fuck me, this film was chopped up beyond comprehension. If you're tempted to watch this film, please see headline and repeat as necessary.

The Only Superhero Movie to Make a Joke about "White Flight" and the "Black Menace"

RV!: Mystery Men (1999) Dir: Kinka Usher Date Released: August 6, 1999 Date Seen: July 22, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

I still like it. See my Inessential Essentials profile of the film over at Movieline.

I Forgot My Mantra

230) To Rome with Love (2012) Dir: Woody Allen Date Released: June 22, 2012 Date Seen: July 21, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked To Rome with Love. I feel it's more thoughtful and considerably less one-note than Midnight in Paris, which I also liked but to a lesser extent. I also like how casual Rome's warmth and intelligence is. Allen sets up the notion that his version of the city is necessarily an illusory view of Rome. The intentionally clunky line, "Ozymandias Melancholia," that Alec Baldwin's character uses is as effective as it is because it suggests that everything about the city is a warm but unreal projection. The variations on that theme that ensue are thus a wistful but knowingly adrift in nostalgia and context-less memories. 

There are also a number of ideas and themes here in Rome that Allen has previously explored in the past filling out the margins of this sunny tribute to the Italian portmanteau sex comedies of the '70s. I'm especially taken with the sex-positive attitude of the honeymooner's divergent subplots, especially the off-the-cuff way that Penelope Cruz's character relates Allen's usual preoccupation with the moral loophole that prostitutes present (basically, she asks: why is it that men are ok with exploring sex with a hooker and not with someone they'd consider as a hetero-normative partner? That question is also asked in the excellent Shadows and Fog).

 Hell, the use of Cruz's dress alone made me smile. She clearly did not fit that thing and the distracting girdle she's wearing to keep her tummy (?!?!) in is just further proof that, yes, the heart wants what it wants. And in this case, the heart wants Penelope Cruz's spectacular cleavage threatening to burst up and out of a red-and-black polka dot dress.

Oh, and I also laughed a lot. I think most of the film's jokes hit and that's partly because there's a sneaky intelligence to them. For instance, I laughed a lot during the man-sings-in-shower-on-stage subplot, especially when he performs key scenes from Pagliacci in the shower (the scene where he applies his make-up and contemplates the performative aspect of being a clown, while during the performance our singer applies body wash to his face: hilarious). But it's also because there's a lot of really good, immediately satisfying zingers here, including, "Your mother married a great imbecile!"

I don't know, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. What exactly do you people want from Woody Allen anymore, exactly?

Wait, don't answer that.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


RV!: Batman (1989) Dir: Tim Burton Date Released: June 23, 1989 Date Seen: July 12, 2012 Rating: 4/5

RV!: Batman Returns (1992) Dir: Tim Burton Date Released: June 19, 1992 Date Seen: July 15, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

227) The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Dir: Christopher Nolan Date Released: July 20, 2012 Date Seen: July 17, 2012 Rating: 3/5

Do the Bat-tusi with me, please. 

I didn't write much about the 1989 Batman but generally speaking: I think it's messiness was more apparent to me this time around than it was when I last rewatched it. But I still have a very strong personal attachment to both of Burton's Bat-films. Burton gets so much right in his hyper-personal first foray with the character and his world that I can't really say that the film's apparent flaws seriously bugged me. I think he gets more confident with Batman Returns, a film that is probably my favorite of the live-action Batman movies to date. I've said it before but: I wish Burton had had a chance to direct a third Batman film. I'm irrationally convinced that it would have been even stronger than Returns.

In any case, two big pieces about Batman, one a semi-comprehensive look at the character and his best incarnations over several decades and various media; and one a lengthy, spoiler-intensive review of Christopher Nolan's concluding film in his Bat-trilogy. Both pieces can be found at Press Play here and here.

