Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 2012 Recap

October 2012

13 Features
The Killers (1964) ****
The 39 Steps (1935) ***
Honkeytonk Man (1982) **
Return of the Jedi (1983) ***
Bernie (2011) ***
Dark City (1998) **
Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1970) ***
Incident on and Off a Country Road (2005) **
H.P. Lovecraft's Dreams in the Witch-House (2005) **
Dance of the Dead (2005) **
Jenifer (2005) *
Chocolate (2005) *
Homecoming (2005) **

Simpsons Season 1 3eps
Revolution 1 ep
Parks & Recreation Season 1
One Thursday Night NBC.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Psalm 27:1

I've decided that it's true that I'm not a horror fan. I can count on one hand the number of horror films I've found truly scary and/or worth my time. The Wolf Man's pining for death in the somewhat goofy Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is sadder and scarier than anything I've seen in the horror genre in the past 30 years.

Part of this is that I could care less about "thrills." We've already established that I'm not a "roller coaster" type of guy. This is the same reason why so many action films fail for me. I don't find them all that thrilling. There's nothing scary about roller coasters until they start falling apart and dropping folks on their heads. I might be interested in horror that "goes off the rails." Most horror, though, is about as safe and dull as any roller coaster.

Part of this is that I'm aware of editing. Watching an eye get drilled through isn't all that terrifying if you see the editor's cut instead of the imagined slasher's cut.

Part of this is that I think that the genre is overwhelmingly and nearly completely morally depraved. While I acknowledge that Jason and Brandon and the rest are not monsters, I do seriously question what good it can possibly be for hardcore fans to fill their heads with gross images of violence, specifically the favorite violence of the genre, violence against women. I'm sure there may be a few out there, but I don't personally know many Rob Zombie fans who are happily married who treat their wives with loving respect and dote on their many children. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't think so. The Binghamton WKGB demographic does not strike me as being a model of virtue. They talk (and sing) about women and treat women in degrading ways. They do not value life beyond any sort of self-gratification. I don't think that I or anyone else is going to suffer or be wounded for life for watching any horror (though there may very well be individuals for which this is true). There's a great promo bit on WHRW that has a guy saying something against censorship, that there are no words that, upon hearing them, will send the listener straight into a burning pit for all eternity. I believe this. I'm not afraid of any of these movies any more than I'm afraid of hearing (or even using) the word "fuck." Nevertheless, I am convinced that habitually putting these things before your eyes and (necessarily) internalizing them is a recipe for suffering, just like the guy who substitutes "fuck" for every other word has lost all sense of proportion and probably has lost the ability to say anything worth listening to.

Part of this is that most horror films are poorly crafted. I hope that Chris still has my back here. It's easy to get the Howards (and other little girls) scared with the jump moments. It's about as easy as it is obvious. It's much harder to convince the audience (or at least this audience member) that there are any real stakes involved. (I'm remembering now that I did actually like that ski lift horror film, Frozen, from a couple of years ago. It just popped into my head is why I mention it).

So, why am I even bothering right now? Well, it's because you guys love the genre. I am interested in exploring what it is that separates us here.

In an effort to explore this issue, I've decided to watch through all of Showtime's Masters of Horror series. This seems fair to me. Maybe you'll disagree and say that I really need to watch 100 films by two dozen directors before I can make a final judgment. Nah. I think I'm on safe ground here. For those who don't know, this series featured an impressive collection of the genre's "greatest" directors often filming adaptations of the "greatest" of literary horror (and often with the assistance of these writers). This seems to me like a horror fan's dream come true. It appeals to me because each of these films/episodes clocks in at 50-60 minutes. Brandon and I agree on this definitely: Short features are often great features because there's no fluff.

I'm excited about this because, after watching these films, I can say that I've watched a film by each of these directors. Maybe I'll find a few directors that I want to explore further. At the very least, I'll have concrete reasons why I don't like many directors.

So far, I've watched the first four films. I'm calling this project the Mehsters of Horror Mehrathon.

Here goes:
(stars out of five as usual)

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road **
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Written by Don Coscarelli, Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen Romano

Basically, a woman has an accident on a long stretch of abandoned road. She's found by a slasher-killer named Moon-Face who finally gets what's coming to him. Along the way, we've got an old man dancing a jig for our amusement.

