Friday, February 24, 2012

57) Safe House (2012)

57) Safe House (2012) Dir: Daniel Espinosa Date Released: February 10, 2012 Date Seen: February 11, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

I like to imagine that the subtext of this movie is a fight between Tony Scott and one of his more self-aware clones. Denzel is Scott, the influential rogue interrogator/action filmmaker that made the rules and now has broken them (or so it seems). Ryan Reynolds is Espinosa, the plucky new kid on the block, the up-and-comer, the new karate kid. Reynolds will succeed at protecting Denzel's legacy (ie: his life) by inadvertently proving that he's not actually better than him but rather has been conforming to his rules and helping him the entire time. Because there's a mole, right at the top of the...

...CIA?/action cinema, and it's...

Ok, here's where that silly reading breaks down. Because I have no idea who Brendan Gleeson is in that scenario. In any case, in the film I saw, Denzel mugs it up and is occasionally charming (naturally) while Ryan Reynolds is naturally charming and ups his mugging to match Denzel's. Some set pieces were fun, most were not. Brendan Gleeson kills a man. And I think that's about it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

56) Street Trash (1987)

56) Street Trash (1987) Dir: J. Michael Muro Date Released: September 16, 1987 Date Seen: February 10, 2012 Rating: 4/5

Mondo scuzzy--I'm lovin' it! See my piece for The L Magazine.

RV!: Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace (1999)

ISF: Scrat's Continental Crack-Up: Part 2 (2011) Dir: Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier Date Released: November 16, 2011 Date Seen: February 10, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

RV!: Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace (1999) Dir: George Lucas Date Released: May 19, 1999 Date Seen: February 10, 2012 Rating: 1.25/5

I was surprised at how much I liked this Ice Age cartoon the first time I saw it. I laughed aloud several times; kudos to the animators for using imaginary space well and for coming up with a scenario that didn't just feel like tired schtick. Shame about the ending, though that didn't bug me as much during my first go-around with this short.

As for Episode I--OH GOD, OH MAN, OH MAN, OH GOD. See my piece for Press Play.

RV!: Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

RV!: Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) Dir: Steve Box and Nick Park Date Released: October 7, 2005 Date Seen: February 8, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Still very entertaining even if it does seriously lose momentum in the last half hour or so. See my piece on Wallace and Gromit for Capital New York.

55) Thin Ice (2011)

55) Thin Ice (2011) Dir: Jill Sprecher  Date Released: February 17, 2012 Date Seen: February 8, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

Oh, Greg Kinnear, when will you ever give yourself a break?! See my review for The Playlist.

Bad Idea Podcast #11: Michael Winner--Feminist?

54) Death Wish 3 (1985) Dir: Michael Winner Date Released: November 1, 1985 Date Seen: February 7, 2012 Rating: 1/5

RV!: The Sentinel (1977) Dir: Michael Winner Date Released: January 7, 1977 Date Seen: February 11, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

57) Scream for Help (1984) Dir: Michael Winner Date Released: July XX, 1984 Date Seen: February 11, 2012 Rating: 3/5

59) Dirty Weekend (1993) Dir: Michael WInner Date Released: July 11, 1997 Date Seen: February 12, 2012 Rating: 0.75/5

60) The Man Behind the Scissors (2005) Dir: Toshiharu Ikeda Date Released (DVD): November 29, 2005 Date Seen: February 12, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

There's a secret title hidden in this post. So if you're extra-anxious to find out what it is, you can find out. Or, you know, you could wait for the latest Bad Idea Podcast to listen to Steve and I talk about selections from Michael Winner's wonk-tacular filmography. Watch this space...and keep watching the skis! I mean, skies!

Editor's Note: here it is. Right here.

RV!: Rampart (2011)

RV!: Rampart (2011) Dir: Oren Moverman Date Released: November 23, 2011 Date Seen: February 7, 2012 Rating: 3/5

Better. But still not that great. See my review for Capital New York.