William Friedkin Rides Again

223) To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) Dir: William Friedkin Date Released: November 1, 1985 Date Seen: July 13, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

225) The Hunted (2003) Dir: William Friedkin Date Released: March 14, 2003 Date Seen: July 16, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

226) Rampage (1987) Dir: William Friedkin Date Released: October 30, 1982 (Wow, what a nasty Halloween surprise this was, eh?) Date Seen: July 17, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

228) Killer Joe (2011) Dir: William Friedkin Date Released: July 27, 2012 Date Seen: July 17, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

229) Sorcerer (1977) Dir: William Friedkin Date Released: June 24, 1977 Date Seen: July 20, 2012 Rating: 4/5

I wrote two pieces about Friedkin's films, one a review of his latest film and one as a feature-profile-interview-thing. The only film listed above I did not cover in either piece was The Hunted, which is just as well as that film is a strong B-movie but not much more than that. Well-directed cheese, basically, with a good lead performance from a charismatically out-of-breath Tommy Lee Jones. 

Anyway: my Killer Joe review is at Capital New York and my Friedkin profile is over at Press Play

Such Beautiful Mayhem.

224) Freebie and the Bean (1974) Dir: Richard Rush Date Released: December 25, 1974 (HO HO HO!?) Date Seen: July 14, 2012 Rating: 4/5

I now totally get why people like my buddy Dennis Cozzalio dig this film without reservation: it's wonderfully frenetic, especially the casual chemistry between Alan Arkin and James Caan. And oh me, oh my, that stuntwork is fantastic. I love a good car chase and I especially love a good bit of stunt-driving. So I was laughing so hard at the scene at the parade that I was practically coughing up a lung. 

In a weird way, Freebie and the Bean was a very good chaser for To Live and Die in L.A. Both films star obsessed buddy cops and both narratives conclude with the abrupt realization that the goal that  the film's buddy cops have been chasing is ultimately pretty meaningless. Nabbing the bad guy in the end is immaterial: it's the chase that matters. 

I think this is why I sympathize and relate to my other buddy (I have more than one, ok?!) Steve Carlson when he says that he likes movies about "process." This isn't a normal buddy cop comedy, something that we're constantly being reminded of. Freebie and the Bean really are loose cannons (lookit dat poster!), the kind that would bust a powerful mob boss for indecent exposure just as soon as they would interrogate a witness's girlfriend in a state of semi-undress (ok, fine, mostly naked, you got me). Freebie and the Bean's a lil rough around the edges because of that crazy, unkempt energy. But it's also really exciting to watch for that same reason.

Strangers In Our Midst

222) Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Dir: Alfred Hitchcock Date Released: January 15, 1943 Date Seen: July 11, 2012 Rating: 4/5

RV!: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) Dir: Steven Spielberg Date Released: June 11, 1982 Date Seen: July 11, 2012 Rating: 4.5/5

An unusual but fruitful double feature. See my rather silly but fun comparison between the two films over at Capital New York.

Not My Winterbottom

221) Trishna (2011) Dir: Michael Winterbottom Date Released: July 13, 2012 Date Seen: July 10, 2012 Rating: 2/5

I consider myself to be one of Michael Winterbottom's biggest cheerleaders. But this movie was, like his recent Shock Doctrine adaptation, flat-out lousy. See my review for Press Play.

NewFest 2012

218) I Need Your Love (2011) Dir: Travis Matthews Not Yet Released Date Seen: July 9, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

219) Four (2012) Dir: Joshua Sanchez Not Yet Released Date Seen: July 9, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

220) Mosquita y Mari (2012) Dir: Aurora Guerrero Not Yet Released Date Seen: July 9, 2012 Rating: 3/5

I was a bit unsure of how to approach this piece until I started to watch some screeners. I rather like how this feature turned out. Do check it out, over at the Village Voice. And if you can get a print copy, it's on page 28! 

Sunday Night at the Movies

ISF: The Scars of Stop-and-Frisk (2011) Dir: Julie Dressner and Edwin Martinez Date Released: July 6, 2012 Date Seen: July 8, 2012 Rating: 3/5

216) The Pact (2012) Dir: Nicholas McCarthy Date Released: July 6, 2012 Date Seen: July 8, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

217) Iron Monkey (1993) Dir: Wo-Ping Yuen Date Released: October 12, 2001 Date Seen: July 8, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

A nice double feature, though I must say I thought the short film that proceeded The Pact was only passable as far as such succinct, no-shit-sherlock op-ed docs go. 