Right from the beginning, we're presented with a female character who has been made strong through abuse. This has got to be a favorite theme of abusive men. The final twist at the end must be very satisfying to those who love talking about empowered womyn. This episode highlights the theme of the victim becoming the perpetrator of violence and presents this in a favorable "retributive vengeance" light that the audience must be supposed to revel in.

H.P. Lovecraft's Dreams in the Witch-House **
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Written by Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon

I'm pretty sure that Lovecraft would have hated this adaptation.

There are cracks in the walls of a house, allowing a witch and her human-faced rat familiar access into our world. They use young men to kill toddlers for them. A young student goes head-to-head with this witch, wins then loses and loses some more.

Besides the goofy rat, this one fails to do anything interesting. I could have been convinced to like this one. I might have liked it a lot if the college student had killed the boy instead of fighting the witch. This one ends with a jolt and a rumble, but it's still your standard safe roller coaster ride.

Dance of the Dead **
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Richard Christian Matheson (adapting story by Richard Matheson)

In a post-WWIII world, kids will be kids and they'll all be on drugs and zombie dance raves are the new craze.

The concept here is really great. This is probably my "favorite" of the films so far, because it reaches far even if its reach exceeds its grasp. The story ultimately doesn't work because none of the characters are developed enough. They all seem pretty stock. The actors do a lot with very little, but not enough to save it all. The ending is rather bleak, suggesting a transmission and triumph of care-free painless pain, bowing to the wisdom of doping up and dropping out when all else fails. This is all presented as a great thing and we're all glad to be rid of the controlling authority figure.

Jenifer *
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Steven Weber

A wild child disfigured woman is rescued from being murdered, only to prove to her savior that she really ought to be murdered.

This was by far the worst of the bunch. If I tell you guys that the opening short of V/H/S is far better than this one, you'll just have to believe me. There's a twist at the end that's so easy to spot that I literally groaned at the obviousness of it. There's a kernel of an interesting idea here, but it's never developed in any but the most obvious ways. To all of you horror nerds, I boldly say: Argento sucks.

That's all I've got right now. I'll keep watching.

A Happy All Hallow's Eve to all of you. You all can keep your wandering monsters below. I'm not afraid to look at them. I just don't much like them and would rather not spend all that much time with them. I'll choose instead to spend my days with those fearsome Monsters congregated 'round the Throne.

If you haven't yet read Chesterton's The Nightmare, well, what are you waiting for?

And all of this has reminded me of my favorite Wovenhand song, appropriate enough for All Saints' and All Souls', so why not link to it here, whether you'll like it or not...

Addicted to Mehdiocrity

Roy Colt and Winchester Jack was an entertaining romp from start to finish. It dragged at times, especially when it was indulging in long broad comedy setpieces. Still, it's rare that comic Westerns do as much right as this one does. It's no Destry or Paleface, but it definitely deserves a place as their little brother.

Dark City irritated me. I blame most of this on Sutherland's breathy performance (which can probably be blamed on the direction), but I also thought that the sf premise was lame and any serious philosophical explorations of memory and/or identity are brushed aside in favor of fight scenes and special effects. I remember liking this one back when it came out. It doesn't hold up so well.

Mehbe it's just me. Mehbe this grump slump of mine will never end.

Coming soon, either later today or tomorrow: some horror talk.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stop the Mehdness

Eastwood's Honkeytonk Man is a dud. As a showcase for a catchy tune, it succeeds. Otherwise, it's a fantasy-comedy about a time and a place that never existed, in which brothels are the best place for a boy and there's not much better under the sun than a chronically drunk uncle schooling you in life.

Return of the Jedi was a childhood favorite of mine. Watching it now, as a grumpy old man, I was pleasantly distracted by it, but I'll also feel just fine ignoring it for another decade before I come back to it again.

Bernie is a strange film. It might be the most daring comedy experiment of the year. It's a good fit for what 2012 has been for me so far. I respect it tons and had a good time watching it, but I don't really love it. I'm going to re-read whatever Brandon wrote about it. Maybe I'll write more about it.

I haven't yet gone back to finish the Bava Western.

I also haven't get watched any Horror films at all this month.

TV Club

Thursday night, I thought that I was going to go to sleep early. I laid down at about 7:59 and, in a rare move, decided to see what was on broadcast TV. I was right on time for NBC's Thursday Night Must See TV.

