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Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween
And the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon (See Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 6.5) concludes with the best Halloween movie of all time:

John Carpenters Halloween

Happy Halloween!
Posted by Mark on October 31, 2008 at 12:38 AM .: link :.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

6WH: Week 6.5: Speed Round!
Just a few days away from Halloween and I figured I'd do a bunch of short reviews for movies that I've seen recently, but that haven't been covered in the Six Weeks of Halloween marathon so far (See Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6). Some of them just didn't fit with a given week's theme and some were just awful and I didn't want to spend too much time on them. So here goes:
  • Braindead (aka Dead Alive): Before the Academy started handing him Oscars, Peter Jackson made some of the bloodiest, most disgusting horror comedies ever. This particular film is one of the goriest ever, and it's absolutely brilliant. ***
  • Ravenous: Did you know that cannibalism imparts superpowers? I didn't. Anyway, I actually kinda enjoyed this movie. **1/2
  • The Midnight Meat Train: Stylish but cliched and not terribly scary. Some of the worst and unnecessary CG effects and an uneven ending detrack from what is an otherwise relatively decent movie. **
  • The Call of Cthulhu: If someone made a movie of HP Lovecraft's short story at the time it was published in 1928, it would probably have looked something like this 2005 silent film. It's an interesting idea, and it works reasonably well, though the filmmakers rely too heavily on intertitles (often inserting them when they weren't even really necessary) and personally, I like the story better. **1/2
  • Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence: It's like a Die Hard reunion! It's got Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush (Special Agent Johnson, and Agent Johnson (no relation)) and even Paul Gleason. Oh, and a rampaging cop too. **
  • God Told Me To: Larry Cohen's cult favorite is... weird. It has some interesting ideas and some creepy scenes, but ultimately falls apart. You can see why it's become a cult classic though. **
  • The Lost Boys: Shocking confession: I never saw this movie before a few weeks ago. It was entertaining enough and reasonably well made (except for Corey), but a little overrated. ***
  • The American Nightmare: This documentary covers the horror film from a political perspective. Interesting enough, and they focused in on some of the more obscure films... but I would have liked to have seen more films covered. ***
  • Ichi the Killer: Takashi Miike's ultra-violent epic is entertaining at times, disgusting at others, and ultimately incomprehensible. Miike is talented, but I think this is one of his more overrated efforts. **
  • The Blair Witch Project: I've heard that this movie hasn't aged well, but I don't know what those people are talking about. It's just as creepy as the first time I saw it. ****
  • Masters of Horror: Pro-Life: I enjoyed John Carpenter's other MoH episode, Cigarette Burns, when I watched it last year, so I had high hopes for this episode. Alas, this was probably the worst MoH episode I've seen. *
  • Masters of Horror: Dreams in the Witch-House: This episode, on the other hand, is one of the best MoH episodes that I've seen. Based on an HP Lovecraft story and directed by Stuart Gordon (of Re-Animator fame), the film follows a witch that haunts a boarding house using creepy dimensional tactics. Good stuff. ***
  • Masters of Horror: Sounds Like: Frank Sobotka with really sensitive hearing. Not a bad episode, just not a particularly good one either. **
That's all for now. Just a couple days left, and a few old standards to watch - The Shining, Evil Dead II, and of course, Halloween
Posted by Mark on October 29, 2008 at 08:07 PM .: link :.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

6WH: Week 6: Japanese Horror
The final week of the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon (See Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5) kicks off with a two Japanese horror films, one disc of an Anime series, and the usual smattering of shorts and trailers.
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV: The Devil and Homer Simpsons
  • Poor Devil (WTF is this? Franklin Mint Blog has details)
  • Hellbound: Hellraiser II (trailer)
  • Jigoku: The title of this film means "hell," but unfortunately, only the final third of the film takes place there. The first hour or so is comprised of a tedious, handwringing melodrama about Shiro Shimizu, a good student with a loving fiancee, who seems to have drawn the ire of Tamura. I'm not sure what the deal is with Tamura, but whenever he appears (and I use that term literally), people die. This film doesn't make a ton of sense, but it's beautifully shot, and once you begin the descent into hell that the title promises, things pick up a bit. Granted, things still don't make sense, but then, you kinda expect that in hell. In any case, Shiro is sentenced to an eternity of damnation in the Japanese/Buddhist version of hell... unless he can gain redemption by saving his unborn daughter. Or something, I don't think it really matters. The only reason to really watch this movie is for its use of gore, as you see various characters from the first hour punished for their sins. Relatively tame by today's standards, this movie, made in 1960, clearly disturbed audiences of the time and paved the way for gore as a mainstay of the horror genre. Alas, since none of the characters really matter much and since there is little emphasis on story or plot, I didn't care much for the film. Fantastic visuals though. Probably only interesting for students of the genre. **

