Archive for June, 2013

Every once in a while, I’ll open up the vault to pull out a forgotten treasure or an underappreciated gem

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Ravenous

Directed by:  Antonia Bird

Starring:  Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Davies, Jeffrey Jones, David Arquette

This utterly delightful black comedy/horror thriller had a troubled production with a small budget, a director change weeks into shooting, and alleged constant script rewrites.  In March 1999, it landed with a thud in theaters and was met with disdain by critics and disinterest by movie audiences making barely over 2 million dollars, classifying it firmly as a box office turkey.  Oddly, one of the film’s few defenders was the late, great Roger Ebert (a notorious detractor of modern horror) who lauded the film’s visual style and clever dialogue.  Perhaps not so oddly, one of the film’s few attendees was myself who saw it opening weekend.

I’ve probably seen it a dozen times since.  I’m not sure why I keep coming back to it.  It’s certainly no masterpiece.  But it is unique.  There’s a darkly funny grittiness to it that I just find appealing which probably says as much about me as it does about the film. When I watched it again to prepare for this, I noticed that the film’s setup is remarkably similar to that of the classic western Dances With Wolves.  An American soldier wounded in battle is recognized for bravery (under dubious circumstances) and rewarded with a new post in the burgeoning West.

Here, Lt. John Boyd (Guy Pearce) is fully aware that his ‘reward’ is actually an exile to a remote military outpost in the Sierra Nevadas of California.  Likewise, his superior knows that the only way Boyd was able to advance beyond enemy line in this battle of the Mexican-American War was to feign death while his comrades fell around him.  Thrown into the enemy camp, fellow soldier’s dead bodies stacked upon him, he frees himself and tries to escape.  Stumbling upon the opposing force’s leader and subduing him in the process, he becomes a paper hero and is promoted to the rank of Captain.

Glory fades when he arrives at his new post of Fort Spencer which is occupied by a ragtag gang of similar rejects led by the genial, rotund Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones).  Boyd is just settling into his role as the third-in-command when a stranger arrives in camp.  Mr. Calqhon (Robert Carlyle) spins a tale of a wagon train gone awry, stranded and forced to eat the dead.  Calqhon abandoned the few survivors who remained fearful that he would be the next to fall to the cannibalistic hunger of the group’s guide, Colonel Ives.

When Hart hears of the survivors, he’s determined to free them from the clutches of the crazed Colonel and sets out, along with Boyd and a few other of the camp’s crew, to find the campsite.  When the men of Fort Spencer arrive, they encounter much more than they could have ever expected.

Director Bird didn’t helm a lot of features before this one and she’s worked exclusively in television since but considering she inherited the role and faced a lot of studio interference she did a great job.  She makes great use of the landscape of the Czech Republic where the film was primarily shot.  Everything just looks dirty, snowy and wet.  Everyone looks smelly and miserable.  She really sells Fort Spencer as quite possibly the last place anyone would want to be.

She also did a great job with the cast.  Robert Carlyle, an underrated actor IMHO, brings a quiet desperation to the character of Calqhon, shell-shocked by the events he’s witnessed.  His portrayal develops as we discover more about the character who may not be sharing everything he knows.  Most miraculously, she squeezes a great performance from the usually leaden Pearce, who starts as a coward before becoming a survivor and ultimately the hero exhibiting the bravery and sacrifice for which he was falsely commended.

Finally, one cannot speak of this movie without addressing the stellar score by Blur frontman Damon Alban and British composer Michael Nyman.  A lot of fans of movie music feel the best scores tend to fade into the background and should serve to enhance what the viewer is seeing. They should not become so noticeable that they obscure the film.  The score to this movie is noticeable though and at time seems discordant to the movie itself.  And yet somehow, it works.  It’s really good.  I wish I had it on CD but it is way ‘out of print’ and almost impossible to find reasonably priced on the secondary market.  I’ll keep looking though.  It’ll be worth the hunt.

Ravenous is available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video.

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A not so mini-review to help you choose

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Man of Steel (Grade: A)

Usually I try to hit up a couple of flicks in this ‘column’ but this is a special one folks so it gets a review all to its own  And it is a big one, have no doubt, cause we’re talking about The Big Blue Boy Scout and he & I go way back.  So, indulge me if you will as I share some back-story and insight with you before diving into the review proper.