Unfortunately, The Pact didn't do much for me. In spite of some good jump scares, the story is way too unfocussed and the characters are, more often than not, very poorly defined. My teeth were set on edge when McCarthy, who initially makes a big show of championing a female protagonist as such, undermined his goal by giving us a gratuitous booty shot of our heroine, lying on her side in panties that didn't even cover the entirety of her butt. We do need strong female protagonists in horror films and that should go without saying. This butt, I mean girl is not one of them.

And yet, while I get the sense that McCarthy might have been trying to initially define his heroine in opposition to a certain type of stereotypical battered-woman-gets-empowered narrative, he doesn't strays too far beyond those standards. A prime stereotype in The Pact is the dunder-headed male cop that offers to help our heroine by simultaneously lending credence to her story of a domestic haunting and play white knight for her, too. She rebuffs him, effectively telling him that she doesn't need such a well-meaning but clueless meathead in her life. But then he does help her. And while he doesn't help in the end, he is there for her.

That's just a minor illustrative example though. Generally speaking, I feel like this movie is plenty atmospheric but has an unhealthy amount of ridiculous plot points, like the Google Maps Ghost or the make-shift Ouija board. I groaned throughout at the film's general ludicrous-ness. Which is a shame because I really wanted to like this film.

Thankfully, Iron Monkey was just about gleefully bonkers as I wanted it to be. A heavily jet-lagged Donnie Yen introduced the screening (he even, without exaggeration, accidentally called "Jet Li," "Jet Lag!") and talked very briefly about working with the Yuen clan before (he even worked as a stuntman in Miracle Fighters II!). And boy, is this ever a Yuen clan film. 

I think of the Yuen brothers as the guys that directed Taoism Drunkard, that wonderfully unhinged kung fu comedy about cherry boys, rat-mobiles and banana monsters. This film doesn't have those unquestionably awesome things but it has the same demented spirit of anything goes that I love about slapstick-heavy Hong Kong comedies. People don't walk through doors in Iron Monkey, they rocket through walls. Their feet don't touch the ground, see. The action choreography is wonderful, really just exceptionally well-timed and delightfully playful. In short: I think I'm in love.

Japan Cuts 2012

214) Toad's Oil (2009) Dir: Koji Yakusho Not Yet Released Date Seen: July 7, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

215) Space Battleship Yamato (2010) Dir: Takashi Yamazaki Not Yet Released Date Seen: July 7, 2012 Rating: 3/5

I enjoyed both of these, though I wish I had more of a chance to preview this program. Looked like a very strong slate, including new films by Sogo Ishii and Noboru Iguchi. Ah, well. Check out my capsule reviews for the L Magazine here and here.

Everybody's Working for the Weekend

211) Born on the Fourth of July (1989) Dir: Oliver Stone Date Released: December 20, 1989 Date Seen: July 5, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

212) Tales from the Quadead Zone (1987) Dir: Chester Novell Turner Not Yet Released Date Seen: July 6, 2012 Rating: 3/5

213) Ted (2012) Dir: Seth McFarlane Date Released: June 29, 2012 Date Seen: July 6, 2012 Rating: 1.75/5

Leading up to that weekend, I saw a couple of films that I vividly recall the experience of seeing but only have vague impressions of what I specifically saw. I watched Born on the Fourth of July with my friend Matt Zoller Seitz at MoMA. And both the film itself and the conversation we had after the film made me think I needed to see movies by Stone (recommendations welcome). Stone's version of Ron Kovic's experiences post-Vietnam are moving, scary and very effective. The twinges of surreality and the distinguishing details that made Kovic and his story relatable were extraordinary. I was bowled over by the film and it seems that Stone and Kovic, both of whom were in attendance at the screening, were, too. Which was nice; it felt like we had all been through something together in that theater, even Matt, who had already seen the film multiple times!

Tales from the Quadead Zone was seen when I was down in the dumps after a low day at work. I bought some new comics at Midtown Comics, had some craft beer and a turkey meatball sub at Whole Foods and then went to see the film at the Museum of Arts and Design alone. I'm very glad I went. Quadead is not as charmingly delirious as the late (?) Turner's Black Devil Doll From Hell but it is winningly eccentric and corny in ways that remind me of Robert Rodriguez's brand of DIY pastiche. Quadead is much less self-conscious however and is hence more exciting than most Rodriguez films I've seen, but yeah, it's not exactly going to win any major awards or anything.