    The boiling cauldron level of hell
    The boiling cauldron level of hell

  • The Ring (trailer)
  • Ringu (trailer)
  • Video Dating (Robot Chicken)
  • Ju-on: The Grudge: This Japanese haunted house tale puts an interesting spin on the cliched subgenre, creates an undeniably creepy atmosphere, and produces some excellent scares, but ultimately doesn't go anywhere. We're informed by the title sequence that a Ju-on is "The curse of one who dies in the grip of powerful rage. It gathers and takes effect in the places that person was alive. Those who encounter it die, and a new curse is born." And that's basically it. A bunch of people enter the house, get cursed, then we see them disappear or die mysteriously. Writer/Director Takashi Shimizu attempts to liven the proceedings by employing a nonlinear narrative structure, and by instituting the rule that it doesn't matter where you go, these ghosts will still find you and do their thing. The latter is an interesting twist, solving the problem of a lot of haunted house tales (i.e. Just leave the house, dumbass! Well, in Ju-On, that won't help you). At first, this movie is wildly effective. Shimizu crafts a creepy atmosphere that sets the mood and then manages a few unsettling payoffs. The film is filled with little visual tricks that keep you on edge, constantly looking in the shadows or reflections for an unseen ghost. The sound design and minimalist soundtrack provide a lot of the scares and complement the visuals well. The unconventional narrative structure is engaging at first... a series of interlocking "chapters" that each tell the tale of one individual's struggle to avoid the curse. Unfortunately, by the end of the film, the novelty of the atmosphere was beginning to flag, and the nonlinear timeline manages to give away the ending about a half hour before it happens, thus taking all the suspense out of the ending and making the seemingly interesting narrative structure essentially pointless. The ending is the one major flaw in an otherwise harrowing movie. That said, this is probably the creepiest movie I've seen during the 6WH (the only other candidate was also a ghost movie, The Others), so I'll give the movie a pass. ***

    It is either a little boy ghost or a cat ghost, or both.
    It's either a little boy ghost or a cat ghost, or both.

  • Vampire 24: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 (Robot Chicken)
  • Blood+ (trailer)
  • Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (trailer)
  • Hellsing (disc 1): I wanted to get some Anime on here, as horror is a genre not particularly covered by my guides to the Anime world. I actually wanted to watch Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, but Netflix doesn't have it for some reason, so I had to resort to this series. I picked Hellsing because it got generally good reviews and sounded rather interesting. After the first 3 episodes, it seems to be chugging along well, though I don't think the series plot has been established yet. There's no clear villain, except for the hordes of vampires that the Hellsing organization hunts down and destroys. Interestingly, the Hellsing organization employs vampires for this purpose. This actually makes a bit of sense; I've always thought that the best vampire hunters would be other vampires. One of the main characters and seemingly the most powerful vampire is Alucard, an obvious hint that he is, in fact, Dracula (Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards, and is even used in Bram Stoker's novel). The other main character is a young policewoman who chose to become a vampire when she got between Alucard and a rampaging vampire. She struggles with what she's become, and we get our introduction to the world of Hellsing through her. No recognizeable villain or serious challenge to Alucard's power has appeared, unless it's the Vatican's hunter who has just appeared at the end of disc 1 (The Vatican's vampire hunting unit, named Iscariot, seems to disagree with the Hellsing organization's practice of fighting fire with fire). While I can see that Iscariot will show up later in the series, they don't seem like the primary villain. Anyway, so far, so good. More thoughts on the series (still 10 episodes to go) will be posted separately.


That about covers it for tonight, but the festivities will continue through the week and Wednesday's entry will be a special Speed Round edition, featuing a bunch of movies that I've watched recently but haven't had the chance to write about. Thanks to NeedCoffee for the pointer to Poor Devil (they're doing a Halloween marathon as well). Kernunrex's 6WH is also proceeding well; he's even been watching Kaedrin favorite Phantasm and it's several sequels. In an interesting twist, Shamus will be posting about survival horror video games during what he calls Hallowweek. And the usual crowd is up to their Halloween shenanigans: Horror Movie A Day, Quint from AICN is still going strong, The Metal Misfit, Random Acts of Geekery, and Cal's Media of the Month. It also looks like local horror aficionados are hosting a marathon of their own this weekend: Exhumed Films 24 Hour Horror-thon. The schedule is being kept secret for now, but it looks like fun.
Posted by Mark on October 26, 2008 at 09:32 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gabriel Over The White House
The latest episode of the FilmCouch podcast features an in-depth look at an astounding movie called Gabriel Over the White House. The film was made in 1933 (in the heart of the Great Depression) and it tells the story of a newly elected President of the US, Judson Hammond. He's not exactly a great leader. It's implied that he's somewhat corrupt, and he doesn't seem to assert himself at all, instead just acting as a figurehead for the party (for example, he signs everything that comes across his desk without question). He seems to spend most of his time messing around with his secretary and giving nicknames to his subordinates. But then he has a sorta religious experience and becomes inspired to institute real change... and this is where things get really nutty.

I don't really want to get into too much detail, but the movie is completely and totally absurd from this point on... and it's stunning to watch. President Hammond essentially fires his entire cabinet because they disagree with his decisions, then institutes martial law, effectively making himself a dictator (how he manages this, I don't know, but who the hell cares in a movie like this). He does all this so that he can implement a series of reforms that are eerily prophetic. He talks about stuff like repealing prohibition and nationalizing the business, forcing the nation's unemployed back to work, and subsidizing farmers -- all things that would happen in the following decades if not sooner (much of what he talks about prefigures the New Deal). Indeed, the film is surprisingly relevant even today, as he suggests things like putting a freeze on home foreclosures and injecting money into banks. Because this is a movie, we get some wonderful conflicts with a fictional gangster who, unhappy with the lift of prohibition, orders a drive-by shooting of the white house! The President's response to the attack is equally crazy. And there's lots of even nuttier stuff in the movie that I'm barely touching on...