First things first, I love the Christopher Reeve Superman.  He was my introduction to the character.  I saw all of his films in the theater, the first few with my Dad who was a big Supes fan and had grown up reading the comics.  I was just getting into the four-color funnies at the time and was more into the New Teen Titans and the Legion of Super-Heroes.  But I sure as hell wasn’t going to pass up a chance to catch the most iconic superhero of all time in live and living color.  The third and fourth in the series have their fans (or at least the Richard Pryor-infused third does.  I can’t imagine anyone defending The Quest for Peace) but Superman:  The Movie and Superman II really bring the goods.

They are a product of their time, reverential of the source material, and while they’ve aged well they are still a bit long in the tooth.  That said Christopher Reeve is still the perfect Man from Krypton.  He perfectly embodied the aw-shucks Midwest Clark Kent charm AND the eternal, choir boy perfection of Superman.  He will always be my favorite Kal-El though this new guy comes awfully close and may get there yet.

The movie franchise lay dormant for a couple of decades before DC Comics and parent company Warner Brothers, emboldened by the success of the Caped Crusader reboot Batman Begins, attempted to revive their flagship hero.  They went with a different strategy though by continuing the series, ignoring the continuity of the last two flicks, and setting Superman Returns five years after the events of the Kryptonian packed second movie.  Brandon Routh did an admirable job of filling the red boots and was particularly effective at evoking Reeve’s Clark Kent.  There’s some absolutely beautiful moments in the film and some thrilling set pieces but the action scenes are few and far between and it is almost too slavishly devoted to the Reeve movies.  I rather liked the movie.  But I am a fan of those it chose to honor.

The movie was well received by critics but fell flat with audiences.  The studio was trying to play to an audience that either hadn’t seen the originals or just didn’t care to see them continued.  There was no sequel and the character went away for another 7 years.

So, here we are today.  A new vision of The Man of Tomorrow has been unleashed upon a world seemingly desperate for heroes.  Directed by Zack Snyder (a notorious punching bag for critics) and shepherded by Christopher Nolan, the architect of the insanely successful Dark Knight series, this is NOT my daddy’s Superman.  They have eschewed all previous versions of the character and have given us a Clark Kent, portrayed by relatively unknown British actor Henry Cavill, who at this point in his life is not yet Super and still very much a Man.

They have also given us all of the classic elements required in a Superman origin story.

There’s a visually spectacular extended opening segment on the doomed planet Krypton where we meet Kal-El’s birth father Jor-El played by Russell Crowe, more alive in this film then any I’ve seen him in since Gladiator.  We are also introduced to General Zod, played by Michael Shannon, leader of a seditious army and literally bred and genetically designed to protect his planet and his people at all cost.  He and his followers are condemned for their crimes to the Phantom Zone.  We all know what happens from here.  The child of El is sent into deep space to escape the fate of the doomed planet, the hopes, dreams and legacy of his entire people with him.

At this point, the movie makes a big narrative jump as we find the man we know to be Clark Kent in his early-30’s, living a life of solitude jumping from job to job and town to town.  Whenever he is forced to use his powers to save a desperate soul, he moves on fearful of exposure.  These scenes are interspersed with vignettes from his days in Smallville where he is raised by his human parents, Ma & Pa Kent played to perfection by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner.  They know he is special, that he is not of them, yet love his as their own.  Costner is especially effective in the scenes where he stresses how important it is that Clark keep his special abilities hidden until he can know the world is ready for him.  Because when he does come forward, everything will change.  They instill in the alien child a crucial humanity.

Clark eventually discovers a probe ship sent from Krypton thousands of years earlier when the planet was colonizing the universe.  Here he discovers his origins and it is at this point he first comes to the attention of a canny Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter named Lois Lane, sharply portrayed by Amy Adams.  There isn’t a fully blown romance this early in the story though the attraction is certainly there with one brief moment of action on that.  Lois is set up as more of a confidante, privy to some of Superman’s biggest secrets.  I liked this change a lot.