And Ted is just top-to-bottom sucky whenever Sam Jones is not on-screen. Even then, McFarlane's creative constipation is more than apparent. Still, I laughed at that particular non-sequitur/running gag because I am a nerd and Jones was clearly more than game. I can't say that anything else in this film really won me over. I strongly disliked its phoney "grow up, stupid" moral. But honestly, what should I have expected from a Seth McFarlane film, right? Saw this at the nearby Alpine at an 11pm screening with my roommate Bill Best. Bill hadn't been out that night and also wanted to see the film and I wanted to check out the theater. Fuck that theater and fuck that movie, too. But! I'm glad I went.

There's Another Unsung Genius Heard From...

209) Deconstructing Dad: The Machines, Music and Mystery of Raymond Scott (2010) Dir: Stanley Warnow Date Released: July 13, 2012 Date Seen: July 3, 2012 Rating: 3/5

I came down on this harder than I intended to in my Village Voice review, but check out my capsule review anyway.

I Dunno, You Tell Me

208) What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984) Dir: Pedro Almodovar Date Released: March 10, 1985 Date Seen: July 3, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

210) Fair Game (1986) Dir: Mario Andreacchio Not Yet Released (?!) Date Seen: July 3, 2012 Rating: 3/5

I had to finish watching a documentary for work in-between these two films but these two films were basically my Fourth of July holiday viewing. The Almodovar film is actually pretty thoughtful, in its own self-consciously kitschy way. I especially like that the film's domestic comedy, which is a more daftly melo-dramatic and goofily comedic fore-runner to All About My Mother, boils down to one sentiment: you can't hold a family together if its individual members don't want to stay. For example, the fact that the perilously young rent-boy in training can leave when he wants and return when he chooses shows you the weirdly hard moral to this otherwise absurd comedy. In other words, no matter how silly the film may be superficially, it is ethically sound on a rather basic level. I like that.

Fair Game isn't nearly as thoughtful. The film that famously inspired the living-girl-as-hood-ornament stunt scenes in Deathproof is rather poorly paced and a mostly unremarkable, though infrequently tense, pot-boiler. Sometimes, I gotta admit: a film is a cult object because it's just not that great. Not that bad either, but eh, not for me.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Now We Sound the Drums of War!

207) Savages (2012) Dir: Oliver Stone Date Released: July 5, 2012 Date Seen: July 2, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Lil Pocahontas humor for you folks in the cheap seats. Anyway, yeah, I liked it. See my review for Capital New York.

...And Shove It

203) Take This Waltz (2011) Dir: Sarah Polley Date Released: June 29, 2012 Date Seen: June 30, 2012 Rating: 2/5

By the time its end credits were rolling, I felt like Sarah Polley's sophomore directorial effort had grated on my very last nerve. I like Away From Her, Polley's debut as a filmmaker and a drama that constantly threatened to capsize but thankfully ever did. But in Take This Waltz, all of the wrong-headed dramaturgical impulses that Polley indulged in in that earlier film are accentuated. She smothers her characters by making every fucking scene revolve around a talking point. No scene can simply be about what it's about, it has to be about what the characters signify, why their actions matter, and what Polley likes about them. Polley's trying so hard here that if you squint, you can see an authorial hand pinching the protagonists' cheeks.

Scenes like the one where Polley takes time to show us Michelle Williams's swinging knees as she licks her fingers when she makes blueberry muffins? Scenes like that suck, and they suck hard because it's distracting to see a sympathetic character become a model of behavior rather than an individual protagonist. I get it: Williams's character has to grapple with decisions that Polley has great sympathy for. And I also sympathize greatly with any young person that's unsure of whether or not they should take similar strides towards doing what is best for them, even if it means hurting someone they love. It's in one's nature to be selfish and being selfish is not always bad. WOOO, GO INDIVIDUALISM, RA RA RA. Feh.

Look, I like this film's message. I like it! I really do, ok? But as a drama, this film's the pits. The characters are unbelievably flat after a point because they're only as complex as Polley's shrill dialogue suggests. Just look at that stupid scene where Williams balks to Seth Rogen's character that he's always baking chicken. Ooh, lookit that awkward silence! NNNNN.