For a film released in 1933, it's surprisingly well made. The acting is great, particularly Walter Huston's turn as the President. The movie rests on his shoulders as he spends most of the movie essentially speechifying and engaging in "straight talk." There are a few unexpected visual effects that were actually convincing (something of a rarity for that era) as well.

I'm honestly kinda flabbergasted by this movie. It's this unbelievable liberal authoritarian fantasy, apparently the brainchild of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst who basically took the opportunity to go off on an insane political rant against political corruption and red tape. And as near as I can tell, the film is not a satire... it seems to actually take itself seriously. It's tacky, arrogant, obnoxious and utterly riveting. I suppose I could have spent some time deconstructing the film, but I'm so dumbfounded by it that I don't really know where to start. It clearly resonates with current events, but it just doesn't compute. Really, it has to be seen to be believed. Despite its notoriety, it wasn't very popular at the time of it's release, and it hasn't played much on TV since then. It experienced a brief resurgence on video, but quickly went out of print and isn't even available on DVD. However, some enterprising film nerd has placed the entire film on YouTube, in a series of 9 parts (strangely, it's subtitled in Spanish). If you don't feel like sitting through the whole film, it's definitely worth listening to the FilmCouch episode, as the guys spend a good amount of time humorously discussing the film and how it relates to history and current events (they also talk about W. and in a completely unrelated topic, there's some discussion of the Watchmen movie too).
Posted by Mark on October 22, 2008 at 12:53 AM .: link :.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

6WH: Week 5: The Quasi-French Connection
Coming down the homestretch of the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon (See Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4), we've got yet another trio of films with the usual comedic shorts and spooky trailers. I haven't had much in the way of foreign horror films in the marathon so far, and to be honest, there's only 1 (French) horror film in this entry... but one of the films is directed by a Frenchman and the other is connected to that film. We shall start with the the latter...
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV: Bart Simpson's Dracula
  • The Last House on the Left (trailer)
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (trailer)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (1977): One of Wes Craven's earlier efforts, this movie has its moments, but is ultimately a bit uneven. It's about a typical American family whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere only to be attacked by a vicious group of cannibals. It's a bit cliched, even for its time, but Craven does a reasonable job executing the story, especially when you consider that he was working on an extremely limited budget. The film's pacing is a bit off, but the centerpiece of the film is a harrowing second act, when things suddenly go from bad to much, much worse. The last act went on a bit too long and then ended a bit too suddenly (though, looking back, it seems to be a rather satisfying ending). The acting is about what you'd expect from a low-budget horror film of the era, but there are a few standouts and a couple of great casting calls (for instance, Michael Berryman is well cast as one of the cannibals, named Pluto). Visually, Craven was still growing, but he managed to pull a lot out of the landscape, and despite the low budget, most of the film is well shot. The success of the film is mostly due to his efforts, and it's not a surprise that this movie has developed a strong cult following. **1/2

    Four eyes running down a hill

  • The Notebook (fake trailer)
  • Them (trailer)
  • High Tension (trailer)
  • Inside: This French film starts off with a car accident where a pregnant photographer named Sarah loses her boyfriend. Month's later, it's Christmas Eve, and Sarah will be going to the hospital the next morning to have labor induced. As she grieves her dead boyfriend, a stranger shows up at her house and starts to wreak havoc. I actually watched this movie a long time ago, but figured I'd include it because it's somewhat obscure but it's been garnering great reviews from a lot of horror fans. I will admit that I became very involved in this movie and that it is extremely well made, but the story kinda derails at one point and it totally ruined the movie for me. One problem I had was that a large part of the emotional response I had to the film is simply because they made the main character a pregnant woman. That fact is integral to the story, but it's also a cheap shot. If you put a pregnant woman in danger, of course I'm going to be affected by it. I don't care how well made the movie is, it's going to be an emotional experience simply because a pregnant woman is in danger. Movies, especially horror movies, need to be somewhat manipulative. But the best movies are able to be manipulative in a much more subtle way. Inside was manipulative in a very overt, look at me, I'm torturing a pregnant woman sort of way. As a genre, Horror is supposed to confront uncomfortable subjects, and this is certainly uncomfortable, but this film went a bit too far for me. In general, this is probably a subject that deserves a more thorough look. Anyway, this film reminded me of another French horror film (that I watched during last year's 6WH), High Tension. Both movies are exceptionally well made, but undone and held from greatness by a fatal flaw. In High Tension, it was the twist ending. In Inside, it's the cheap shot of a premise mixed with some incredibly stupid (but all too common in horror) character decisions (in particular the cops in the film start out great, but after demonstrating that they're pretty smart, they immediatly start doing incredibly stupid things). However, my griping aside, this film is very well made. And though it's a cheap shot, the story is quite involving. The tension is high and it's one of the goriest movies I've seen recently. There's even a twist towards the end that works pretty well. It's definitely worth watching for fans of the genre, but the cheap shot of a premise still bothers me. **1/2
  • Horror Friends
  • Dawn of the Dead (2004) (trailer)
  • Hostel (trailer)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (2006): This remake of Wes Craven's 1977 film reviewed above was directed by Alexandre Aja, who was also the director of the aforementioned High Tension (and thus the quasi-French connection of all this week's films is revealed). In general, this film succeeds and fails in pretty much the same places as the original. Great photagraphy, a bit cliched, an intense second act, and somewhat uneven pacing. Aja was working with a somewhat higher budget, so the film is more slickly produced than the original, and it looks great. He also managed to ratchet the tension of the second act even higher than the original, being more gorey and disturbing (interestingly, this is partly achieved by endangering a baby, something I found distasteful in the same way as Inside, though I have to admit that this was an effective technique here). Unfortunately, some of the additions and changes are a bit cliched in themselves. For instance, instead of there being just this crazy family of cannibals, they're actually mutant cannibals caused by the government's nuclear bomb testing. This felt a bit unneccessary, and despite having more background on the villains of the film, I found that I connected with them less. They seemed to become a bit more unreal, which made them ess scary. Again, while Aja does his best to distinguish this film from the original, it doesn't really add much to the experience. On the other hand, I did enjoy this film a lot more than I expected. **1/2