30 Rock leaned so far left that I had to prop my television up with Russell Kirk books to keep it from toppling over on its left side. I would have been able to forgive this "liberal bias" if the jokes had been funny, but not many of them were.

Up All Night surprised me simply by not being nearly as bad as I'd thought it would be. Parts of it were downright sweet.

The Office was a bit of a letdown, but only because I've watched most of the entire show's run and this was only a serviceable episode, not a great one.

Parks and Recreation is the big winner for me. I'm a converted fan. I may even go back and watch all of the previous seasons. The balance of serious emotion and clever gags/jokes is pretty perfect, reminiscent of the best of The Office and even the best of what The Simpsons once was. I know Chris is a fan. Anyone else?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

chit and chat


If you can't figure out Boo, then call this number and leave a message. I'll post your message to Boo for you. 607 323 1853. You can call that number any time during the day or night. It goes straight to my google voice voicemail. I probably won't be able to post messages until the evening or the next morning when I'm home on the desktop. That goes for any of you. Any of you who didn't want to join Boo can instead call the above number and leave a message and I'll post it. I know that Boo is silly and stupid, but that's part of its charm.
As for your post...
Pulse is one of the worst movies I've seen in recent memory. It's a good poster child for all of the reasons that the horror genre constantly fails me. Like most horror, the concept is scarier than the execution.
I'd like to see The Addiction. I remember that a friend hosted a screening for Houghton's philosophy club, The Gadfly Society, way back in '99 or so. I never made it to that screening.
I wish that Seven Psychopaths would play at AMC. I've got two free tickets burning a hole in my wallet. Oh well. I'll try to catch it at Regal before its run ends. I do agree that McDonagh is a terribly smart writer.

Sorry that I never responded to your dump.
You do need to give Videodrome another try. I don't at all condone its exploitation as critique of exploitation, but it is thoroughly effective as a horror film. One of very few films that has ever given me nightmares.
I think that you're way too hard on Brave. The film does focus on feminine characteristics, portrayed emotionally. The entire film is "about" emotional reconciliation. That it revels in emotional connection in the midst of action is a strength, not a weakness. Girls like thrilling horse rides and bear fights just as much as little boys do. That the girl hero got to participate in exciting action while acting like a girl is a positive thing, not a negative one. The film dramatizes, in an exciting way, simple family conflicts. I think it's a great film, maybe the best from this year and the best Pixar film so far.

I guess that you and I are going to have to keep the Film Club torches burning for ST:TNG since no one else will step up. It might be time for a re-watch on my part.

Booing has been fun. I'll definitely keep it up. Doing those short recordings prompted me to sit down and write out this longer "Conversations" post.
I will give Bava a chance. I checked NWI and saw that they've got a Bava Western available. That's what I'm going to watch first! Roy Colt and Winchester Jack.
Looper Spoilers follow...
My problem with Looper is that I'm a complete hard determinist/fatalist when it comes to time travel in fiction. I have to side with Stephen Hawking. Travel to the past is either impossible because of the feedback involved or, if possible, it's only possible within insanely limited naturally enforced restrictions. Looper decides to sidestep the issue and embrace the paradox, something which can be done on film because film, as a dreamscape, need not follow any rigid logic. We're in Back to the Future territory here, which works for a light comedy film like BttF, but seems too light and silly for the heaviness of theme and subject that Johnson is going for with Looper. Regardless, I guess I just wish that Johnson had been consistent with his own decisions. The way he constructs things disregards Hawking's logic. It also disregards alternate timelines and parallel universe solutions by having actions done in the present affect characters from the future who happen to be in the present even though that makes no sense because if actions in the present affect characters from the future who happen to be in the present, then those characters from the future would no longer be in the present. Why does a death cause a future character to disappear, but changing the timeline in any other way doesn't? Why would the death affect the future character at all? But granting that in this story's world, it does, well then, why does the future character disappear when the present character dies? Why doesn't his corpse lay there also? Wouldn't the present body have to disappear in order for the future body to disappear? Why not have the future body laying there with a hole in its stomach in the same way in which a future body has a hole in their hand when a present body loses fingers?
Whatever. I could rant for a lot longer. Despite my issues, I did like large chunks of Looper. Johnson is a great director. I really do think so. Like M. Night, though, I wish that he'd shoot scripts written by someone else.