Or how about the scene where an old woman gently reminds Williams, the very sexy Sarah Silverman and some other young thing that, "New things get old," or something equally trite but true? I mean come on, next we're going to be applauding Yogi Bera as a great 20th century philosopher! No. Just: no.

"Can't Sleep, Will?"

RV!: Insomnia (2002) Dir: Christopher Nolan Date Released: May 24, 2002 Date Seen: July 1, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Not bad, for the most part. Chase scenes are pretty spectacular even. So yeah, I like't. See my Inessential Essentials column on it over at Movieline.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Salma, if You're Out There: Call Me

202) As Luck Would Have It (2011) Dir: Alex de la Iglesia Not Yet Released Date Seen: June 29, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

See what I mean about a lot of Bs?


I think this seething melodrama is caught somewhere between being too sincere and too vicious, which just makes me think it's not vicious at all and is probably just too sincere. It's a modern-day Ace in the Hole about our complicit-ness in the creation of insta-celebrities and the media that can't resist covering junk pop culture and bleh bleh bloo bleh blah--what George Romero once called, "the media octopus." Ok? Ya with me? Ok.

De la Iglesia does a good job of making this stuffy story immediately absorbing but still, the film's script really doesn't have much bite to it. I guess I don't get the point: is de la Iglesia serious about all this? Even the scene where (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) the guy with the spike in his head is bleeding out and he starts singing the soda jingle he came up with for Pepsi--even that feels a little trite and on the nose. Where is the undiluted batshit irreverence I just saw ? Who directed this and does he know the Alex de la Iglesia I was expecting to direct this film?

Bottom line: wow, Salma Hayek looks great. I mean, wow, what a bo--rformance! Yes, what a performance. Exactly, ahum.

Eh, Maybe Not Amazing.

201) The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) Dir: Marc Webb Date Released: July 3, 2012 Date Seen: June 28, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

Wow, a lotta Bs this month, I guess. Anyway, see my capsule review for the Nashville Scene.

Kino Eye on Steven Soderbergh

200) Magic Mike (2012) Dir: Steven Soderbergh Date Released: June 29, 2012 Date Seen: June 26, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

I like the way Soderbergh says what he says more than, uh, what he actually says. See my review for Press Play.

Fantasy Monster Mash

199) Krull (1983) Dir: Peter Yates Date Released: July 29, 1983 Date Seen: June 24, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

I rather liked this long, messy pastiche because, well, while it's hardly well-paced, I cared about the journey that the characters went on, even if I didn't care about the characters as such. And I liked the world that it's set in, even if it was knowingly forged from various archetypal fantasies. I guess I just liked the weird-ness of it all and thesense of adventure and wonder that the film had about it. If I had seen Krull for the first time as a pre-teen, not knowing what it was or what its reputation was? It would probably be one of my favorite films today.

NYAFF 2012

198) Vulgaria (2012) Dir: Ho-Cheung Pang Not Yet Released Date Seen: June 24, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

ISF: Bank Robbery (198X) Dir: Ho-Cheung Pang Not Yet Released Date Seen: June 30, 2012 Rating: 3/5

ISF: Three Gangsta Bears (198X) Dir: Ho-Cheung Pang Not Yet Released Date Seen: June 30, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

ISF: Summer Exercise (199X) Dir: Ho-Cheung Pang Not Yet Released Date Seen: June 30, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

204) The Sword Identity (2011) Dir: Haofeng Xu Not Yet Released Date Seen: July 1, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

205) The Swift Knight (1971) Dir: Chang-hwa Jeong Not Yet Released Date Seen: July 1, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

206) Chips (2011) Dir: Yoshihiro Nakamura Not Yet Released Date Seen: July 1, 2012 Rating: 4/5

I wrote a lidda bit about what I liked and what I saw at this year's New York Asian Film Festival at:

The L Magazine: here, here, and here.

Press Play: here.

and Capital New York: here.

Who Are You, Elliott Gould?