53) The Grey (2012)

53) The Grey (2012) Dir: Joe Carnahan Date Released: January 27, 2012 Date Seen: February 6, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

Meh, the hype surrounding this is nice 'n all but it's a little much given what Carnahan actually delivers. Being this self-serious is not Carnahan's strong suit, a point that is made abundantly clear in the scene where one of the virtually anonymous survivors just gives up. The speech this guy gives is a bit much but it's not necessarily impossible to take seriously. Still, it just doesn't work as Carnahan directed it. So a moment of intense existential panic winds up looking goofy and overwrought, as does the film's opening scene and all the moments where Liam Neeson fantasizes about being with his wife. 

There are only a couple of moments where I felt that Carnahan actually made his macho morality play work and that was mostly the ones with wolves in them. Though I did really like the scene where the men climb across a ravine on...a tighrope? What does one call that? In any case, they climb across and of course one of them falls to his death. But again, here' where Carnahan tips his hand: this guy can't just fall to his death--he's got to be eaten by wolves, too! Ugh. Carnahan really hasn't grown much as a filmmaker. My favorite film of his is still Smokin' Aces. Because at least then he let us have a little fun while reveling in moribund stupidity.

52) The Woman in Black (2012)

52) The Woman in Black (2012) Dir: James Watkins Date Released: February 3, 2012 Date Seen: February 5, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

A couple of notes on the various scattered thoughts and suspicions that this mishandled homage to Hammer's gothic horror films confirms:

  • James Watkins (Eden Lake) does not know when to end a scene. The sequence where Daniel Radcliffe is creeping up into the forbidden room with a hatchet in hand is a perfect example. Once our hero gets into the room, the scene could end two or three times before it does. Watkins keeps going however. Similarly, many of the jump scares in the film strike me as being patently unnecessary (ie: they're the worst kind of overkill).
  • The one jump scare that really worked however was the one where Radcliffe sees a human eye in what looks like a Victorian zoetrope. That was a cute reversal.
  • Beautiful landscape shots and a great haunted house. Digital photography really can look great.
  • Radcliffe can act, even though he has a very limited range. The many scenes where his body language speaks loudest for his character confirms both of those assertions. As soon as he starts talking however, we see just how limited of an actor he is. Still, the many shots of him creeping about the haunted house were a welcome reminder that Radcliffe isn't just a kid that caught a lucky break years ago.
  • Opening scene is designed to shock viewers but it isn't really shocking. It is however a good indication of what "Hammer" is now associated with. I mean, the boundary-pushing shocks of films like Terence Fisher's Horror of Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein are rather memorable (that one shot of blood dripping off of Christopher Lee's fangs in Horror in particular; his wildman stare and his clenched teeth accent the dripping blood that much more).  And, to be fair,  as the Hammer cycle of Drac/Frankenstein films wore on, there was more and more explicit shocks (ie: T&A and bloodshed). So while there isn't gore or nudity in The Woman In Black, it's also not especially surprising to see that Watkins's film conflates the impulse to shock with what he considers to be moody, suspense-filled long takes leading up to jump scares. That's not the kind of filmmaking I associate with Hammer but then again, it's hard to condense Hammer to a single style. Still, it does look like Fisher's gothic movies were the rough starting point for Watkins. So it's strange to note that Woman often feels like a silent film where Harry Potter creeps around an old house and continually gets the crap scared out of him after long periods of silence, followed by jump scares aplenty. This may in fact be a good indicator of what the modern horror filmmaker thinks of when they think "Hammer horror."
  • This movie is still leaps-and-bounds better than Insidious.
  • I did (theoretically) like the salient distinction that Radcliffe's ridiculous outfit marked between him, the local yokels in the film and Ciaran Hinds's aristocrat. Radcliffe's not one of them, one of them, and they certainly do not accept him. He's more at home with Hinds's high society, especially because both he and Radcliffe are in denial. I think Watkins got that point across well (ie: forcefully), especially in one scene where Radcliffe is chasing after the titular ghoul. In that moment, Radcliffe looks rather silly because he's wearing such expensive clothing and he's running through a bog. In fact, later, he'll get totally covered in what only looks like shit in a scene that really should end well before it does (see first bullet). That having been said: Watkins eventually over-accentuates the idea that Radcliffe's character, a protagonist defined by his wardrobe, is forcing himself out of his comfort zone and out of his complacence. The idea becomes overkill by the time you get to the insanely drawn-out disinterment scene. But in a brief moment like the one where Radcliffe first chases after the woman in black, it's A-ok.

