Monthly Archives: June 2016

Worst or “Worst” 2, Electric Boogaloo: The Room

the-roomSingularly united with everything from avant-garde art cinema to particularly slap-happy children’s television in its haphazard deconstruction of normality, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is awful, but it is much more than mere irony. A textbook case in the value of logically inept cinema, The Room hedonistically exists in a state of blithe, blessed-out surrealistic irrationality, boldly and provocatively plunging forth without inhibition into a realm of new human possibility. Whether intentionally or by accident – and indeed, the intent of The Room has been the stuff of bad movie legend for many a year – this sort of implacably incompetent cinema is valuable not merely for cheap thrills but because, by buckling at basic competence and refusing to kneel before the platitude of human logic, it refuses to exist in a known or previously understood state. Rather than functioning obsequiously to modern society’s basic preconceptions of human action, rationality, and interpersonal relationship, Wiseau’s improbably disfigured creature joins many a great and many an awful film in daring to envision a ground-up reimagining of how humanity actually functions as a collective unit. Continue reading

Reviews: Love & Friendship and The Lobster

02-love-and-friendship-w529-h352Love & Friendship

A lengthy sabbatical from filmmaking has clearly energized writer-director Whit Stillman, and if Love & Friendship is evidence, he has enough leftover vigor to spillover and whip long-dead, and long-enervated, authors into a frenzy as well. With this film, he redistricts the screen real estate of the Jane Austen adaptation – a genre long benighted by a paralyzing sense of respectability – toward an unhesitant embracement of her oft-misunderstood wickedness and lithe, animalistic verbal farce. Focusing on the conniving, frantic ambitions of sexual warfare subcutaneously thriving beneath the prim-and-proper rules and regulations of Victorian society, his new film feels like a vendetta against the decades of self-consciously airy beauty and antiseptic weightlessness infecting cultural assumptions and artistic interpretations of Austen and Victorian literature more broadly. With acerbic dialogue and a skewered, ruthlessly efficient visual sensibility, this is Austen set to kill.  In Love & Friendship, it’s the scorching negativity that is infectious.   Continue reading

Midnight Screening: The Holy Mountain

img_0458Whatever your opinion of resident cinematic mad scientist Alejandro Jodorowsky, he’s not a docile creature. The Chilean director, whose El Topo ultimately helped found the inaugural class of Midnight Cinema, stages guerilla warfare against that often benighted subgenre of film with his second feature The Holy Mountain; as a work, it defies even the somewhat genre-bound surrealism of his debut and the relative sanity of most so-called midnight films which are, if more libidinous than most mainstream films, no more artistically provocative. An eyeful of imagery and a mouthful of anarchic social commentary, The Holy Mountain is a deranged field day. Replete with symbolism that Jodorowsky both embraces and mocks, this fragmented, fractal film feels like Jodorowsky’s attempt to replace all of film form with a medium more to his liking. Continue reading

Review: The Nice Guys

TNG_Day_#34_12122014-131.dngWith the pleasurably amusing The Nice Guys, writer-director Shane Black isn’t exactly treading on unstable ice; this ‘70s-riffing buddy comedy with a capital-B is the platonic ideal of a Shane Black movie released in 2016. Returning to his roots after his one-and-done tentpole picture Iron Man 3, itself an obvious get-out-of-jail attempt to rekindle Hollywood’s favor, The Nice Guys is a snarky, spiffy, not-too-smug time waster in Black’s best blowing-off-steam mode. It lacks the thorny neuroticism and paranoia of Black’s best screenplay, Lethal Weapon, or the zippy post-modernism of neo-neo-noir Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, his debut as a director. But the restless brio and cheery malfeasance of The Nice Guys is sufficiently delectable in a more straightforward, and refreshingly non-ironic, way nonetheless. Continue reading

Worst of “Worst” 2, Electric Boogaloo: Krull and Dungeons & Dragons

krull-movieKrull

It certainly takes courage to go toe-to-toe in a title match with the conclusion of George Lucas’ seven year bender from 1977-1983 where he ransacked everything Hollywood knew about entertainment and threshed them to his liking. Although in the case of Krull, courage is a virtue for the foolish. The court jester of our current subject is Peter Yates, a man of bolder vision than Lucas ever was and whose 1983 commercial misfire Krull cross-pollinates influences from disparate decades and cultures into an alternately raffish and bemusing conglomerate of headstrong style and stylistic insubordination. The two warring factions of the film beleaguered by an alien invasion might have been Lucas and Yates, except unlike in the film, Lucas chose not to forge a tenuous partnership with his fellow traveler but to disregard him and wield the space-faring races for his own use like some sort of space-trucking, interspecies pimp. Continue reading

Progenitors: King Kong vs. Godzilla

kongvssocI meant to get to these a few months ago, but they’ve lingered around. With Batman vs. Superman continuing Warner’s desperate investment in doing the Marvel/Disney thing, here’s a look at some franchise-fighters to have come before. A note: We’re keeping this literal this time, much as I wanted to get cheeky and include something like Kramer vs. Kramer. 

