Saturday, May 17, 2014

Recommendations :: What You Should or Shouldn't Be Watching. Choose, but Choose Wisely.

Well, with it's heart in the right place and a foot squarely in its own mouth, Gila! (2012), Jim Wynorski's remake of The Giant Gila Monster, boldly goes exactly where you think it will go and, you know what? I'm totally cool with it. The F/X are endearingly wonky, we actually get to see the monster eat people this round, and the attempts at a period piece are totally half-assed. Again, didn't care. And just when you think they forgot to make Chase sing the Mushroom Song, they don't. I had a grand time with it but, as always, your mileage with this frommage homage will vary.

Perhaps the closest we may ever get to a Wes Anderson horror movie, the end result of A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012), a tale of a writer (Simon Pegg) so sick of writing a series of children's books he goes cold turkey with a new project on Victorian serial killers, is a mixed bag of mounting paranoia, tension, sight gags and pratfalls as the author faces down his own personal demons. Is it real? Is it a delusion? Will our hero decipher it all before it's too late? Will you care? Well, that depends on your tolerance of such things. Pegg acquits himself rather well in service to a script that is somewhere between admirably ambitious and catastrophically convoluted. From a production design it's mesmerizing, from a story standpoint, however, it's kind of a mess. So, lets call this one an interesting misfire that's well worth a watch.

Finally got around to watching The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and, well, contrary to what I'd heard, it wasn't THAT terrible. I will echo a sentiment that an origin reboot so soon after the Raimi trilogy was totally unnecessary -- Gwen Stacey could just have easily been introduced without having to start all over again (however, without it we would've been shafted out of a great Uncle Ben), and taking the franchise in a Twilighty direction is a huge misstep. Andrew Garfield makes a fine Peter Parker (an odd skater-punk/emo/hoodieholligan/ nerd) but his Spidey-schtick could use a little work along with the chemistry between he and Emma Stone that was trying so darned hard to spark but never quite ignited. (For that, I mostly blame some clunky dialogue that no one could make work.) Sheen and Fields were great, especially Sheen, and Leary did pretty good with a fairly token role. And though the Lizard could have gone through about three more punch-ups, design wise, beyond that, the F/X were a lot better than anticipated (from what I saw in the trailers), the story actually made sense, and, in the end, I actually cared what happened to these people. Color me pleasantly surprised in an expecting a train-wreck but wound up with locked bumpers after a slight fender bender.

Immediately tagged as The Endless Bummer upon its release and suffering from this stigma ever since, John Milius' tale of the effects of aging and entropy on the lives and friendship of a trio of surfers cemented in youth through the turbulent 1960s, to me, feels a lot more honest and earnest -- and definitely less romanticized, than it's contemporary, American Graffiti. A semi-autobiographical tale, one could argue that the three main characters in Big Wednesday (1978) -- Jan Michael-Vincent, William Katt and Gary Busey -- serve as a triptych for Milius (a man out of time, a strong sense of duty, and a self-destructive insufferable ass). The story focuses on Vincent, a local surf legend, who remains the same as everything else changes or moves on around him for better or for worse. (One of the more pleasant surprises in the film is the end-result of him knocking up the local beach-bunny. Usually, this ends in ruination, but here, it not only succeeds but their relationship thrives.) In the end, however, the one and only universal constant in all of their lives is the surf, which never changes. And it is this link, no matter how far they drift apart, that will bind this friendship forever.

Well, that was a helluva thing. An inexplicably effective first-person shooter / found footage / torture porn / World War II period piece, Frankenstein's Army (2013) regrets nothing while it does a naked cannonball into the splatter-punk pool. The plot about a Russian patrol being lured into a trap to capture the Mad Baron is fairly irrelevant because once the дерьмо hits the вентилятор, they're nothing but fodder for the F/X to buzzsaw thru, which are both top-notch and kinda overwhelming as things pile up in the third act. And it nearly lost me, but the ending and final coda had me giggling like an idiot. The steampunk inspired production design and phantasmagorical creature creations it wrought are worth the watch alone. (The only beef I had with the movie is don't tease me with 'The Sherman Tank that Walks on Two Legs' and then don't do anything with it.) Decadently gross and gooey, violent, surreal, and definitely not for the squeamish, but for those inclined to such things the film is absolutely ah-mazing.

In Fast Break (1979), Gabe Kaplan trades in one batch of Sweat Hogs for another when a Jewish delicatessen owner lands his dream job as a collegiate basketball coach. The catch, the job is located in the deserts of Nevada, and to keep this job at Podunk U, the new coach must beat the big instate rival. To accomplish this, he recruits four ringers from his native New York to come with him. (The fifth starter turns out to be Reb Brown.) I'll admit I don't find Kaplan all that funny and yet I am completely flummoxed over my fascination with him, which brought me here in the first place. The only twist on this underdog tale is one of the ringers is a girl disguised as a boy, which leads to a fascinating love/hate romance with a fellow player. There's another subplot with Kaplan's wife? Girlfriend? refusing to go with them. Beyond that, no real surprises or nothing you haven't seen before, but, eh, it's entertaining enough.