51) A Separation (2011)

51) A Separation (2011) Dir: Asghar Farhadi Date Released: December 30, 2011 Date Seen: February 4, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

The first third of this picture is its weakest portion. It's pure set-up but that's ok, since the rest of the film does so much with that set-up. In fact, I'd say that since that's the only almost-weak spot of the picture, A Separation is in pretty great shape (What a relief, right?). Its drama is as gutting as it is because of the cumulative weight of its characters' moral dilemma. This is a film where everyone's actions are being judged by almost everyone else. The judges, the protagonists and their daughters are all judging each other's decisions, sometimes discretely but mostly with just enough visibility that we can't help but see their furtive looks of distrust and unease. The scene where the entire sordid court case is about to be settled and the would-be house-keeper stammers, "I have doubts," is devastating because she's giving voice to all this unease with one meek protest.

That having been said: I can't help but wonder what native Iranian critics think of this film. Its implicit indictment of the Iranian legal system (ie: the court's judgment is only valid insofar as it will immediately affect protagonists; the judge's ethical compass is understood to be compromised) and its semi-loaded initial scenario regarding the religious doctrine that forbids married women from working in other men's homes suggest that Farhadi is reactively creating a worst case scenario based on the worst of Iranian social conventions. It's the system that's implicitly under attack here and that's essentially what fucks up the protagonists. So I wonder what film critics that are more familiar with those social and judicial codes think of A Separation. Because, and I could be totally off-base here, this seems like a film that's pleading for tolerance and understanding from an ideal Western audience. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

RV!: Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore (2010)

RV!: Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore (2010) Dir: Jimmy Maslon and Frank Henenlotter Date Released: September 27, 2011 Date Seen: February 3, 2012 Rating: 3/5

Some very good anecdotes here but much of this "schlockumentary"* is just a skimpy version of what Randy Palmer had already chronicled in Herschell Gordon Lewis, The Godfather of Gore: The Films, a book that was published a decade before this film was produced. Maslon's work towards preserving Lewis's films should not be casually dismissed. But this doc is not much more than a good primer on Lewis and his film. Doesn't really give you a good idea of why he matters though. 

And that's where I come in, he said not-at-all modestly.

*Lewis's words, not mine

50) Mildred Pierce (1945)

50) Mildred Pierce (1945) Dir: Michael Curtiz Date Released: October 20, 1945 Date Seen: February 3, 2012 Rating: 4/5

The only thing really holding me back from rating this higher is that I found some of the breathless expository dialogue to be off-putting. Otherwise, I was very taken with this superb adaptation of James Cain's novel. Beautifully shot, great performances and I love the story. Almost totally disarming.

49) Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012)

ISF: Daffy's Rhapsody (2012) Dir: Matthew O'Callaghan Date Released: February 10, 2012 Date Seen: February 1, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

49) Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012) Dir: Brad Peyton Date Released: February 10, 2012 Date Seen: February 1, 2012 Rating: 1.75/5

Ugh. See my review for The Playlist.

Ditto re: the Looney Tunes 3D cartoon before the feature. There's none of the inspiration of the original Mel Blanc-era shorts in the 3D Merry Melodies cartoons I've seen thus far. So sampling Blanc's voices for these shorts feels ghoulish, if only because they're nudging older viewers in the ribs with a reminder of what made those older cartoon funny in the first place--GENUINE TALENT.

48) Chronicle (2012)

48) Chronicle (2012) Dir: Josh Trank Date Released: February 3, 2012 Date Seen: January 31, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

Meh. See my review for Capital New York.

47) The Wicker Tree (2010)

47) The Wicker Tree (2010) Dir: Robin Hardy Date Released: January 27, 2012 Date Seen: January 30, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

Generally rather good. But it doesn't have the same bite as Hardy's source novel. See my review for Press Play.