Where are you? The echoes have stopped coming from the gorge and we're worried.

I've got Halloween traditions, too. Mostly, they involve taking candy from my children after they've done the hard work of trick or treating.

I'll use this space to post my Simpsons Season 1 rankings. The rankings here are almost arbitrary. There wasn't a bad episode in the bunch. The ranking is probably definitely affected by me watching the first disc episodes nearly a month ago and most of the rest within the past week and a half.

1. The Call of the Simpsons
2. The Telltale Head
3. Krusty Gets Busted
4. Bart the General
5. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
6. The Crepes of Wrath
7. Life on the Fast Lane
8. Homer's Night Out
9. Some Enchanted Evening
10. Bart the Genius
11. Moanin' Lisa
12. Homer's Odyssey
13. There's No Disgrace Like Home

I suspect that you haven't watched anything since The Master. Maybe I'm wrong. Regardless, it's about time that you treated yourself to watching another movie, then treat us to a new film club post.

Once again, welcome to CR5FC. I've been enjoying your posts. I haven't seen Hellraiser. It's been a very long time since I've seen anything by Waters. So, I just haven't had a point of contact to interact with you at length yet. Keep those posts coming.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Booing at Jeff

A silly little response in which I'm glad that Jeff has seen Bringing Out the Dead, I don't care about Mario Bava, and I skirt the Looper question.

Boo Ya

It's been an extremely slow viewing month.

I did catch The 39 Steps. I've seen it several times now. I guess I've got to confess that I don't love it. I do love the screwball moments, but the thriller part of it is a letdown. Maybe you can tell that I'm grouchier than usual when I'm not watching many movies and I'm tearing down Hitchcock features. Meh.

I've watched two more episodes of Simpsons Season 1. Watching them reminded me of when they were first on and I'd record them on VHS, paired with episodes of In Living Color, to send to my older sister.

What about Revolution? I've watched one more episode. It's watchable, but it's pretty bad. I'll probably give it one more chance, but if Giancarlo Esposito doesn't get more screen time, I'll likely give up on it.

I fell asleep to the first ten minutes of Eastwood's Honkeytonk Man. Otherwise, I haven't watched a thing.

I'll try to watch a horror movie before the month is over. Maybe even Hellraiser.

In the meantime, I found a new audio-focused social network and recorded something for film club. Embedded below (but here's a direct link just in case:

Friday, October 5, 2012

Dead Already

I'm a big fan of Don Siegel's made-for-TV-but-killed-by-the-censors film Ernest Hemingway's The Killers. It's exceedingly ironic that Hemingway's name is attached because the film has no connection to the Hemingway story at all. It's barely even a re-make of the Siodmak picture that it's ostensibly supposed to be. The Siodmak version opens with a great ten or so minute adaptation of the story, then quickly veers off into its own terrain. The Siegel version forgets this opening and re-imagines the rest.

I love the way the action is framed throughout. There is a real menace that slowly develops, bursts, then unravels in pure noir fashion. There's also a melancholy that hangs over the film in a way that is both familiar to noir, but more concentrated here, as if this were some grand operatic work of doomed romance instead of a gangster/heist movie.

Siegel's direction is great, but part of this is that he knew how to cast great actors and got great work out of them. If Chris could finally warm up to John Wayne after The Searchers, then I think he might find himself loving Ronald Reagan after watching The Killers. The final shot of Reagan is nearly perfect. For that matter, the final shot of Marvin is way up there with the best endings of any movie in cinema history.

Cassavetes is great, too. Angie Dickinson holds her own. The stars, though, are Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager as the titular killers. There are some seriously frightening moments each time these men muscle someone for info. Marvin is precise and cold-blooded. Gulager is off-the-cuff sadistic. Both characters apparently take great pleasure in their work.

The next day after watching it, I texted Brandon asking him why it wasn't on his '64 list. I knew he'd seen it because I let him borrow it back in '08/'09 or so. He responded that he didn't like it. Fair enough. It's got its problems. The flashback device, in particular, was worn out long before its use here. I find the movie fresh and strikingly off-kilter, but it does also cycle through some tired noir tropes.

The Killers may not be one of "my essentials" but maybe it is. It always surprises me into respecting it. It's a film that I really enjoy returning to every few years (I think it's been five years since the last time I watched it). Give it a chance and let me know what you think.