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Sunday, January 22, 2012

STATUS UPDATE

So in my last post I promised operations resume as normal next week. I'm afraid there will be no post next week as I move to wonderful Portland, Oregon on Monday and will be busy setting up shop. Sorry folks, that's just how it is...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Company Of Wolves (1984)

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FIRST THINGS FIRST: Sorry dear readers for how very late this post is. As you know I'm always Johnny on the spot with these but it just so happens that I am in the middle of moving to Portland Oregon. Unfortunately I was supposed to move this Friday but 14 inches of snow argued otherwise, operations will resume as normal next week on the regular Tuesday post schedule. Apologies for any undue distress this no doubt did not cause.
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I was given this movie only a few days ago and I admit I was pretty excited by the prospect of watching a werewolf movie starring Angela Lansbury. Unfortunately I didn't really notice it was directed by Neil Jordan (he made The Crying Game, another almost good movie), which should have been a major red flag. Normally you can't lose with British horror, but man is this one a serious dung heap, but enough of that for now because I've got to actually tell you something about it first before all that nonsense happens.

Trailer:


The trailer would lead you to believe this is a cool atmospheric werewolf movie with some dark pagan ass fairy tale shit going on to mix things up a little. Not quite. It comes so very very close on a number of occasions however. Unlike some films I have reviewed here in the past, this one has at least a few decent bits here and there. Actually, you can count the decent bits on one hand so there really aren't all that many...

Plot synopsis: As this is a semi anthology picture I'm not sure a plot synopsis will help much as I'd have to write at least four of them to cover everything. As you may notice on the cover, the young girl (also the main character) is wearing a red shawl so you know already the main premise will be Little Red Riding Hood but with a werewolf. The film is based on a short story (with the same title) by author Angela Carter. She cowrote the screenplay with Neil Jordan but I did not have chance to read it in order to give comparisons. My disappointment with the film over all probably won't make me want to attempt it either.

One thing I found interesting was the sets and lighting. The movie really goes all out to make the sequences look like they are right out of a fairy book (yes, that's what English people like to call them sometimes). There's of course actors and live animals (including a bevy of trained dogs and two real wolves) but all of the backgrounds have a rather fake appearance. I don't mean fake in a bad way either, pared with careful lighting everything manages to look like a moving illustration in a strange way very much in the style of Hammer movies. Unfortunately the cinematography is somewhat less than adventurous and at times feels like a mid eighties MTV clip which makes it rather trying to sit through.

Red Riding Hood is a tale that can be viewed in many different ways. Rather interestingly this film takes the story and uses it as a metaphor for sexual awakening within a teenage girl. Before you perverts out there get all excited no exploitative crap happens (which is too often the case with modern films that dabble in sexual subject matter) and it is handled in a sly and delicate way. The werewolf can represent different aspects of sexuality ranging anywhere between lust to a predatory suitor depending upon which angle you think about it. I really wish they would have been a little bit more gung-ho about pursuing this subject as the slow pace of the film (alas, this is no Hammer picture) with various interludes leaves things feeling very disjointed. Perhaps they were a little bit too sly and too delicate.

The cast features a wide array of great character actors, including one of my personal favorites David Warner (He's been in everything from The Omen to TRON). I won't even try to list all of them because most of you could give a shit and won't know who these people are by name and instead know them as "hey it's that guy from such and such!". No offense intended but you know how I roll. I must admit that having a stellar cast of character actors of this caliber only makes the movie feel like a wasted effort that much more. You can tell all of them are really putting everything into their respective roles but the end product just doesn't measure up.

One thing that can definitely be praised are the totally awesome werewolf transformations. The one shown on the cover actually happens in the movie which really stoked me out, I just wish the rest of the film was as cool as those bits were. A lot of care and attention were given to these and they really stick out thanks to the film being so completely dull otherwise. I admit I'm giving away one of the two best parts of the movie, but I would rather you didn't waste your time with the rest of it.

See below:


So in closing, I'm really not sure if I recommend this movie or not. Maybe I'll like it better when I give it a second viewing somewhere down the road but I kind of doubt it. I think my main problem going in was having too high of expectations which were obviously dashed on the rocks, so I suggest not listening to me and having zero expectations and you'll probably do just fine. Scratch that, I wasted my time watching this. This movie probably has some devoted fans out there and that is fine, but I am definitely not one of them.

NOT PARTICULARLY RECOMMENDED AT ALL.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Society (1989)

Yeah that's right, it's autographed to me!

Every so often I'd hear this movie get named checked but like lots of movies (I hear about A LOT of movies on a regular basis) it falls by the wayside and waits until I finally manage to get to it. Once I finally saw it I was kinda mad at myself for waiting so long. Lucky for me my very first viewing of it ever was a 35mm print with the director Brian Yuzna (The writer behind the Honey I Shrunk/Blew Up The Kid movies and producer of several Stuart Gordon movies) in attendance for a Q&A! More on that bit later though, let's talk about this movie for a spell because WOW- it's lude, crude, rude, gross, creepy, and hilarious. I can't really ask for more from a horror movie and this one has it in spades! Not bad for Yuzna's first time in the director's chair if I do say so myself.