Now this is a superhero movie which requires conflict and a villain, ably appearing in orbit over Earth in the form of a returned Zod, freed from his imprisonment by the destruction of Krypton.  He forces Clark into the open by threat on the planet’s safety.  And to say much more would be to venture into spoilerly material far greater than any I might have already touched on.  Suffice it to say that Zod doesn’t keep deals and he has his own designs for the Last Son of Krypton and his adopted home.

It is here, in a third act filled with more action, destruction and even death, than all the other Superman movies combined, where all the fan boys, Supes purists, and Donner/Reeve disciples have taken the greatest issue.  I don’t mean those terms as insults.  You could probably say they all apply to me to some degree.  But this isn’t a movie for the fan boys.  This isn’t a movie for the purists.  And this isn’t a movie for the disciples.  This is something new.  This is a film about a man thrust unto the world’s stage unsure if he is ready.  This is a tale of a rookie who doesn’t know how to fight dealing with an army as strong as he is and hellbent on devastation.  This is a story about a man of two worlds desperate to honor both and forced to make an almost impossible choice.  This is how the man learns to be a hero

In the end, I was left with the image of that man having the full weight of those two worlds on his shoulder.  He knows that he was culpable in causing great damage and loss of life and that he can never allow this to happen again.  He knows that to rise one must fall and that he fell harder than anyone possibly could.  He will move forward attempting to provide that ideal example that humanity can strive towards.  It is an awesome and overwhelming responsibility that can’t be taken lightly.  He is a hero and he does this not just because he is Super.  He is a Man.  He is a Superman.

This is a great movie with a stellar cast who provide good to great performances across the board.  It looks spectacular and has an excellent musical score by Hans Zimmer.  It is at times a dark and challenging tale.  It will make you question what it means to be hero.  It is ultimately a great springboard for what I hope is a very long-lived franchise.

I adore Superman.  I always have.  I always will.  The beauty of the character is that after 75 years of existence there can still be fresh, new and exciting interpretations of him.  Nothing this film does invalidates the previous films or the work of countless comics creators.  They all still exist and are readily available.  If you want recommendations, I’ll be happy to provide some. That said, if you have any interest in the character, I suggest you check out this movie and judge for yourself.  It’s certainly not without fault.  It is by no means perfect.  But you won’t be able to judge that based solely on my, as it turns out, glowing review or the damning words of someone else.

Go with an open mind and no preconceptions or ideas of what you think it should be.  Judge it for what it is and what it’s trying to say.

I loved it.

Your mileage may vary.

Sometimes you just don’t get around to catching a flick

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Side Effects (d. Steven Soderbergh)

So why didn’t I see it in the theater?  Well, to be honest, it just looked a little boring and there was other stuff out that I wanted to see more.  I kept putting it off and ultimately decided that it would just have to wait.

So why did I buy the DVD?  Because I have a sickness called compulsive Blu-ray/DVD buying.  Seriously though, there were a few reasons.  It’s allegedly Soderbergh’s last feature film and, unlike many of my friends, I’ve actually rather enjoyed his last few movies such as Haywire and Contagion.  At some point, I was able to pick it up for $10 so I decided to pull the trigger on a purchase.

So was it worth it?  I’m going to have to say, “No.”  I probably should have saved 5 bucks and just bought it on demand.  The acting is fine and it looks good but the story ultimately felt a bit flat to me.  One of the things that kept me from seeing it in the theaters was that I thought it would be about prescription drugs and ‘Big Pharma’ and that didn’t really seem too interesting to me.  As it turns out, that was the most fascinating part of the movie.  Once it turned into a paint-by-numbers psychological thriller, I lost interest.

So what’s it about?  A young woman (Rooney Mara) is excited that her husband (Channing Tatum) is being released from prison after serving four years for insider trading.  She suffered a miscarriage while he was incarcerated and has been battling depression.  His release does nothing to relieve her malaise and ultimately she purposefully drives her car into the concrete wall of a parking garage.  A doctor (Jude Law) on call in the emergency room recognizes her illness and she agrees to visit him for treatment.  They try different meds before they settle on an experimental new drug known to cause sleepwalking.  A terrible accident occurs shortly after that puts her freedom on the line and the doctor’s career in jeopardy.

