Thursday, February 18, 2016

Recommendations :: The Revenge of the Son of the Curse of the Ghost of the Tomb of the What I've Been Watching and So Should You Walks Among Us.

Lets kick this off by catching up some films I saw in the theater last year, starting with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), which I felt was a ton of fun. Not spectacular, but solid and satisfying. It's also a fantastic period piece with a firm sense of time and place, with plenty of memorable action set-pieces that remind you why we fell in love with these kind of spy shenanigans in the first place. And with all of this told through Guy Ritchie's non-linear, montage heavy filter, the film is a visual delight. The leads have great chemistry together (Cavill, Hammer and Vikander, with a huge fourth quarter boost from Hugh Grant), and the villains are sufficiently diabolical and worthy opponents. All told, I think the best endorsement I can give this is I hope they make a whole lot more of these. Alas, judging by the box-office that isn't going to happen. Too bad, all involved deserved better.

And a funny thing happened while I sat alone in the theater and took in Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015), the latest offering of this found-footage fright-fest franchise. As I watched, lamenting the fact that this is what cinematic horror has been reduced to -- an audience watching a tape of another person watching another tape -- the film kinda dug in its heels and I found myself kinda digging it. Full confession, I've only seen the first Paranormal Activity (2007) and enjoyed it enough and so I have no idea how this last one relates to what came in-between that led us here, but, I liked how they linked the present to the past in the multiple levels of found footage. Beyond that, same old jump-scares executed well enough wrapped around a family trying to save their youngest daughter from a malevolent entity looking to cross-over into this dimension. And as it ended (just as predictably as you'd imagine), and I was gathering up my coat, I thought this would've/could've been a much better, re-imagined remake of Poltergeist (1984) than the tepid remake we actually got. Might have done better with one less voyeuristic layer but color me pleasantly surprised -- with the friendly caveat that my exceptions were hovering at rock bottom going in.

Speaking of low expectations; it wasn't great by any stretch, but I did find Sinister (2012) interesting enough with a nice intriguing twist on the tired found footage genre, despite the completely bonkers ending, to merit checking out the sequel, Sinister 2 (2015). Unfortunately, one of the things I really liked about the first one was the tangled web 'o' mystery the protagonist was unraveling about the demon that was possessing children and turning them into family annihilators. And without that mystery, the sequel is nothing but a series of Junior Faces of Death snippets as another young family member comes under the influence. Nice quirky method performance by James Ransone as the ex-deputy from the first film, returning as the resident authority and Bughoul-Buster. Not that terrible as far as these things go. I did laugh more than I jumped, but that might say more about me than the film.

And then there's The Gallows (2015), which had a few moments but was generally pretty terrible. Still, it was worth the matinee ticket price for the theatrical experience, which began before the movie even started. See, as I sat there waiting for the trailers, the manager came in asked for the IDs of the two girls sitting behind me. (The only other people in the theater, 'natch.) They didn't have any, and so, he escorted them out, saying this movie was R-Rated. (Having now seen it, I have no idea why. No blood. No gore. No nudity. No foul language. No scares. No characters. No plot etc. etc. etc.) A little bit later, when the lights went down and the second trailer started, the same gals came back in, and I'm thinking, 'good luck', believing they're trying to sneak back in. But as they rush to their seats, in putters this old lady, who turned out to be one of their grandmas, serving as their parental guidance. To this, I giggled, remembering how my own grammy took me to see Police Academy 2 (1985). Anyhoo, when the film ended, and they filed out, Granny was flying with opinions, loudly exclaiming the only person who had to die was the jerk with the camera and his snooty girlfriend, while her charges just couldn't believe the movie didn't scare her as much as it scared them. Oh, poo, she says. I love you, Granny escort.

Meanwhile, back in the basement on the smaller screen, imagine, if you will, an alternate universe where Timmy Lupus blew the catch and cost the Chico’s Bail Bonds Bears the little league championship, and then the other Bears go all Guantanamo on him with a revenge prank that goes too far. Cut ahead to some twenty years later, and now, someone decked out in catcher’s gear and a tricked out bat embedded with nails and a retractable blade starts systematically murdering all of their former teammates to avenge this misbegotten deed. That’s right, Billy Club (2013) is, essentially, The Bad News Bears the 13th. Points to a script that portrays these adult versions of the players as the forgotten verse of Springsteen’s “Glory Days”, all never-weres gone to seed, and for the Tales from the Crypt twist as to what the killer does with all the bodies, which when combined with a couple of hilariously memorable kills helps make up for a slow start and an extremely confusing back-story that goes to motive that is metered out very judiciously via a multitude of flashbacks. And when the killer is finally revealed, I fear I missed something as to who that character was all along or the other characters were even more stupid than I thought. So, rock stupid, yes, but enjoyable enough for what it is.

Entertaining and gruesome enough, Howl (2016) is a creature feature that finds a small group of British train passengers on the red-eye, who get stranded in the forest when something blocks the tracks and damages the engine. But the real problems start when what blocked the tracks essentially springs the rest of the trap. So, as the full moon shines above, we got spam in a train below with a pack of werewolves wrapped around a fairly generic tempest without, crisis within plot. Characters aren't anything you haven't seen before but are fleshed out enough that you want some of them not to get eaten and others to be devoured ASAP. My only real beef with the flick is the design of the creatures, which were pretty good from the neck down but the neck up didn't really work for me. Tried to be different, but the critters come off more a combo were-orks and Zuni fetish doll that garnered a reaction the filmmakers p'rolly weren't shooting for. Definitely worth a spin, just keep your expectations where the conductor can see them.