    There are some eyes on this hill

And there you have it. Only 1 week left (actually, it's almost two weeks until Halloween, so there'll probably be two, maybe even three more entries).
Posted by Mark on October 19, 2008 at 06:40 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Season 7 of Firefly
One of the greatest SF television series of recent years was Firefly. Of course, it never made it past 14 episodes (actually, only 11 were aired). This is what makes this mock-review of the first episode of Season 7 of Firefly hilarious.
The end is nigh. The last season of Firefly started last night and if the season premiere is any indication, it comes a season too late. ...

The episode wasn't all bad, though. Jayne's big action piece in the fourth act when he was chasing Mal across the rooftops on Ariel had me actually kinda rooting for him. And Adam Baldwin just crackles when he tries to get all authoritarian and keeps flashing that badge to people who couldn't give a rat's ass.
There's lot's more, but I can't help but think how uninspired the show sounds in its 7th season. The 14 episodes of the show that were produced were great, and so it's natural to lament that we'll never get closure to a lot of the plot threads... but at this point, I'm almost glad it didn't go much beyond those 14 episodes. I enjoyed Serenity a lot, but there was something off about it. It was too rushed, too compressed. Whedon is on record as saying that the events of the movie correspond roughly to his plan for the entire second season. When I saw Serenity, I found some pieces of it lacking... the government conspiracy that drives the plot is cliched, some of the characters don't get much to do, and other characters are given the prize of an arbitrary and unceremonious death. As an movie that is independent of the series, it's great, and it's one I rewatch relatively often. Would it have worked if the story had been spread out across a season? That is the assumption most seem to make, but honestly, I don't know. What I do know is that I don't have to worry about it anymore, and that might actually be a good thing. It's a tragedy that the series was torpedoed by Fox, who did a lot to sabotage the series, but at the same time, I'm a little relieved that it didn't live long enough for Whedon to torpedo it himself.

Thanks to Jonathan Last for the link, and he correctly notes that the comments, where people take the gag and run with it, are hilarious as well. For instance, this one:
The third season kicked a@@! (They won three Emmys, for frak's sake! And I STILL say Joss was screwed over - Abrams is good, but "Lost" was [and STILL IS] just a 'gimmick' show!) But I thought Mal being on the other size of the law let them explore some "gray zones" of morality - the REAL cause of Bowden's Malady (with the great Gregg Henry reprising his role as Sheriff Bourne) - And Badger revealed as a paid snitch for Blue Sun - Or what about the two-parter where the crew finally gets their (legal!) revenge on Niska? And who didn't shed a tear over Zoe's pregnancy? Okay, Wash going undercover with the carnival was just a rip-off of "The Trouble With Tribbles" -except with baby geese - but it WAS funny! And speaking of funny, what about the episode with Jayne's mother and four sisters get quarantined aboard Serenity for a month? I usually don't care for Melanie Griffith, but I thought she was perfectly cast here...I could go on, but I urge everybody to go back and take another look at Season #3!!
Posted by Mark on October 15, 2008 at 08:35 PM .: link :.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

6WH: Week 4 - 80s Slasher Week
The Six Weeks of Horror continues (See Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3) with some 80s slasher fun (sort of an extension of week 1's Friday the 13th marathon).
  • Psycho (trailer)
  • Prom Night (trailer)
  • Grindhouse: Don't (fake trailer)
  • Sleepaway Camp: Young Angela, still shaken and withdrawn from seeing her father and brother killed in a boating accident years earlier, travels to camp with her protective cousin. It's just another summer at Camp Arawak, with the usual softball, swimming, horsing-around, and DEATH! Honestly, how many 80s slasher flicks have this exact premise? Fortunately, this film has a couple of twists on the cliches. First, the kids in this film are younger than usual, and they're actually played by kids (not 30 year-olds pretending to be kids). This means less opportunity for the traditional slasher T&A, but more time for childish antics and tomfoolery. It makes for an interesting tradeoff. Another oddity is that you are generally rooting for the killer in this movie. The tone is set by the first attack against the pedophile cook, who really had it coming. Successive kills are less warranted, but there's usually some sort of motive for the killings (most of the dead folks had been picking on poor Angela, for example), and that's a little different than your typical slasher pic. Most of the performances are about what you'd expect, but Felissa Rose does a great job as Angela, with a fantastic empty stare. The death sequences are unusual as well - you get death by boiling water, bees, and curling iron, amongst others. Furthermore, most of the death sequences have a buildup, an implied death, followed by a closeup look at the gorey aftermath. This technique is difficult to describe, but surprisingly effective. And no discussion of this film would be complete without mentioning the ending, which is amazing. I don't want to ruin it, but without the ending, this movie wouldn't be worth it at all. I found myself strangely sucked in to this movie and I enjoyed it much more than I expected. ***