Trailer:


CREEEEEPY!

Plot Synopsis: Bill Whitney (played by Billy Warlock, who you might recognize from his countless appearances on daytime soap operas) lives a pretty comfortable life: he's a star athlete, has a lame-o bimbo girlfriend, and drives a really expensive jeep. Lucky for us, he's actually a pretty down to Earth type of guy who doesn't quite feel like he fits in with the rich community. He feels, well, "different". You know, like everybody is out to get him. Nobody will believe him- not his family, therapist, or even his friends. Unfotunately for Bill, he's more right than he knows. Fleeting glimpses of rearranged limbs and such are just the beginning in this satirical nightmare about the thing we of the 99% despise the most: RICH ASSHOLES. Will Billy discover the secret of "Society" before it's too late?

And even if he does, will it matter?

If that doesn't make you want to watch this movie then stop reading back at the title of this post. As my brother so deftly puts it this is a movie that lives up to the hype 100%. It's a movie that people tell you "You HAVE to see this!" and I believe quite firmly that is a correct statement. Why I'm even trying to write a review of it that isn't just the words SEE IT over and over a thousand times is beyond me. Pretty much anything a horror movie fan could want occurs at least once in this mess. For all of its reputation however the movie seems to be somewhat lesser known by the greater horror movie watching fan base. This might be due to the fact that for some reason or other it was released in Europe in 1989 (where it did really well) but didn't come to screens of any kind in the US until mid 1992. Why this happened I will never know (and could have asked the Director to his face had I known this just a few months ago!) but thankfully it managed to find its audience on VHS somewhere along the way. There's a DVD edition of it that is unfortunately way way out of print too, which I think is a real pity because not everybody has the rather uncommon (but not rare) tape to enjoy and having a DVD available might boost its rep a little and allow more folks to see it.

One can only speculate why it didn't do well here in the States. I think it is probably because most Americans are boring and only see a gross horror flick instead of the rampant social messages hiding behind it. Anybody (like you and me) who isn't rolling in Benjamins doesn't understand rich folk. Let's face it- they have a fair amount of disconnect from the way the rest of us happen to live in many (but not all mind you) cases. They might as well be a different species, and frankly that's exactly what they are in this movie. They drive fancy cars, wear nice clothes, have big houses, and partake in a ritual known as "shunting" which has to be seen in order to be believed. I'm not giving one ioda of that part away and it is up to you to find out for yourself. It's pretty terrific I'll tell you that much.

This brings me to the subject of the film's makeup effects. Almost none of it is gore related (in the gross bloody sense at least) and some of it turns out to be completely hilarious. All I can say is "butt for a face" and you'll find out what I mean once you have a look. Though if you watched the trailer (I KNOW some people don't bother viewing any of the clips on here and just read, what the fuck is wrong with you?) you no doubt saw a few things already, I'm not sure that it can adequately prepare you for what happens, so do what I did and jump in head first.

I'll just throw in this screen cap to give you another taste:


Seriously, WHATTHEWHATISTHAT!?!

Like I was saying at the start of all this, my very first viewing of this was in glorious 35mm. It was shown last year as part of the Olympia Film Festival's annual All Freakin' Night event with Brian Yuzna himself in attendance. He was really super nice and answered each question (amazingly, very few were asked) in a good amount of detail. Unfortunately I can't tell you what I asked because I don't want to give anything about the movie away in case you have not seen it yet, sorry folks. The most I can tell you is that he said "shunting" a lot. The only movies involving Yuzna in my possession up to this point were only produced by him and not directed, so I went on ebay and thankfully found a very cheap copy and got it in the mail just in time for the event. It's the only time I have ever chased somebody down while using my walker (sometimes I need one to walk, I have MS remember?) but like I said before he was super nice and I even got to shake his hand and thank him for coming and presenting the film. Suffice to say, this was maybe my bestest first viewing of a movie ever for 2011.

HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE:


- Billy Warlock's awesome Michael Douglas style hockey hair

- Lots of super late 80's rich D-bag customs to hate on

- Unexpected gross

- Equally unexpected hilarity

- THE SHUNTING

- The absolute greatest use of the insult "butt head" ever committed to celluloid EVER


I'm not exactly sure what else you really want to hear from me, GO WATCH THIS RIGHT NOW! You may or may not regret it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wise Blood (1979)


Here comes part three of my movies based on books series, with an adaptation of one of my personal favorite author's works. This movie was somewhat tough to find on the loose until the good folks at Janus Films decided to put out a DVD of it as part of the Criterion Collection. Being a HUGE Flannery O'Connor fan I just had to have it. It's a bizarre tail of faith and redemption, and considering that I am very far from a religious man it's rather odd that I enjoy this movie so much.