Jonathan Demme gets his Robert Altman on something fierce in this slice of life look at a Nebraska town and its denizens connected by a web of CB radios. All of the overlapping vignettes in Citizen's Band (1977) are fascinating but the main focus is on Spider (Paul Le Mat), a self-appointed CB vigilante who works to get those who abuse and clog up the airwaves with useless chatter (be it religion, racists screeds, or wireless sex) that gets bogged down in some rote family problems. Meanwhile, a supporting thread with a trucker (Charles Napier), his two wives, and his mistress all converging on the same town is a hoot and half. All of that and an outstanding cast leads to high marks all around, Good Buddies. 10-4.

Okay, The Vulture (1966) is kind of a goofy but fairly worthless Edgar Wallace knock-off that's still worth the watch for, perhaps, the greatest monster origin explanation ever when Broderick Crawford (subbing in for the audience) keeps asking the hero to explain each step of the atomic process that bred the mutant half man half vulture over and over again until he finally gets the gist of it and declares it all a bunch of horseshit.

And then there's Phobia (1980), where we got John Huston slumming through a fairly turgid whodunit about a psychiatrist and his radical (meaning patently ridiculous) 'implosion therapy', whose patients start dying off via what they fear the most. What's most fascinating are the therapy sessions themselves, which consists of hands on or A/V immersion for each patient's phobia, which run the gambit of heights, to snakes, to gang rape, which basically means traumatizing the hell out of them in hope that this will somehow snap the stricken out of it. Some novelty interest on the casting with Paul Michael "Starsky" Glaser as the head quack and John "Baltar" Colicos as the lead detective. Beyond that, not a whole there to recommend.

I walked into Rituals (1977) expecting one thing and got something completely different when five doctors go on a hunting trip deep in the Canadian wilderness. Days from anywhere, they draw the wrath of someone lurking in the woods, who picks them off at leisure while these civilized men slowly devolve in front of our eyes into something that just might be able to survive these attacks as they're run ragged and survival instincts kick in. (I know I'll never look at Hal Holbrook the same way again.) Released in the States as The Creeper, I'm hesitant to call this a Deliverance knock-off because I don't want to poison the well, but, it is what it is. It's also really, really quite good and very disturbing on a primal level as far as these Canuxploitation cash-ins go. The only complaint I have is the killer's motivations seem a little too specific, meaning if these men had been anything but doctors this all might not have happened. Maybe. I don't know. Just watch it. Trust me.

After the highly successful Made for TV combo of The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson teamed up again for another modern monster tale, this time focusing on the probability that a werewolf is buzz-sawing through the locals of a small California town in Scream of the Wolf (1974). Peter Graves plays a writer who, as the bodies and the baffling evidence keep piling up around him, suspects his old hunting buddy (and Count Zaroff and Nietzsche enthusiast), Clint Walker, might be the culprit. Graves pales when stacked up against Darren McGavin, but Walker is kinda amazing as the dead-eyed sociopath who feels mankind has been down out of the trees for too long. So, yeah, this is less about the supernatural and more of social commentary, resulting in a set-up that is a ton of fun but whose Scooby Doo resolution kinda fizzles and splutters. And when you couple this with those earlier collaborations mentioned, only makes this one an even bigger disappointment.

What we gots here is a Korean thriller about a disc jockey's last night on the air being terrorized by her #1 fan cum serial killer, who holds her two children and her sister as hostage to force her to comply with his very specific on-air requests. Yeah, Midnight FM (2010) is one of those movies. And though it holds few surprises, it held my interest through it's mounting implausibility (and struggling to keep up with the subtitles) and had me rooting for our heroine and one of her daughters, who did most of the legwork to derail this highly baroque scheme. The film kinda takes a drastic left turn about halfway through from mounting terror to police procedural to an all out chase movie, but I appreciated how the DJ used another obsessed fan to counter some of the psycho's very precise demands. Demands that require compliance to the letter or another toe comes off one of the hostages -- or worse. Also morbidly fascinated by the station format, which allows our heroine to espouse film-based philosophy in-between selections from soundtracks. Anyhoo, I dug it.

"Lestrade will have his three buckets of ash, but we will keep the name." -- thus, Sherlock Holmes (John Neville) wraps up the Jack the Ripper case in A Study in Terror (1965), another take on the English super-sleuth ferreting out the world's most notorious serial killer. Kinda sobering that the plot machination for both A Study in Terror and Murder by Decree, which basically boils down to carpet bombing White Chapel in the hope of knocking off the right prostitute some Upper Class Twit of the Year dipped his wick into to save the family name, feels so sadly plausible.

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