So what’s the grade?  I really hope this isn’t Soderbergh’s last movie.  It’s not terrible but it’s not a particularly great way to close out his cinematic career.  There’s just nothing special here.  If you like stars, I gave it 3 out of 5.  If you like grades, it’s a solid C+.

100 Movies of Summer 2013

Posted: June 5, 2013 in Movies

100 movies in 92 days, June 1 to August 31.  There’s very little on television worth watching.  What the hell else am I gonna do?  Go outside?  Talk to people?  I think not!

Actually, I plan on doing both of those things hopefully many times over the course of these three blisteringly hot Texas months which means I’ll have to double-up or triple-up on some days all the while working the 8-5 rent paying job.  To some my goal might sound rather easily attained.  Perhaps you get paid to watch movies.  Goody for you.  To some it might sound rather far-fetched.  Perhaps you haven’t seen 100 movies in your lifetime.  To you I say, go see more movies.  There’s no doubt a lot of good stuff you’ve missed.

I won’t take time here to  review every movie I see but I will drag out of mothballs an old favorite of mine…the 10-word summary.  Fair warning, the 10-word summary will probably quite often be spoilery! So, no complaining if you stumble across a crucial plot point on one of your, what I hope are, frequent visits.

I will try to update the list every week or so.  If I feel any movie is deserving of greater spotlight I will address it elsewhere in the blog along with other meandering thoughts I am sure.

Shall we begin?