    Sleepaway Camp

  • Slumber Party Massacre II (trailer)
  • The Evil Dead (Japanese version of the trailer - I have no idea what he's saying, but his voice is fantastic!)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (trailer)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street: Oddly, I don't think I'd actually seen this entire movie from start to finish before. I think I watched it about 10 minutes at a time throughout the 80s, so there were a few spots I never remembered seeing. But it's still a classic. The premise has an elegant simplicity that is difficult to deny. How do you hide from an enemy that haunts your dreams? There's no escape from Freddy Krueger, which is why this movie is so compelling. Director Wes Craven does an exceptional job executing this film. It's filled with creepy but compelling imagery, including some of the most memorable and horrifying death sequences in all of horror. The surrealistic nature of dreams (or rather, nightmares) opens the door to all sorts of fantastical visuals, but Craven keeps things grounded enough that we never really doubt what's happening. In that respect, it owes something of a debt to the original Phantasm (especially the haunting and ambiguous ending), but Craven crafted a brilliant film and established an iconic villain in the process. He also probed some fertile symbolic ground as well, which is another reason this film continues to be effective (for instance, the children in the film are always trying to wake up while the adults are constantly advising them to stay asleep). Successive installments would dull the fear by delving into Freddy's past and making him more comedic in nature, but in this first film he's menacing, grotesque and vicious. I'm really glad I revisited this movie, as it was better than I had remembered. ***1/2

    Freddy Krueger

  • Chopping Mall (trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI: Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace
  • Scream (trailer)
  • Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film: This documentary traces the slasher film from its origins in the sixties and seventies to its heyday in the early eighties to its demise later that decade and its resurgence in the mid-nineties. Lots of talking heads here, but the filmmakers don't skimp and get the top directors, producers, actors, etc... including the likes of Wes Craven, John Carpenter, and Tom Savini. They even manage to cover relatively obscure topics like how the giallo scene in Italian horror influenced the eighties slasher craze (I would have liked to have seen a little more of this, but the fact that they mentioned it at all was surprising). All in all, watching this documentary made me want to watch more slasher pics, which is a pretty good indicator. I wish there were more documentaries like this, as there are a lot of topics to explore in modern horror films. ***
That's all for this week. I've really been cranking through films this Halloween season, so I might have another full installment on Wednesday... [Thanks to Widget's 32 Days of Halloween for the Psycho trailer and the Japanese Evil Dead trailer]
Posted by Mark on October 12, 2008 at 02:58 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Dr. Smith's Lost in the Space at the End of Summer Movie Quiz
Well, I'm over a month late to the party here, but here are my answers to Dennis Cozzalio's movie quiz:

1) Your favorite musical moment in a movie

So it doesn't take long for me to find a question where I can't pick an answer because there are too many great ones to choose from. So here's a few: The Ride Of The Valkyries in Apocalypse Now, Also sprach Zarathustra in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and on a lighter note Total eclipse of the heart from Old School, the Raw-Hide scene in The Blues Brothers (actually, all the musical sequences in that movie are pretty good), and just about every song from the South Park movie. In more recent movies, the Falling Slowly scene in Once is pretty amazing and I liked the Jackson Five dance sequence in Clerks II too...

2) Ray Milland or Dana Andrews

And it also doesn't take long for me to prove just how little I know about older movies. Alas, this will be a recurring theme throughout this quiz. I barely know who these guys are...

3) Favorite Sidney Lumet movie

12 Angry Men. There are a few other notable choices, but I do love this movie.

4) Biggest surprise of the just-past summer movie season

Typically this sort of thing is supposed to be movies that you didn't expect to be good that actually were... but I don't watch many movies I think are going to be bad. However, I didn't think The Dark Knight would be as good as it was, and I didn't think The X Files: I Want to Believe would be as bad as it was. Neither was all that surprising, but it was a pretty vanilla summer.

5) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth

Rita Hayworth, though again, I don't know that era of film as well as I should...

6) What’s the last movie you saw on DVD? In theaters?

Last movie on DVD was Sleepaway Camp (part of my ongoing 6 Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon), which I actually enjoyed a lot more than I expected. Plus, that ending. Amazing. Last movie in the theater was Appaloosa, which was a pretty standard modern western film. But there's something to be said for well executed Genre pieces, and I'm a fan. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Sleepaway Camp
Sleepaway Camp

7) Irwin Allen’s finest hour?

The Swarm! Maybe it's just because I'm watching a lot of horror movies, but movies like this are fun.

8) What were the films where you would rather see the movie promised by the poster than the one that was actually made?

This sounds like a great question, but I'm totally drawing a blank. To be honest, it's not often that a poster really sways me one way or the other. The only thing I could think of was the poster for Star Wars: Episode I, featuring Jake Lloyd throwing the shadow of Darth Vader on the wall behind him. I don't hate the prequels, but at the time, that poster promised a lot more than we ended up getting...

Star Wars: Episode 1 poster

9) Chow Yun-Fat or Tony Leung

Leung is probably the better dramatic actor, but I really have to go with Chow Yun-Fat. Back in college a friend of mine and I would head into the city and cruise around Chinatown looking for imported HK action movies (which were not readily available in mainstream stores like they are today), mostly featuring Chow Yun-Fat. All we needed to see was his name, and we bought it. Of course, directors like John Woo and Ringo Lam were probably more responsible for the overall experience, but Chow Yun-Fat was a huge part of the fun, so I have to pick him for this question...