196) Who? (1973) Dir: Jack Gold Date Released: August XX, 1975 Date Seen: June 22, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

197) The Devil and Max Devlin (1981) Dir: Steven Hilliard Stern Date Released: March 6, 1981 Date Seen: June 22, 2012 Rating: 2/5

I had a couple of Elliott Gould movies lying around and felt like watching them. I love a good double feature and thought this could be fun. Eh, not that fun, actually, mostly because the latter film is a joy-less Disney film that is not nearly as fun as it should be. The set piece where Elliott Gould goes to hell is surreal and vivid. But: Bill Cosby, who plays a demon (he's not exactly the Devil, but it's assumed that he's a very important devil), has no good lines; the film devotes an annoying amount of time to child actors that aren't that talented; and Gould is totally wasted, too.

On top of that, Who? only features Elliott Gould: it's not really an Elliott Gould movie. Jack Gold's adaptation is a fun, if largely undistinguished and dramatically inert, spy/scifi hybrid in which Gould interrogates a cyborg that claims to be an American scientist that mysteriously went missing. Gould's basically just a secondary character in this scenario. He grills the cyboerg scientist until the robot-man reconsiders his foundational, apolitical love of scientific discovery--and becomes a farmer? Wait, am I remembering this right? I am? Oh. Hm.

I like Who?, mostly it has a bizarre premise and features some neat flashbacks, shot from the first-person perspective of our cyborg scientist protagonist. But yeah, The Devil and Max Devlin's just kinda lame.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Surrealism vs. Comedy (Or: Vroom, Vroom, Gas, Gas, Beep, Beep)

195) Maximum Overdrive (1986) Dir: Stephen King Date Released: July 25, 1986 Date Seen: June 21, 2012 Rating: 3/5

I mostly enjoyed this because I like this type of story. Specifically, I like stories where a group of smalltown peopls have to band together against an unknown evil, even if that unknown evil is a pack of killer sentient appliances, and trucks. Maximum Overdrive's more silly flourishes don't throw me because I think I get where Stephen King is coming from. This is the macabre-ly goofy sensibility of a man that read a lot of EC Comics as a kid and is now getting the wiggles out of his system. 

Plus, I don't know, maybe I'm too de-sensitized to this kind of hokey humor, but I didn't think it was /that/ corny. I mean, yes, ok, it's corny, ya got me. But also, that's an effect King's going for. 

For the sake of argument: I had a friendly argument with my former Comics Journal editor Michael Dean about Marvel Zombies before we ran our big Robert Kirkman-centric issue. And as a result, Mike kicked off our Kirkman-centric content in the Journal with an essay defending Marvel Zombies. That essay was followed by my interview with Kirkman, then my critical essay on The Walking Dead. I feel that symmetry really helped our presentation: in his essay, Mike expressed admiration for Kirkman's more disreputable side, while I had a hard time stomaching his more serious side. Still, we both essentially agreed that Kirkman was (and probably still is) a guy worth paying attention to. 

Anyway, Mike really felt that Marvel Zombies succeeded because, unlike me, he felt that it was not trying to be funny. Accordign to Mike, watching Marvel super-heroes like Captain America or Spider-Man talk about how hungry they are after they've been turned into zombies is not funny. Instead, watching the Hulk rip off the Silver Surfer's head with his teeth is downright surreal. 

Now, I don't think Robert Kirkman is the best surrealist in the world. In fact, while I agree with the thrust of Mike's argument, I can't say I really agree with its particulars. Still, I feel the distinction between a story that is trying to be alienating-ly surreal and one that's just blackly humorous is key here. The best example of this can be seen in Maximum Overdrive's mostly dialogue-free subplot with the little leaguer. After watching his friends, family and community get massacred at a peewee baseball diamond, this kid stumbles away alone and in a daze. 

In this subplot, King gives us an indelible image and one of the main reasons I feel this movie is totally defensible: that singular image of the poor kid's dead baseball coach. This guy's got a huge bloody dent in his forehead after a soda can, propelled by a manic vending machine, nails him right between the eyes. And it's scary and off-putting, and yes, a little funny, too. But mostly, and I hope I'm not over-using the term, it's surreal. 

Again, Maximum Overdrive is not great movie or anything. but still, I was thinking about this when I watched it. Is all.

"Macho Man! I Don't Care if You Came Or Not, I'm Macho Man!"

194) Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979) Dir: Jeff Margolis Date Released: January XX, 1979 Date Seen: June 20, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

I laughed. A lot. I say my piece over at Capital New York.