46) Christine (1983)

46) Christine (1983) Dir: John Carpenter Date Released: December 9, 1983 Date Seen: January 29, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

Starts off great and has a number of great ideas and moments. Doesn't amount to much but hey, some pretty exciting stuff, I think. See my capsule appreciation of the film for the L Magazine.

45) Ricochet (1991)

45) Ricochet (1991) Dir: Russell Mulcahy Date Released: October 4, 1991 Date Seen: January 29, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Don't call this one a guilty pleasure: it's too much fun for me to ever feel ashamed for liking it. The ludicrousness of this stupid but insanely entertaining Denzel Washington vehicle, which I suspect is what the makers of Law Abiding Citizen were direfully riffing on, never stops increasing. After a certain point, you just have to unclench and enjoy. That moment comes pretty early on, too, I think: if you're still trying to keep a goofy grin from creeping onto your face once a now-naked Denzel tries to cover up his junk with a moist-towelette, then you're really not long for this world. And John Lithgow is a hoot as the disgruntled, revenge-obsessed and downright EVIL career criminal that does everything within his power to ruin Denzel's reputation. Gosh, just thinking about this movie makes me smile involuntarily.

44) Four Nights with Anna (2008)

44) Four Nights with Anna (2008) Dir: Jerzy Skolimowski Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 29, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

This one wasn't really my cup of tea until it really got me going during its significantly more interesting second half. Because once the main character's private reverie is interrupted by the intrusion of the outside world and the film isn't exclusively about Anna and her voyeur, that's when the film's politics of peeping get complicated. I'm not quite sure what to make of this after a certain point but I do find it intriguing, even if I prefer Skolimowski's relatively straight-forward Essential Killing.

43) Room 237 (2012)

43) Room 237 (2012) Dir: Rodney Ascher Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 28, 2012 Rating: 4/5

I admit that I might have been extra-receptive to this documentary about the many conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick's The Shining because I just finished reading Stephen King's The Shining. But if nothing else, that just helped me to appreciate just how desperate and crazy some of the talking heads in this documentary really are. Because while some of what these guys say doesn't make sense in any context, knowing that some of the hidden truths that these guys are claiming are unique to Kubrick's film are actually also in King's novel just shows to go ya how CRAZY these people are. Real nutty in the brain pan stuff. 

And they're that much more crazy because there's always a grain of truth to what they're saying. Or at least, so it seems. Their deep-seated conviction is so startling that you can't help but want to believe them and some of what they posit about the film's supposedly subliminal images is actually pretty fascinating. Too bad much of it doesn't hold up to scrutiny for a minute, especially not once you start to hear about how the patterns in the carpet are all about fucking or that continuity errors are secret code for...uh...something deep, I'm sure. Crazy, crazy people. Great fun, though, mostly because it shows you how deep you can go into a deep reading of a film.

42) Red Lights (2012)

42) Red Lights (2012) Dir: Rodrigo Cortés Not Yet Released, Thank Christ Date Seen: January 28, 2012 Rating: 2/5

Wow, this one stinks. Cortés has a weird disdain for his own material. He cheapens threadbare material that he's actively straining to make appear more meaningful than it is by either fast-forwarding through some parts of his blaise story or over-burdening talented actors with awful, sticks-in-your-throat dialogue fraught with Deep Meaning. Red Lights is a movie that doesn't know what it wants to be.

Still, the fact of the matter is: Cortés threw in a bunch of scifi/horror cliches (ex: the death of Cillian Murphy's mentor) and gave pseudo-intellectual meaning to others (the emphasis on man's animal nature, as is made abundantly clear during the bathroom fight scene). And none it's very interesting!

I was struggling to like the film when it was setting up its premise. But once Robert Deniro's hilariously awful Scott Walker impersonator blows up Murphy's equipment (WITH HIS MIND), I knew it was all downhill from there. I feel especially bad for Deniro because he's trying so damn hard to do right by a role that is tacky at best and actively awful at its frequent worst (ex: "Buckley! How did you do that?! BUCKLEY?!" and, "I come with the wind, and I go with the wind!"). 