10) Most pretentious movie ever

This is a rough one, because I typically try to avoid these types of movies. The first one that came to mind was Richard Linklater's Waking Life, which is comprised soley of incredibly pretentious dialogue that really goes nowhere. Great animation technique and all, but the movie just squanders it on faux-philosophic banter. Another movie I thought of for this was The Holy Mountain. However, all of Alejandro Jodorowsky's movies are pretentious, and they're also incredibly freaky and weird. In general, you know what you're going to get with a Jodorowsky movie - a lot of pretentious babble mixed with freaky/disgusting visuals. But with Linklater, I was expecting something more, which is why I'd say Waking Life is more pretentious.

11) Favorite Russ Meyer movie

I have embarrassingly not seen a Russ Meyer movie. This is a total mystery when you consider that he's got a lot of boobs in his movies and, uh, I like boobs. Seems like a natural fit. Not sure what happened there. I'll have to remedy this at some point in the future.

12) Name the movie that you feel best reflects yourself, a movie you would recommend to an acquaintance that most accurately says, “This is me.”

This one is impossible. Perhaps someday I'll put together my top 100 films of all time, at which point you'll probably be able to get a good picture of who I am, but even then, I'm not sure. Plus, I have to actually compile that list, which I haven't done yet.

13) Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo

I plead the Fifth.

14) Best movie snack? Most vile movie snack?

I could be totally wrong about this, but movie popcorn when I was a kid was spectacular. If I remember correctly, sometime in the 1990s, someone noticed that a small bag of popcorn with butter was the caloric equivalent of like 3 Big Macs or something insane like that. So movie theaters stumbled all over themselves to make their popcorn healthier. It's still good today, but not as good as I remember it. Of course, I'm going completely from memory here, so I could be making this all up. In terms of vile snacks... I can't really think of one, though I suppose I'd be pretty scared of a movie theater hot dog. Sno Caps are pretty disappointing if you like real non-parels, but I wouldn't call them vile.

15) Current movie star who would be most comfortable in the classic Hollywood studio system

I really don't know what kind of person would fit, but my intuition says George Clooney, so there. Maybe Tom Hanks. Interestingly, I don't know that current movie stars are really stars in the way the old Hollywood stars were. Do we have movie stars anymore?James Berardinelli recently wrote about this... but I'm not really sure either way.

16) Fitzcarraldo—yes or no?

Yes, I would like to watch that movie someday. No, it doesn't seem like it would be a movie I'd really connect with, which is why I haven't seen it yet. But I have seen some other Herzog, and I might be wrong, so I want to watch it.

17) Your assignment is to book the ultimate triple bill to inaugurate your own revival theater. What three movies will we see on opening night?

The Godfather (the newly restored print, which is apparently "sensational"), The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. These are three of my favorite movies of all time, they are movies that would do well on the big screen and I've never seen them on the big screen. Also, since I am a business owner, these are three very popular movies as well, and sure to draw in big crowds (the only one that might not work in that respect would be 2001, but I think it'd draw enough people in).

18) What’s the name of your theater? (The all-time greatest answer to this question was once provided by Larry Aydlette, whose repertory cinema, the Demarest, is, I hope, still packing them in...)

I have no idea. Probably something uninspired like The Movie House. If I were really opening my own theater, I think I'd really just need to get a lot of suggestions from people before naming it.

19) Favorite Leo McCarey movie

I have not seen any of his movies, but I do have Duck Soup in my Netflix queue. Of course, it's in position 92 and hasn't really movied up much in the past year that's been in there... but it is there!

20) Most impressive debut performance by an actor/actress.

My First thought was Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, but that's also something of an obvious choice. Unfortunately, I can't seem to think of any others.

21) Biggest disappointment of the just-past summer movie season

The aforementioned The X Files: I Want to Believe, was pretty disappointing. The Happening was a trainwreck... but I genuinely liked Shyamalan's last two movies which were also universally panned by critics, so I was actually a little surprised by just how bad this movie was... Pineapple Express was also disappointing.

22) Michelle Yeoh or Maggie Cheung

Michelle Yeoh, though I'm not an expert on either of these...

23) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Overrated

Without a doubt, this goes to Iron Man. It's not that it's a bad movie... it's just that some people talk about it like it's one of the best Superhero movies ever, and it's really not even close.

24) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Underrated

To be honest, I'm having trouble with this one. For me, this has been a bit of a lackluster year. It's October and I only really have 2 solid candidates for my annual top 10. One of those is The Dark Knight, which is emphatically not underrated. The other is Timecrimes, a quirky, Spanish time-travel thriller (and my favorite from the 2008 PFF). I don't know that I would call it "underrated" but considering that it's a foreign film that hasn't really had a theatrical release in the US, I'd say this could qualify. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how available this movie will be because Hollywood is apparently going to remake it, and with that comes the asanine practice of suppressing the original film until after the remake comes out.

The mysterious bandaged man from Timecrimes

25) Fritz the Cat—yes or no?

I have not seen it, but it sounds like a Yes to me.

