Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Recommendations :: We Rec'em, You Wreck'em :: Another Batch of Flicks that Might Be Worth Your Time to Avoid at All Costs! Or Maybe Not. Then Again...

The film that John Wayne backed out of and turned over to Randolph Scott so he could make The Searchers, 7 Men From Now (1956) sparked a fantastic seven movie odyssey with director Budd Boetticher and netted a career redefining arc for Scott. Here, our hero plays a former sheriff tracking down the seven men who killed his wife during a hold-up. Things get complicated when his search is side-tracked by a couple of stranded pioneers, circling Chiricahua, and gunslinger Lee Marvin. To say much more would give away too many twists the film righteously earned; and so, you'll just have to take my word that this thing is amazing. Trust me. And that final shoot-out? Wow. 

I had the perfect tagline for this film when it was first announced: "See it B-4 it's too -- Wait. B-4? @%#* You just sunk my Battleship!" Anyhoo, kinda embarrassed for how long it took me to realize the alien invaders' missiles / depth charges were a simulacrum for the pegs from the Milton Bradley board game. Actually, it's kind of hilarious how relevant the game is to the action in Battleship (2012). What's even more amazing, is it actually kinda works. The chicken burrito bit at the beginning was pretty hilarious, but then I was grinding teeth for the following 40 minutes or so until the alien invasion got up to speed. Wasn't sure if they were trying to poke holes into Michael Bay and his Bayisms or going for a flagrant copy. Either way, it was kind of a lets heave everything at the wall and who cares if it sticks. And hows come all the old Fudds from Taylor Kitsch's Wackiest Ship in the Navy not rate any medals at the ending ceremony? *pfeh* 

Just a quick note on a matinee screening of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), which was pretty great but the most poignant moment came at the end of the movie, where, like good conditioned little monkeys, we stuck around for any stingers and all we got was monkey chatter and the sound of a monkey urinating (I think). Well played, 20th Century Fox. Well played. 

Finally managed to catch up with I Woke Up Early the Day I Died (1998). Based on an unused script by Edward D. Wood Jr., overly-maligned as the worst filmmaker of all time, Billy Zane is quite amazing as a thug who escapes from a sanitarium in a stolen nurses uniform, robs a bank, loses the money in a cemetery, and spends the rest of the film tracking down and killing a group of funeral attendees, thinking one of them must have taken his loot. Basically a silent movie in desperate need of a shot of Thorazine, choc-a-bloc with stock footage and celebrity cameos, the film is quite the trip as our character shimmies and shakes his way through the seedy underbelly of LA-LA Land; and trying to describe something that is experimental or avant-garde at best and Tim Burtonesque -- minus the sentimentality for the subject matter, replaced with the delirium of a bourbon-soaked fever dream -- at the worst, the end result is kind of a mess. An interesting mess, to be sure, but still a mess. 

For those of you unaware, Scandinavia has carved itself out a nice little genre niche with a series of frozen slasher movies -- movies that put their American counterparts to shame, mostly, if I'm being honest. And with Blood Runs Cold (2010) we have another supernatural slasher / 'spam i en stuga' flick, where a group of friends fall prey to a ski-mask wearing zombie/cannibal and his trusty axe. First, I dug how a GPS error sits the whole thing in motion. Also, very well executed as far as the murder set-pieces are concerned. And my only real beef is that instead of a dub or subs, the filmmakers, targeting an American release, had their Swedish actors speaking English and the obvious second language thing is too easy to detect and a distraction both in delivery and in the script -- which doesn't help with its f-bomb carpet bombing to make the dialogue sound more 'Murican is egregiously ridiculous. Totally paint by numbers, but strays outside the lines enough that the ending picture still satisfied. 

As for The Killing of Jacob Marr (2010), now THIS is how you do a throwback 'Spam in a Cabin' movie, people, where, for once, seeing too many of these damned things is actually counter-productive. For, I ask you, What would happen if you had a stalk 'n' slash movie where the characters aren't complete douche-nozzles, and therefore, you don't want to see any of them die, where calmer heads prevail despite the mounting evidence and ratcheting tension, where they do everything as right as possible, and yet everything still goes wrong? Something you'd like to see? Well, here's the movie you've been waiting for. It's been a long time since a movie from this genre out-foxing me this badly, in a good way, where it kept pulling the rug out from under all expected plot twists and situations -- situational 'rules' set in cinematic stone. It had me from the beginning, and I rooted for it 'til the end, where it kinda fumbled and reverted to form right before the credits rolled, but! It's not necessarily a bad ending, and by then, I was too giddy over what had come before to let it slide. Highly recommended for those inclined to these kinds of things. 