Still, I suppose, it's worth seeing if only to see Deniro as Scott Walker levitate after delivering a bombastic and meaningless pseudo-mystical speech that would make Coffin Joe blush.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sundance 2012 Round-Up

28) Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012) Dir: Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim Date Released: March 2, 2012 Date Seen: January 20, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

29) Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012) Dir: Lee Toland Krieger Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 21, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

30) Filly Brown (2012) Dir: Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 21, 2012 Rating: 1.5/5

31) Robot and Frank (2012) Dir: Jake Schreier Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 22, 2012 Rating: 3/5

32) For Ellen (2012) Dir: So Yong Kim Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 22, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

33) Red Hook Summer (2012) Dir: Spike Lee Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 22, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

34) Smashed (2012) Dir: James Ponsoldt Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 23, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

35) The Surrogate (2012) Dir: Ben Lewin Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 24, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

36) John Dies at the End (2012) Dir: Don Coscarelli Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 24, 2012 Rating: 2/5

37) Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012) Dir: Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 25, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

38) V/H/S (2012) Dir: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West and Adam Wingard Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 25, 2012 Rating: 3/5

39) Keep the Lights On (2012) Dir: Ira Sachs Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 26, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

40) Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) Dir: Benh Zeitlin Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 26, 2012 Rating: 4/5

41) Wrong (2012) Dir: Quentin Dupieux Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 27, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

My 2012 Sundance Film Festival coverage, by outlet:

Esquire: here, here, here, here, here and here.

The Playlist: here, here, here, here and here.

Slant Magazine: here, here, here, here, here and here.

27) Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011)

27) Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011) Dir: Kevin Munroe Date Released: April 29, 2011 Date Seen: January 20, 2012 Rating: 2/5

A comic book adaptation with all of the excesses and none of the modest charms of the Judge Dredd-era of science fiction/horror films: irritating comedic sidekick not off-set by charismatic male lead (Brandon Routh really struggles here and it pains me to say that as someone that thought he was fun during his brief appearance in Zack and Miri Make a Porno); totally generic search for a whatsit plot not off-set by endearingly wacky plot tangents, like the zombie body part market (yawn; not quirky enough to be memorable); and lack of snappy dialogue not made up for by ludicrously excessive budget (budget was mid-range, I'd guess; certainly didn't look like a big production). 

Also: why do I get the feeling that the filmmakers didn't give a fuck about the source comics? Didn't even vaguely resemble a Dylan Dog story...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

25) Love in Space (2011) and 26) Aftershock (2010)

25) Love in Space (2011) Dir: Tony Chan and Wing Shiya Date Released: September 9, 2011 Date Seen: January 16, 2012 Rating: 3/5

26) Aftershock (2010) Dir: Xiaogang Feng Date Released: October 29, 2010 Date Seen: January January 18, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Some of the better China Lion titles I've seen, certainly. See my think piece for Press Play.

24) Hugo (2011)

24) Hugo (2011) Dir: Martin Scorsese Date Released: November 23, 2011 Date Seen: January 16, 2012 Rating: 3.25/5

Something struck me as I watched Hugo's most striking scene, the one where Hugo Cabret learns about the cinematic tradition that followed after Georges Méliès made his pioneering films. The sequence, which is a hodge-podge montage of disparate films, is scored by a lilting section from Camille Saint-Saëns's "Danse Macabre," one of my favorite pieces of music. Saint-Saëns's piece is a playful but bombastic composition that celebrates the metaphorical ritual of the Dance of the Dead. In the song, the dead rise from the ground for a night and thunderously cavort around their headstones until the break of dawn. It's a lively piece and one I feel is put to good use in Hugo.

But what bothers me about the specific portion of the song that was sampled in this montage is that the sampled section is a very romantic and soft portion of St. Saëns's often raucous piece. "Danse Macabre" is an irreverent tribute to the unquiet dead! I didn't see that same irreverence maintained in Scorsese's scene-long homage to the power of films and I didn't see it in the rest of his film's sweet but sometimes sappy tribute to films. I quite enjoyed Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen's performances though. And the Paris train station set was boffo, too. Still: more bombast, please.