26) Trevor Howard or Richard Todd


27) Antonioni once said, “I began taking liberties a long time ago; now it is standard practice for most directors to ignore the rules.” What filmmaker working today most fruitfully ignores the rules? What does ignoring the rules of cinema mean in 2008?

This question implies that there are actually rules of cinema these days. For the sake of argument, I suppose the obvious answer would be David Lynch, but I don't generally like the results he produces (and thus that's not a "fruitful" ignorance of rules for me). Perhaps the Coen brothers? They consistently seem to defy expectations and almost never take the easy, mainstream path to moviemaking. Even their Oscar winning No Country for Old Men is pretty hostile towards traditional storytelling. And they always seem to follow up their most popular and successful movies with a confounding movie, like The Big Lebowski or even Burn After Reading.

28) Favorite William Castle movie

I haven't seen enough to really say, but I did enjoy House on Haunted Hill. If Rosemary's Baby counts, there's that too.

29) Favorite ethnographically oriented movie

I'm going to cheat on this one because what immediately comes to mind is The Wire. So it's not technically a movie, but really, watching a season of the wire is like watching a 13 hour movie. Actually, the whole series is like a brilliant 60 hour movie. And while I'm no expert on inner city Baltimore, I don't think I've ever seen a movie portray the ethnographic background of the drug trade the way The Wire has...

Update: I thought of two good, non-cheating ethnographically oriented movies: The look at Rio de Janeiro in City of God is compelling and Zhang Yimou's brilliant portrait of the upheavals in China, To Live.

30) What’s the movie coming up in 2008 you’re most looking forward to? Why?

The obvious answer is Quantum of Solace, but I'm also a bit wary of that one. A more unconventional pick would be Let the Right One In, a Swedish movie about a 12 year old boy and his Vampire neighbor. I'm mostly going on the mad ravings of Devin from CHUD on this one, but the movie is coming out in limited release near me on November 14, so why not check it out?

Let the Right One In

31) What deceased director would you want to resurrect in order that she/he might make one more film?

Stanley Kubrick (duh). (Update: Spencer notes in the comments another "Duh" selection: Alfred Hitchcock)

32) What director would you like to see, if not literally entombed, then at least go silent creatively?

This is a tough one because I don't generally wish ill will upon people who make art I don't like. I seem to have the ability to easily ignore them, so they don't bother me much. Sure, I guess I got a little miffed when Brett Ratner came on for X3, but that's not entirely his fault either. So I don't know. Maybe Uwe Boll?

33) Your first movie star crush

This is a very tough one. I can't seem to remember really crushing on any of the big names from when I was younger and it feels dumb to say someone I'm crushing on now:p

And so there you have it. That was really, really long, but I had fun.
Posted by Mark on October 08, 2008 at 08:33 PM .: link :.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

6WH: Week 3 - No Discernable Theme Week
As we reach the halfway point of the Six Weeks of Halloween horror movie marathon (See Week 1 | Week 2), it seems I've run out of thematically similar movies and have moved into more of a hodgepodge. But nevertheless, this week's lineup is pretty darn good. I seem to have gotten a bit ahead of schedule here, so a couple of these were actually watched a couple weeks ago:
  • The Call of Cthulhu By H.P. Lovecraft (short story)
  • Hellraiser (trailer)
  • Jacob's Ladder (trailer)
  • The Signal: A strange, hypnotic pattern mysteriously appears on all the TVs in the world, and after watching it for a while, people seem to go on a murderous rampage. It's clear from the taut opening (which unfortunatly turns out to be a red herring) that first time directors David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, and Dan Bush have a love for the horror genre and know what makes it tick. Each director took on a third of this movie... but unfortunately, this leads to some serious pacing and tone issues, as the story ping-pongs from gorey realism to apocalyptic dystopia to outright camp and comedy (including an attempt at parody and even some slapstick) with no real rhyme or reason. Part of the problem is that the story follows a single plotline, but each segment of the film is drastically different from the other in tone and style. In theory, I suppose this could work, but it doesn't work that well here. Still, each segment taken by itself is pretty good. The second segment stood out the most in my mind because it really nailed the comedic and surrealistic undertone of the film, while the other two segments went for more of a realism that is harder to pull off. The performances by the three main leads in that act (AJ Bowen, Cheri Christian and Scott Poythress) are also the best in the film, as well as a hilariously perverted bit part played by Chad McKnight. I found the film entertaining and well made, but it had trouble transitioning from one segment (and one director) to another. The ending also turns out to be a little more conventional than I expected. All in all, it was worth a watch, but not especially brilliant. **1/2