Trailer:


It's pretty fair to say that whoever it was that wrote the dialogue for and cut this trailer together really didn't have a clue how to advertise this movie, much less an ioda of an idea as to what this film is about. The rather cute comedic air the the preview lends in almost completely (there are a few wacky bits from the book left intact) inappropriate considering what viewers got when they sat down in the theater. While the trailer does have some of my favorite lines from the movie in it, try and ignore it and just watch the movie instead. John Huston never does anything half way and I'm fairly certain he didn't make this trailer so do yourself a favor ya dig?

(brief, ever so brief) Plot synopsis: Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif) is a young disillusioned man who "doesn't believe in anything". Fresh out of the army, he hitchhikes back to his childhood home only to find it empty. Buying a new suit and hat he goes to the (fictional) city of Talkingham (as Hazel would put it in his own words) to do some things he ain't never done before. Once there he immediately meets/confronts a blind preacher named Asa Hawks (Harry Dean Stanton), after which Hazel begins preaching on the street about his own new church, "The Holy Church Of Christ Without Christ". This leads him on a bizarre journey towards religious redemption. Along the way there are various other characters like the incredibly irritating Enoch Emory (who finds his own way to enlightenment by films end) and Asa's daughter Sabbath Lily just to name a couple. I can't really get too specific without giving away everything so let's just leave it nice and trite because I'd like to talk about some other things okay?

Okay.

As I said earlier, the film is an adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's 1952 novel of the same name. Much like last weeks review of the film version of Nineteen Eighty-Four (click here to read it in case you missed it somehow) this is also very close to the source material. It is unfortunate my favorite scene from the novel isn't in it but to be fair this film was shot on a very low budget and finding a milkshake stand shaped like a giant orange crush isn't exactly easy so I'm willing to let that one slide. Some of the more superfluous scenes in the novel are left out so we can focus on Hazel's story, something which I feel works to the film's credit. Not to say that the novel is worse for having them, just that some of those bits wouldn't exactly work well with the movie as is.

Here is yet another film with quite possibly a 100% PERFECT cast. When I read the novel I honestly saw someone looking roughly like Brad Dourif in my head as Hazel Motes and this was ages before I knew a film version even existed. Harry Dean Stanton doesn't need any explanation, as his talent speaks for itself. Enoch is played Dan Shor in his first non TV appearance, eagle eyed viewers like myself will immediately recognize him as the actor who played RAM in the 1982 film TRON. Ned Beatty and William Hickey are priceless as always, even though their screen time is very short. I'll watch the hell out of anything with William Hickey in it, he's amazing. Something of note here is all of the incidental characters in the film are found actors. There's really no other way the production could have found so many people so strange or authentic, something big time productions never quite seem to get. In films like this, people who just genuinely want to be in a movie (or in some cases just did it for a quick buck and could care less) really shine in their very short amount of screen time. Apparently directors just stopped doing this after the seventies, what gives?

I am pretty confident that only a director like John Huston could translate Flannery O'Connor's scathing wit or dry sense of humor into a motion picture and still have it work. He strikes me as a man I would have either got along very well with or hated entirely- so in other words he is a genius. I'm not sure I can adequately put down the many themes of this film and exactly how I feel about them. I watch this film with less of a thought and more of an emotion, which is something you can't even really put into words. I feel much the same way about O'Connors novel, but I have to admit that part of the reason I cannot adequately explain myself is due to my lack of religious background. Religion factors heavily throughout and considering what I just told you there isn't much for me to say in that regard is there?

I'd like to take a hot minute to talk about this DVD, because there is a priceless special feature on it that I am simply over the moon about: an actual audio recording of our beloved Ms. O'Connor reading her incredible short story A good man is hard to find. Her southern drawl is thick and amazing and I wish I could have been her friend. This was the very first piece of her work that I ever read, and I was totally thrown back by her choice of words. This is probably the only recording of her in existence and is a definite gem. Also included are new interviews with the writer Benedict Fitzgerald, writer/produce Michael Fitzgerald, and actor Brad Dourif. Don't take the time to think about it, check it out from you local library, or rent it, or buy it.

I'm not sure where to put this in the review so now seems like a good time. There are some rather amusing misspellings that occur at different points in the film, not all of which are scripted. There is of course Hazel hanging a sign up informing any would be thief not to steal his mother's "Shiffer-Robe" but if one looks closely at the tombstone in his family graveyard it reads "Gone To Become An Angle". During the opening credits (which were written by a small boy in crayon John Huston's name is spelled Jhon Huston. I guess I never found that odd because I'm a fan of the industrial band COIL and their frontman Jhon Balance, so I didn't notice until later on. Prepare yourself for some amazing southern colloquialisms too, my particular favorite being the line "I followed her to say I ain't beholden for none of her fast eye like she gave me back there".

While the soundtrack does have some cheesy synth parts that would have better been done with a banjo, and the ending wasn't quite as clear as the book was, I can't really find any faults in this movie anywhere. While it might be too boring for some people to put up with it works for me just fine and I recommend it with zero reservations. May I also mention that next to the Criterion edition of Georges Franju's Eyes Without A Face this is one of my most favorite pieces of cover art for one of their releases.

No man with a good car needs to be justified.