23) The Butcher, The Chef, and the Swordsman (2010)

23) The Butcher, The Chef, and the Swordsman (2010) Dir: Wuershan Date Released: March 18, 2011 Date Seen: January 15, 2012 Rating: 2.25/5

A last gap for 2011 ketchup. Some endearingly nutty material, mostly during the food preparation scenes and the nuttier bits of the butcher's story (yes, the horse disembowelment sequence is kind of wonderful). But otherwise, I'll pass, thanks.

22) The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

22) The Phantom of the Opera (1962) Dir: Terence Fisher Date Released: August 15, 1962 Date Seen: January 15, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

A Facebook friend of mine confessed that he thought that this was a misfire from the normally reliable Terence Fisher. So, being curious as to what a bad film by Terence Fisher looks like and being in love with the idea of a Phantom of the Opera adaptation starring Herbert Lom as the the titular ghoul, I checked this out. And, uh, I liked it. Not seeing much to dislike about this one, either. What am I missing? Great costumes, set design, humor and good acting--yeah, it's a Hammer pic by Terence Fisher, all right. Seriously, what's wrong with 'er? She's beautiful, she's rich, she's got 'uuuuuuge Herbert Lom!

21) Scabbard Samurai (2010)

21) Scabbard Samurai (2010) Dir: Hitoshi Matsumoto Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 14, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

Matsumoto has once again hit it out of the park with his latest, a film that I bet virtually no American theater-goers will see. The only thing I would criticize the film for is how monotonous the trial-and-error portion of the title character's journey to greater understanding felt. But even that section, the part where a sword-less samurai tries to save himself from having to commit ritual suicide by making funny faces and doing silly pratfalls, is conceptually fascinating. And the duration of that sequence is key to that (ie: cutting away is counter-intuitive in the sense that it suggests premature defeat). Because that sequence is a product of the Jerry Lewis school of self-loathing, where schtick is a reflection of intense self-doubt. 

In short, I love this movie because it's funny and it's melancholically thoughtful. Its highly unconventional denouement feels earned. Matsumoto's character teaches his daughter by example how to be responsible. Admittedly, abandoning your kid is not my idea of being responsible. But as a symbolic gesture of graceful fatalism, I found Scabbard Samurai to be very moving.

19) Deadlock (1970) and 20) 20th Century Oz (1976)

19) Deadlock (1970) Dir: Roland Klick Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 14, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

20) 20th Century Oz (1976) Dir: Chris Löfvén Date Released: September XX, 1977 Date Seen: January 14, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

Great double feature, even if Oz kinda sucks. My review of the latter title can only be found in the print edition of the L Magazine for some reason. So I'm copy-and-pasting it below. The former review can be read at the L Magazine's site. Enjoy.

Sex is the thing in Oz, an, ahem, “modern” Australian rock musical version of The Wizard of Oz. Oz (aka: 20th Century Oz) was produced in 1976 and boy, does it show. To modernize Frank L. Baum’s story, writer/director Chris Löfvén made Dorothy (Joy Dunstan) a 16 year-old groupie whose vivid feature-length fantasy is not a result of a hurricane but rather an unfortunate tour van crash.

After the accident, Dorothy stumbles into a nearby town. She then learns that the van struck a local macho’s brother (he’s presumably the Wicked Witch of the West). Dorothy then becomes infatuated with “The Wizard” (Graham Masters), a cheap Bowie knockoff that struts about in a rainbow afro composed entirely of primary colors, a thong that looks a pair of lips and little else. And from there, we’re off to see, well, you know.

Since the film’s answers to the Wicked Witch only sporadically pops up in order to look menacing and then promptly disappear, Oz’s main source of drama is seeing who will screw Dorothy. Will it be the Wizard; Blondie the Surfie (The Road Warrior’s Bruce Spence), a slow-witted surfer; Greaseball the Mechanic (Michael Carman), a heartless repairman; or Killer the Bikie (Gary Waddell), a cowardly motorcyclist? In this libido-driven whatsit, the only person that doesn’t want to bang the girl in the ruby slippers is, naturally, Glin (Robin Ramsay), a fabulously gay man that owns a little boutique called “The Good Fairy.” If you’ve ever wanted a post-Judy Garland Oz film to do something, shall we say, different with its source material, then Oz is the movie for you!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

18) The Divide (2011)

18) The Divide (2011) Dir: Xavier Gens Date Released: January 13, 2012 Date Seen: January 13, 2012 Rating: 1.75/5

Not as bad as Frontiere(s) but not by much. See my piece on French horror and Xavier Gens's unique place in that weird movement for Press Play.