Who knew the world needed a Dom DeLuise, Jimmy Walker and a talking monkey movie? I do believe Going Bananas (1987) was my first venture into what passes for Cannon Films' attempt at a child-friendly comedy; and just like everything else the Go-Go Boys did your only salvation comes in clinging onto the blundering, gung-ho manner of the execution of some extremely incompetent material. Always the trooper, and genuinely funny, DeLuise salvages a lot of this mess. And spare a moment for poor Herbert Lom as the villain, who bears the brunt of the full frontal komedy. Apparently, the film was supposed to star Clyde the Orangutan from Every Which Way But Loose (1978), but he kept biting his co-star, and so, a midget in a monkey suit quickly replaced him. (His voice is like nails on a chalkboard.) Pretty terrible, and not in a good way, and the final indictment is when after I felt the film had been going on for forever and had reached a logical end point, I checked to see how much time was left and found there was still 45 minutes, half the film, yet to come. I conquered this turd mountain of a movie because it was there and you would be foolish to follow.

It's kinda like The Warriors (1979), if the Warriors were transgendered crack-addicted prostitutes looking for a pimp instead of getting back home, with sun-drenched LA subbing in for the neon night of NYC as scripted by Jim Jarmusch for David Lynch only he backed out and Robert Altman took over, making Tangerine (2015) highly recommended.

Blondie's New York (2014) is a totally immersive documentary on the making of Blondie's breakout album, Parallel Lines, in 1978, spawned out of the punk scene and demilitarized zone that was New York City in the late 1970s. A lot more nuts and bolts than you'd think, all the band members are present and accounted for along with producer Mike Chapman, who are all full of recollections and anecdotes on the strange alchemy of mixed genres (punk, jazz, ska, disco) that went into the album. Good stuff, even if you're not a fan of the band.

Another documentary, Back in Time (2015), concerns the origins of Back to the Future (1985), which is kind of false advertising as about only 1/3rd of the film is about the actual production while the rest is one giant, fan-boy circle-jerk about restoring Deloreans. Not terrible, just disappointing because what little we do get about the 'making of' -- like firing Eric Stoltz and replacing him with Michael J. Fox several weeks into shooting -- hints there are a lot more stories to be told.

This was also a lot of fun. Not quite what I expected it to be -- no, wait, The Final Girls (2015) totally was, just not quite executed as expected which is not really a complaint. Loved the realization of the film within a film moments. Also liked the conundrum of being locked in a slasher movie so someone has to make a sacrifice so there is a final Final Girl so the movie can end. Cute isn't a usual word when describing a bloodbath like this, but that's exactly what this was. Can't wait for the sequel.

Next, is it a well acted take on a cloying mash-up of Indie film clichés put in a blender? Or is it a cleverly disguised satire on the very same Indie film clichés put in a blender and then set on fire? You be the judge! If The Skeleton Twins (2014) is the former, it's horrifically predictable and I kinda hated it. If its the latter, it's still horrifically predictable but it's f@cking brilliant.

If you have to watch one movie where Ryan Reynolds plays a psycho who listens to his (good) dog and (evil) cat and has the dismembered heads of Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Ella Smith in his fridge, who also talk to him, then The Voices (2014) is the movie for you. Here, Reynolds plays a nebbish factory worker on a sort-of-a work-release program from a mental institution. From there, the movie kinda goes off its meds and homicidally writes itself as one well-meaning date after another ends horrifically with a comedic twist. What I loved best about the film was how it showed the two different perceptions of reality between our lovable, murdering schlub's point of view and what is really going on, epitomized by the condition of his apartment, currently stacked to the walls with containers filled with the remains of his discombobulated victims. Final coda was a bit of a buzzkill, but everything else was pretty entertaining.  

I think the best word to describe this sci-fi farce would be 'juvenile" -- and I mean that in the best way possible. Seems while the main Martian fleet is being pulverized along the galactic frontier, a lone Martian patrol ship on asteroid duty hears an S.O.S. call but efforts to zero in on the signal inadvertently has them tuning in to a re-broadcast of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds, playing at some hayseed radio station in rural Illinois to celebrate Halloween. And before you can say "Die! Earth Scum!" the Martians crash into a barn and start terrorizing the locals, hoping to cause a little mayhem. From there, things go terribly awry both terrestrially and extraterrestrially in Spaced Invaders (1990). Now, I remember seeing this in theater -- and remember when lo-rent sci-fi flicks like this and Critters (1986) actually garnered a theatrical release? Anyhoo, it is all unrepentantly silly, and goofy, and kinda hilarious. The F/X work by Criswell and Johnson Effects and Perpetual Motion Pictures is both endearing and top-notch, and the voice-work done to bring the inept Martians (Bipto, Blaznee , Giggywig, Pez, Ziplock) to life had me in giggling from the get-go. My BluRay player failed to recognize my ancient DVD but there is a beautiful print streaming on YouTube right now for those willing to meet the Martian threat head on.

Also finished up The UFO Incident (1975), a Made for TV movie based on a *ahem* 'true story' starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons as Barney and Betty Hill, an interracial couple who were one of the first people to claim repressed memories of multiple alien abductions, implants and experimentation back in 1961. Great acting, riveting reenactments, and all once more proving the 1970s spawned a whole different breed of film on the small screen. 

And we'll polish of this batch of recs with an after action report on Dark Side of the Rainbow, where, for the first time ever, I synced up The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon completely sober. Now, of course, one of the inherent problems of engaging in this endeavor is how you kinda run out of album when the movie is only half over. The version I watched just started the record over again when the last track finished. And while that worked well enough, it doesn't quite have the brain-bending synchronicity of that first 40 minutes and 38 seconds. I mean, "Brain Damage" queuing up right when we meet the Scarecrow? This doubling down also has me convinced that you could play Dark Side of the Moon with just about anything to trip some balls. Poppies! Poppies! Poppies!

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