  1. Chernobyl Diaries –  Thought was found footage.  That’s what I get for thinking.
  2. Haywire – I would totally let Carano kick my pale white ass.
  3. Safe –  Statham plays Statham…again.  But this time the movie’s good.
  4. Fear X –  Guy who directed Drive starring the perv from Big Lebowski.
  5. Fast & Furious 6 –  The Rock could save any franchise not named The Marine.
  6. John Dies at the End  –  Turns out John does not really die at the end.
  7. Crawl  –  Hot Australian waitress runs afoul of a creepy Croatian assassin.
  8. The Collector – Misunderstood gimp tries to make friends. Family is not receptive.
  9. The Collection – Rebuked by rude family, gimp goes on rampage.  Kills everyone.
  10. American Reunion – Actually liked this.  Trust me, I’m as surprised as anyone.
  11. Superman Returns – A love letter to Donner and Reeve. I dig it.
  12. Cherry Tree Lane –  It’s just like Straw Dogs.  Except it kind of sucks.
  13. Star Trek Into Darkness – Not as good as the first but still damn good.
  14. All-Star Superman – Great graphic novel, decent movie. I need another five words.
  15. Side Effects – Instead of medication take a deep breath.  No more killing!
  16. Man of Steel – If loving this is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.
  17. Dredd – Can’t help but wonder why the Judge is always pissed.
  18. The Thing (2011) – Is it a remake or a prequel? Neither? Or both?
  19. Jack’s Back – Sleazy Spader strokes a cat and solves his twin’s murder.
  20. Real Steel – Wolverine teaches kid how to gamble and fight.  Yay Dad!
  21. Four Lions – I did not understand a single damn word anyone said.
  22. This Is The End – Hollywood types playing themselves go to hell.  Seems about right.
  23. In The Loop – This is a damn funny movie people.  I’m just saying.
  24. V/H/S/2 – Horror anthology, pretty decent. Safe Haven will blow your mind.
  25. Monsters University – By my reckoning?  It’s tons better than Monsters Inc.  Seriously.
  26. The Man with the Iron Fists – The RZA gets all kinds up Wu-Tang up in here.
  27. Pitch Perfect – It’s no Glee.  And can’t we all agree that’s good?
  28. A Cat in Paris – Loyal tomcat moonlights as a cat burglar’s assistant.  Ridiculously cute.
  29. World War Z – Wherever Pitt goes death follows.  Here’s a hint:  Avoid Brad.
  30. Ravenous – A bunch of soldiers get hungry and eat each other.
  31. The Call – I can’t even pretend that I liked anything about this.
  32. The Lost Boys – Goddamn it Corey Haim.  What the hell happened to you?!?
  33. Barbarella – Seriously.  Jane Fonda was just…wow…seriously…just…really WOW.
  34. The Fly – This might be Cronenberg’s best flick. That’s saying a lot.
  35. Undefeated – I’ve seen better football documentaries but this one’s pretty good.
  36. The Pact – Two sisters find out home is where the death is.
  37. White House Down – It’s the best Die Hard movie since Die Hard 2.
  38. Rocky IV – Over the top.  Ridiculous.  But I still kinda love it.
  39. Team America:  World Police – I really like it when the puppets do each other.
  40. Jaws – The very first and maybe still the best summer blockbuster.
  41. Captain America:  The First Avenger – Honestly, this might be my second favorite Marvel Universe movie.
  42. Man of Steel IMAX 3D – I’ve seen it twice.  Love it.  Wanna see it again.
  43. Independence Day – Look, I will watch absolutely anything that stars Jeff Goldblum.
  44. Ruby Sparks – Asshat writer’s imaginary girlfriend becomes real then fucks shit up.
  45. Safe Haven – Dear Hollywood:  Please keep making Nicholas Sparks movies.  Love, Hershal.
  46. Crawlspace – Rips off bunch of ideas from better science fiction movies.
  47. Mean Creek – Good story with good young actors.  Well worth your time.
  48. Hansel & Gretel:  Witch Hunters – Is it stupid?  Yes.  Is it also fun? Also yes.
  49. Lost in America – Not as funny as I had always heard.  Kinda disappointing.
  50. Godzilla (1954) – Nothing campy here.  Just old fashioned rubber suit monster mayhem,
  51. Pacific Rim – Awesome action, leaden acting, choppy story.  Still…lots of fun.
  52. Premium Rush – A seriously stupid movie that manages to still be fun.
  53. Snitch – I liked that part where Dwayne smiled like The Rock.
  54. Dragonslayer – That one lawyer from Ally McBeal kills a mean dragon.
  55. Happy People:  A Year in the Taiga – People who watch Herzog documentaries are the real happy people.
  56. The Truman Show – I want to kick Ed Harris square in the nuts.
  57. Hardware – Robots in post apocalyptic futures are almost always bad news.
  58. Dragon – History of Violence met Sherlock Holmes then had a kid.
  59. Alex Cross – I always thought Tyler Perry was a sassy old lady.
  60. The Fast & The Furious:  Tokyo Drift – Definitely not the best in the franchise but not bad.
  61. Norwegian Nina – A weird little import that will require a second viewing.
  62. Redemption – Statham plays it serious with moderate success.  Worth checking out.
  63. The Howling – This is seriously one of the best werewolf movies….EVAH!
  64. Magic Mike – Everyone I know said this was good.  They were right.
  65. The Conjuring – One of the scarier movies I’ve seen in quite sometime.
  66. The Impossible – Have to admit, got a little choked up watching this.
  67. Murder By Decree – Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper.  It’s pretty damn good.