RV!: Robinson in Ruins (2010)

RV!: Robinson in Ruins (2010) Dir: Patrick Keiller Date Released: January 13, 2012 Date Seen: January 11, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

The Anthology Film Archives started the year off right by giving this (apparently) underrated gem a week-long release. Bless 'em; they do the lord's work, etc. See my review for Capital New York.

Monday, February 13, 2012

17) Haywire (2011)

17) Haywire (2011) Dir: Steven Soderbergh Date Released: January 20, 2012 Date Seen: January 10, 2012 Rating: 4/5

Soooooo good. Definitely need to rewatch. But I had a blast. See my review for Capital New York.

16) Paranoiac (1963)

16) Paranoiac (1963) Dir: Freddie Francis Date Released: May 15, 1963 Date Seen: January 9, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Moody Hammer horror psycho-thriller that lives up to its high reputation thanks in no small part to the film's high-quality production designs and a winningly punch-drunk performance from Oliver Reed. Oh and Freddie Francis helped too, I suppose. I had fun. If you haven't seen it yet, you really must.

14) The Darkest Hour (2011) and 15) The Devil Inside (2012)

14) The Darkest Hour (2011) Dir: Chris Gorak Date Released: December 25, 2011 Date Seen: January 8, 2012 Rating: 2/5

15) The Devil Inside (2012) Dir: William Brent Bell Date Released: January 6, 2012 Date Seen: January 8, 2012 Rating: 1.25/5

In just a couple of hours' time, I saw the difference between a uniquely awful and a tediously awful film. And all it cost me was $25 or so. See my piece for Press Play.

11) Winnie the Pooh (2011)

11) Winnie the Pooh (2011) Dir: Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall Date Released: July 15, 2011 Date Seen: January 7, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Another 2011 ketchup title. Just as good as I'd been led to believe, thankfully. Bouncy score and a nice reminder of how fun these characters can be. I'm convinced it doesn't take too much to make these characters fun. But hey, it's always nice to see something you consider to be a sure thing work after years of not thinking about it.

Bad Idea Podcast #10: A Very Renny Harlin Christmas

8) The Covenant (2006) Dir: Renny Harlin Date Released: September 8, 2006 Date Seen: January 7, 2012 Rating: 2/5

9) Mindhunters (2004) Dir: Renny Harlin Date Released: May 13, 2005 Date Seen: January 7, 2012 Rating: 4/5

10) Irma Vep (1996) Dir: Olivier Assayas Date Released: April 30, 1997 Date Seen: January 7, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

12) Prison (1988) Dir: Renny Harlin Date Released: March 4, 1988 Date Seen: January 8, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

13) Cutthroat Island (1995) Dir: Renny Harlin Date Released: December 22, 1995 Date Seen: January 8, 2012 Rating: 1.75/5

Renny Harlin! And oh yeah, an Oliver Assayas film that totally rocked my world. Listen to the Bad Idea Podcast for more.

RV!: Drive (2011), 7) Modern Romance (1981)

RV!: Drive (2011) Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn Date Released: September 16, 2011 Date Seen: January 4, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

7) Modern Romance (1981) Dir: Albert Brooks Date Released: March 13, 1981 Date Seen: January 6, 2012 Rating: 4.25/5

The former film has slightly diminished since I last saw it. But the latter film: wowee wow wow! See my piece on the future of Albert Brooks, then and now, for Capital New York.

6) Norwegian Wood (2010)

6) Norwegian Wood (2010) Dir: Anh Hung Tran Date Released: January 6, 2012 Date Seen: January 4, 2012 Rating: 3/5

Better than most give it credit for, I think. See my review for Capital New York.

RV!: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)

RV!: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) Dir Nuri Bilge Ceylan Date Released: January 4, 2012 Date Seen: January 3, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

Still not totally in love with this. But hey, it might be my favorite Ceylan! See my piece for Capital New York.