Back on mother Earth, The Bletchley Circle: Cracking the Killer's Code (2012) is a crackerjack British mini-series about a quartet of mustered out code-breakers reuniting ten years after World War II's end to track down and stop a serial killer. Using the same scientific and mathematical principles and geographic profiling used to sniff out Nazi troop movements, they soon have the killer's pattern and modus operandi sussed out. Some interesting melodrama leavened into this ersatz police procedural/historical drama and, in a refreshing twist, the authorities actually give credence to their theories; but, profiling isn't an exact science; and when a couple of tips don't pan out it's up to these ladies to stop the killer. A killer whose elusive shrewdness has them looking for someone else who signed the official secrets act at war's end. A fantastic combination of The Snoop Sisters and The Profiler, this was just great and I was all kinds of happy to discover there are two more story arcs of mysteries out there for these smart, tough-as-nails ladies to solve. 

Also from Britain, we have Invasion (1966); an extremely interesting sci-fi exercise that, basically, boils down to a 'Country Cottage' alien invasion flick. We begin with a mysterious blackout at a rural hospital, followed by the arrival of a 'John Doe'; the comatose victim of a pedestrian vs. auto encounter. And as the hospital staff (Edward Judd, Valerie Gearon) try to treat him, it slowly but surely becomes apparent that they're not dealing with anything human. From there, we discover why the patient is on Earth, and who is after him, with the hospital staff caught in the middle -- literally stuck inside a force bubble that is slowly roasting them alive. Slow and deliciously deliberate (I dug how everyone took everything the aliens say at face value), admittedly, the film works a lot better during the unraveling of what the patient is before it reaches a fairly wonky climax. Still, the end result is worth an appreciative look. 

Meanwhile, Samuel Fuller gives us some fabulous, two-fisted melodrama concerning a 'Circulation War' between two rival newspapers; one an idealistic upstart, the other a well-established edition that's drenched in yellow ink, who both publish from New York's fabled Park Row (1952). The whole conflict is personified by their respective publishers and the screen just crackles when Gene Evans and Mary Welch rip each other to shreds, betraying the mutual attraction between them. And the harder these two push each other apart, the more the violence escalates. Fuller, a former reporter, struggles a bit while trying to find the balance between this important history lesson and the schmaltz, but it all evens out in the end. 

More miss than hit, Cracking Up (1977) is a sketch comedy showcase using a massive California earthquake as a framing device for the vignettes. 1970s tastelessness abounds, with plenty of soon to be familiar faces (Fred Willard, Michael McKean, David Landers, Harry Shearer, Edie McClurg) littering the landscape. Nearly worth it for an Abbott 'n' Costello riff on a concert booking skit involving The Who, Guess Who and Yes but no, not quite.

Kind of an odd mash-up of Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls (1962) and Michael Crichton's Westworld (1973), this exercise in guerrilla film-making, shot on the sly at DisneyWorld, is quite the surreal trip. Kinda amazing how the innocuous can become insidious with only the slightest of shifts in perspective as a family vacation, well, goes off the monorail a bit. Is the dad going crazy? Or is he just one big old pervert as he becomes obsessed with two French touristas. Or is something far more sinister going on? Well, it all depends on how you interpret the ending of Escape from Tomorrow (2012). I, for one, appreciated the ambiguity of the climax, leaving me with several theories and an itch to watch it again. Your mileage may vary on the tolerance of such things.

Also watched Varan the Unbelievable (1961) for the first time since buying it some *gack* thirty years ago on VHS tape. Better than I'd remembered but still not very good. Wildly disjointed due to the clumsy additional inserts to westernize it. From a design standpoint, the monster, what little we actually get to see, again, thanks to some shoddy editing, looks pretty cool -- especially when he's on all fours with his tale whipping around. (And I really dug those Creature from the Black Lagoon front paws.) And the destruction he causes is top notch. If nothing else, it rekindled a desire to track down the original Japanese version. 

And finally ... *ahem*  Sing us a Space Shanty, Cap'n Elba?! "Okay. Are you ready kids?" Aye-aye, Cap'n! "I can't hear you..." AYE-AYE, CAP'N! "Oooooooh-ohhhhh, Whose bald in the noggin' and made the lethal Black Goo?" En-gin-EEeers! "All genocidal and the color of blue!" En-gin-EEeers! "If expensive prequels be somethin' you wish?!" En-gin-EEeers! "Then hop on aboard the Prometheus!" ... GAH! *eyegitty*eyegitty*eyegitty* Yes, well, outstanding F/X saddled with barely sketched out caricatures, with loathsome people doing idiotic things, getting themselves killed in moronic ways, and saddled with designated heroes we're supposed to root for solely because they ARE the designated heroes in the script ... I could go on ranting, but, eh, it just isn't worth the effort. If nothing else, Prometheus (2012) is a haunting reminder of how far sci-fi and fantasy films have improved since the 1990s and the forlorn genre days of Godzilla (1998), The Haunting (1999) and The Wild, Wild West (1999). 

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