This review based on the original Japanese version of the film. 

While it is sometimes de rigueur to whole-cloth the Toho Godzilla franchise as an interchangeable unit of essentially reproducible, symmetrical features, watching many of the films is evidence to the contrary. For one, the original Gojira, shepherded by franchise mastermind Ishiro Honda (a wonderfully physical, even lyrical director unfortunately sidelined to the series), is a devoutly solemn, chiaroscuro-ridden near-masterpiece of scorching social rage. But even the ostensibly “sillier” productions are in point of fact often uncommonly unique, separable entities given to their personal proclivities and performance ticks rather than monolithic rules imposed on the series from overhead. Compared to the increasingly sedimented, mortally uninteresting Marvel Cinematic Universe of today, each Godzilla film, however good or bad, is a breath of personalized, idiosyncratic fresh air because it is beholden mostly only to itself. Continue reading

Progenitors: Freddy vs. Jason and AVP: Alien vs. Predator

freddy_vs-_jason_movie

I meant to get to these a few months ago, but they’ve lingered around. With Batman vs. Superman continuing Warner’s desperate investment in doing the Marvel/Disney thing, here’s a look at some franchise-fighters to have come before. A note: We’re keeping this literal this time, much as I wanted to get cheeky and include something like Kramer vs. Kramer. 

Freddy vs. Jason

So much for humble beginnings. Freddy vs. Jason introduces itself on about as inopportune a note as a film can: a callback – sorry, a montage even – of the most striking mise-en-scene from earlier Nightmare films, intimating in a florid blast of death-marked imagery that those nightmares were, at least, you know, nightmarish in their giallo-inflected surrealist imagery and disturbed editing, not unlike a tone poem to rococo human flesh warping. While director Ronny Yu deserves a bucket of credit for accepting the “Go Freddy Kreuger” slant of Damian Shannon and Mark Swift’s screenplay and imbibing in a montage of scenes from the inarguably superior franchise, we’re drawn to that age-old adage about not reminding audiences of better movies in your film. Continue reading

Progenitors: Punisher: War Zone

mv5bmtm4otqyodk0nf5bml5banbnxkftztcwmzqwndqwmg-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Meant to get to this a couple months ago, but better late than never. With that Daredevil “Punisher arc” raving up a storm, I thought a review of a real dust-kicker was in order. 

With its headstrong rush of momentary action and aestheticized body dismemberment and its essential disinterest in anything else, Punisher: War Zone is pornographic in a figurative sense, narratively disfigured but never once disarmed. Dedicated primarily – singularly in fact – to its basest impulses, War Zone rudimentarily hurtles its way to and from its violent phrases with narrative and character serving as mere conjunctions rather than proper clauses (as they do in even most action films which are unable to untether themselves from the itch to throw a woebegone story into a none-the-wiser film that doesn’t need it). It’s garish, grotesque, and, in its own way, disarmingly unmanicured and liberating in its refusal to dress up its essentially atrocious self in highfalutin airs. Like a pompadour, War Zone is a delightfully unworried, confrontational slice of deliberate style as willfully oblivious to social propriety as it is delectably well-taken-care-of by its wielders. Continue reading

Midnight Screaming: Late ’40s Horror: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

poster-abbott-and-costello-meet-frankenstein_04The late ‘40s were a high noon for the horror genre, easily the most desecrated ghost town era for a genre that has reinvented itself time and time again. From the irrepressible expressionist deviants of the ‘20s to the chiaroscuro nightmares of the early Universal films in the ‘30s to the sly, insidious Val Lewton carnival of the early ‘40s, horror was on a hot streak for decades until it hit the ice wall of WWII. Not that the real world horrors of the war inherently superseded the desire to thaw out the terror of the cinematic variety, but the will to nightmare was to be discovered somewhere else until the dawn of the atomic age ‘50s films, before horror would draw its fangs and get downright pernicious with the turn of the ‘60s and the prestige variant of the genre in the New Hollywood of the ‘70s. In the century of cinema thus far, only the late ‘90s can go blow for blow with the late ‘40s for sheer abandonment as horror packed up and went out to the country to cool its heels. Continue reading

Midnight Screaming: Late ’40s Horror: The Beast with Five Fingers

beast5_3Although Universal was nearly dead in the water by 1946, RKO’s Val Lewton-Jacques Tourneur B-movie cavalcade was just a few years past its prime, and Warner Bros. The Beast With Five Fingers, released in that year, isn’t a patch on the dueling acmes of that cluster: the impossibly well crafted Cat People and the impressionistic, lyrical I Walked with a Zombie. So obviously, and honestly, we’re grading on a curve with The Beast With Five Fingers when we champion it – after all, this was a year in which the near-dead quasi-corpse of the genre was struggling to let its vaguely beating tell-tale heart be heard. But, with Warner Bros. playing Universal Horror for the only time in the whole decade, The Beast With Five Fingers is about as studious and sturdy an update of the even-then hoary Old Dark House format as you might imagine a struggling studio to release when they were stepping their toes in the sand of a genre that wasn’t really their own. Continue reading