5) Head of the Family (1996)

5) Head of the Family (1996) Dir: Charles Band Date Released (DTV): November 29, 1996 Date Seen: January 2, 2012 Rating: 2.5/5

I'm willing to give this Charles Band flick a pass mostly because of how stunned I was and still am to have found a performance in a Charles Band film that's not just competent but down-right charismatic. I had and still have no idea who J.W. Perra was but damn is he good in this otherwise weird but mostly lifeless C-grade monster movie. A shame that he was only in three more movies. The dude is good.

4) Hostel: Part III (2011)

4) Hostel: Part III (2011) Dir: Scott Spiegel Date Released: December 22, 2011 Date Seen: January 2, 2012 Rating: 2.75/5

Far slicker than it has any right to be. By which I mean: I was impressed that a film this pointless was as superficially entertaining as it was. 

1) Fire (1948) and 3) Monsoon (1949)

1) Fire (1948) Dir: Raj Kapoor Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 1, 2012 Rating: 3.75/5

3) Monsoon (1949) Dir: Raj Kapoor Not Yet Released Date Seen: January 2, 2012 Rating: 3.5/5

Don't call Raj Kapoor the Indian Charlie Chaplin, please and thank you. See my piece for the L Magazine.

509) Double Dragon (1994)

509) Double Dragon (1994) Dir: James Yukich Date Released: November 4, 1994 Date Seen: December 29, 2011 Rating: 0.5/5

If you ever want to appreciate the inspired crap-fest that is Super Mario Brothers: The Movie, just watch Double Dragon. Robert Patrick is clearly trying here (though dressed-up as he is here, I can't for the life of me say why) and so is Scott Wolf, who is sometimes actually palatable. But otherwise: yeeeeeeeesh. 

More Belated, Half-Assed 2011 Ketchup

508) Le Quattro Volte (2010) Dir: Michelangelo Frammartino Date Released: March 30, 2011 Date Seen: December 29, 2011 Rating: 4.25/5

510) Senna (2010) Dir: Asif Kapadia Date Released: August 12, 2011 Date Seen: December 30, 2011 Rating: 3.75/5

511) Cold Fish (2010) Dir: Sion Sono Date Released: July 6, 2011 Date Seen: December 31, 2011 Rating: 3.5/5

2) Contagion (2011) Dir: Steven Soderbergh Date Released: September 9, 2011 Date Seen: January 1, 2012 Date Seen: 3.75/5

Le Quattro Volte: This film feels a little stuffy at the start. But once we get to that one great take, the one where the goats are freed from their pen and the car crashes and everything seems to happen for a reason but you can't quite discern what that reason is? At that point, I was all in.

Senna: Good character study and rather dynamic. Still, a bit too neat. Had more specific thoughts but, as is often the case with films I don't have to immediately write about for $$ (let's be honest: I get paid peanuts and they're not even whole peanuts, either), my thoughts have left me by now. Which is why I'm scrambling to get caught up with my notes-taking. Because there's so much I want to say and if I don't get it all down when the getting is good, then...well, I don't want to think about that.

Cold Fish: Don't get the rancor against this film (Thinkin' about you, D'Angelo!). As Sono's most pitilessly cynical of his recent films, Cold Fish is thoroughly misanthropic. It's often facile depiction of human behavior is frustrating. But there are singular moments in this one that impressed me, like the disposal of the first body and also, the planetarium visit. In the latter scene, Sono establishes something that deeply disturbed me: we crave to know that we don't matter, basically. That's what that sliver of a scene suggests. And that suggestion is terrifying and its pitilessly bleak. But it's so pointed in its bleakness (Look at this man and see him looking to know how small he is compared to the universe. Look at this man trying to re-establish order in his life by trying to convince himself that he doesn't really matter. a\And know that you crave to be put in your place, too.) that this one scene almost made me want to cry. So yeah, monotonous, to be sure, and Sono often stacks the deck a little too neatly. But hahaha whyyyyy?!

Contagion: Ends on a soft note with Matt Damon and his kid and I don't think any of the post-outbreak stuff really worked. But yeah, pretty terrifying, innit?