  68. Sharknado – I was kind of hoping the sharks would kill everyone.
  69. GI Joe:  Retaliation – Everything that made the first fun? Thrown in the trash.
  70. Only God Forgives – A minimalist masterpiece.  Brilliantly executed and beautifully shot.  Well done!
  71. Killing Season – Guilty of neither sucking hard or being okay.  Just…there.
  72. Flawless –  Fun little caper flick with the always stellar Michael Caine.
  73. The Town That Dreaded Sundown – Out of place comedy mixed with creepy slasher mayhem.  Interesting.
  74. The Wolverine – Two thirds of a good movie.  Jackman owns the role.
  75. Wanderlust – Not Wain’s best but plenty of laugh out loud moments.
  76. The Skin I Live In – Wow.  What a weird movie.  There’s some intense stuff here.
  77. Hell Baby – Most important info about babies?  Never EVER have a baby!
  78. Man of the House – Tommy Lee Jones slums in lowbrow comedy with hot chicks.
  79. Manhunter – Pure 80’s greatness with the absolute best film Hannibal Lecter.
  80. The Host – Basically, this is Twilight except with aliens and even suckier.
  81. Ondine – This is Irish.  So lots of drinking and seal sex.
  82. Some Guy Who Kills People – Clever family drama with a side of serial killer mystery.
  83. Upstream Color – Great movie but I’m still not sure what I saw.
  84. Right At Your Door – Drags in the middle but has killer first/last acts.
  85. Rocky – It’s impossible to not love this goofy lunk from Philly.
  86. Teen Wolf – Michael J Fox becomes a different actor in wolf suit.
  87. Elysium – Heavy handed with the social commentary but fun to watch.
  88. To Live and Die in L.A. – Where the guy from C.S.I. gets shot in the face.
  89. Quicksilver – Dirty dancing with bikes. Bacon with a bad wig.  Stocks!
  90. It’s a Disaster – Yet another entry in the dirty bomb ensemble comedy genre.
  91. The Ruins – A very effective adaptation of a very creepy fun book.
  92. Europa Report – Smart science fiction flick.  Uses “found footage” to great effect.
  93. Appaloosa – A paint by numbers western.  Last 20 minutes are great.
  94. Noise – An Aussie murder mystery.  Well acted and well told.  Recommended.
  95. Oblivion – Second viewing doesn’t help this pretty looking Sci Fi retread.
  96. Step Up:  Revolution – So much dancing!  Your head will explode with awesome dancing!
  97. Pain & Gain – This movie surprised me.  The Rock is awesome in this.
  98. The Blind Side – Touching story that suffers from “white savior” syndrome.  Insultingly pandering.
  99. Clear History – Larry David’s not nearly as funny when not playing Larry David.
  100. Spiders – This is my 100th movie?  I am so damn lame.
  101. We’re The Millers – I laughed a lot.  So this comedy served its purpose.
  102. The Girl from the Naked Eye – Wannabe film noir fails on all levels.  So not good.
  103. American Mary – Low budget horror done right with a brilliant lead performance.
  104. You’re Next – Mean masked dudes kill lots of people.  Like they do.
  105. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec – Whew.  That’s a long movie title.  Seriously.  Look at it!
  106. The Last Boy Scout – Profane, sloppy buddy action flick hits all the right notes.
  107. Now You See Me – I like movies involving magic but this really kinda sucked.
  108. Legend – Tom Cruise and his magic tooth try to save unicorns.
  109. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Not the best John Hughes film.  Just the most fun.
  110. The World’s End – Pegg, Frost and Wright need to make all the movies.
  111. Young Sherlock Holmes -It’s lacking in that whole “Holmes solves shit” I like.
  112. Undocumented – A documentary crew goes on the worst road trip EVAH.
  113. Down with Love – A clever send up of old Hollywood screwball romantic comedies.
  114. Aftershock – Earthquake hits Chile.  Stupid people die.  Eli Roth overacts.  END.
  115. Sahara– Definitely not Matt’s best work.  Completely forgettable if pleasantly diverting.
  116. Weird Science – Only thing I remembered was that Kelly LeBrock was hot.
  117. Cabin in the Woods – One of my favorite flicks of the last 10 years.
  118. A Night at the Roxbury – And it ends not with a bang but a whimper.

Updates

 7/13     I reached the halfway point of my stated goal of 100 movies in 92 days on July 11 leaving me 51 days to watch another 50 flicks.  I’ve added hyperlinks to other blog entries expounding further on some of the films I’ve watched over this time.

8/1      61 days in and I’ve watched 75 movies.  Unless something drastic happens, I’ll easily reach my goal.  If I had to guess, I might end up with 110 movies.

8/12     73 days, 90 movies.  10 to go with 20 days left.  I think I’m going to make it.

8/21     I crossed the finish line 2 days ago with one of the worst movies I had seen during this marathon of film only to stumble across something even worse two days later.  I remain undeterred though.  I’ve got a third of the month left and plenty more movies to see.

8/28     Well…I passed 110 as I predicted.  Looks like I might hit 120.  Or maybe I’ll just quit now.  I’m kinda sleepy.

9/1     And we’re done.  It started with a horror flick and ended with a terrible spin-off of a Saturday Night Live skit and there was a lot of great stuff in between.  I’m looking forward to a more laid back September before diving into my annual Horrorpalooza in October.  Thanks for checking in peeps!  It’s been fun.