    AJ Bowen, Cheri Christian and Scott Poythress

  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning
  • Shining (fake trailer)
  • The Shining (trailer)
  • The Others: A seemingly standard ghost story set in 1945 at a desolate mansion in Britain. Nicole Kidman plays the lead, and her two children have a rare allergy to bright lights, so all the rooms in the house must have their drapes drawn shut and those walking around the house must be sure to close the door behind them, least stray sunlight get in the room. The servants of the house have mysteriously taken off, and the movie opens with three new housekeepers arriving to help out Kidman, whose husband has been off in the war. This is one of the few films that have really creeped me out so far this year, and it achieves most of that more through restraint than anything else. There are no horrific deaths in the film, no gore, and very little violence. The scares here are all based on atmosphere and style. Director Alejandro Amenabar makes great use of shadows and especially sound to impart the dread that saturates this film. One scene involving a piano was particularly spooky, as was the infamous "Are you mad? I am your daughter!" scene. Kidman carries the movie on her shoulders, and puts in a good performance in what must have been a difficult role. Fionnula Flanagan also has an interesting performance as one of the new housekeepers. The film's climax is not as scary as I would have expected, but it does have a satisfying twist (I suspect even guessing the twist would not ruin the movie). The film does have some issues with pacing (it's a little slow), but it's ultimately quite effective and possibly the best of the 6WH so far. I wish more films would rely on atmosphere and style to provide the scares, but films like this seem pretty rare (I was reminded a bit of the excellent 2007 film, The Orphanage). ***
  • Twilight at the Towers, by Clive Barker (Short Story from Cabal)
  • Dark City (trailer)
  • After Dark Horrorfest 2007 (trailer)
  • The Deaths of Ian Stone: Part of the 2007 After Dark Horrorfest, this film is often described as the horror version of Groundhog Day. That doesn't exactly fit the premise of this movie but it works well enough. Basically, Ian Stone wakes up in a new life every day, only to be hunted down and killed by shadowy pursuers. He's haunted by memories of his past lives, and is anchored by one other person who keeps showing up in his life. The more he remembers, the more dangerous he becomes. It's an interesting and entertaining movie despite all of its derivative elements. Unfortunately it's not very scary, and its various twists aren't all that surprising. The movie does much better when the happenings are mysterious... once we start to get answers, it falters a bit. However, it manages to overcome its deficiencies (or at least, it clears the hurdle) and I did enjoy it. The direction and performances are rather standard, but the film also looks pretty good when you consider its low-budget origins. The shadowy monsters are appropriately menacing and the main villain, played by Jaime Murray (essentially reprising her "Pardon my tits" role from Dexter), is devious and ruthless enough that we're rooting against her. It's an enjoyable movie if you take it for what it is, and it's well worth a watch. **1/2
Incidentally, this Horrorfest thing sounds pretty interesting, except for the fact that it seems to happen months after Halloween instead of the weeks preceding it (where you'd think it would make more sense). I do remember hearing about it towards the tail end of the 2007 fest, but the only film that really interested me was The Deaths of Ian Stone, and it was no longer playing... Still the 2009 fest is coming in January (again, January? Why then!?), so maybe I'll take a gander when it happens this year. That's all for this week. Next week will mark a return to the 80s slasher movie as well as a movie that I've seen described as a modern silent film (a concept that intrigues me).

In other news, Kernunrex continues his 6WH, which includes several mentions of Kaedrin favorite Phantasm (including a comic book I've never heard of but now want to read and the DVD commentary track). Kaedrin compatriot Roy posted his tentative schedule as well. NeedCoffee has started their 32 days of Halloween (it's kicked off by none other than Bugs Bunny!). Quint over at AiCN has been doing a movie a day, and for the month of October, he's doing a horror movie a day, starting with The Dunwich Horror (I didn't even know they made a movie out of that excellent H.P. Lovecraft story). Some other folks doing the marathon thing: The Metal Misfit, Random Acts of Geekery, Cal's Media of the Month and I'm sure lots of others. And of course, there's also Horror Movie a Day, who eschews the whole Halloween thing and just does horror all year round. Is anyone else doing a horror marathon?
Posted by Mark on October 05, 2008 at 07:56 PM .: link :.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

John Dies at the End: The Movie
Not sure how I missed this, but the movie rights for David Wong's horror comedy novel John Dies at the End have been purchased by Kaedrin favorite Don Coscarelli (of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-tep fame). Wong used to write at a website called Pointless Waste of Time, but he has since been hired to edit Cracked.com, and all his articles are there now (including the particularly brilliant Ultimate War Simulation Game article). He originally published John Dies at the End online (unfortunately no longer available), but it got picked up by an indie horror publisher (unfortunately, that edition is now sold out) and is now set to be re-released sometime in 2009.

IMDB doesn't have it listed yet, but Coscarelli seems excited:
The story follows two goofballs who get caught up in a freaky fight against (deep breath...) mutated victims of a strange drug that allows them to drift across time and dimensions and the horrific invasion that may be taking place on Earth because of them. Coscarelli compares JOHN DIES to his previous popular adaptation: “My feelings for JOHN are similar to how they were for Joe R. Lansdale's BUBBA HO-TEP,” he says. “Prior to filming that movie, I’d reread the Lansdale novella and absolutely knew it would make a terrific movie. I feel the same way about JOHN. David Wong is a terrific new talent. He effortlessly blends genres and creates genuine dread. I’m thrilled to be working on a project that’s firmly planted in the genre, yet different and highly original.”
AICN has some more info:
"I was greatly impressed by David Wong's crazed originality and impressive imagination," revealed Coscarelli. "He's like a mash-up of Douglass Adams and Stephen King, both smart and goofy, scary and funny -- it really spoke to me. JDatE is as addictive as the 'Soy Sauce' street drug that kicks the plot into gear."
I have no idea how long this will take to make it to the screen, but I imagine it would be a while (this is what sucks about keeping track of movies in production - you always find out about the movies years before they're made). In any case, I'm really looking forward to this. Coscarelli is a great director and would be a good match for Wong's style. After all, this is the director who made a movie about an aging Elvis (with a black JFK sidekick) battling a mummy in a Texas old folks home. It's a perfect match.
Posted by Mark on October 01, 2008 at 09:26 PM .: link :.

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