Sunday, January 13, 2013

Like a Combination of Narcolepsy, Dengue Fever and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: The Films of December 2012

The year’s over, long live the New Year! (for roughly 365 days that is—even less now, actually…)
2013 is here, but does a year with “13” in it indicate good luck ahead, or bad?

The movies and shows watched in the twelfth month were, because I am very stressed out lately, mainly entertainment.
Also, lots of films were watched either because my “holds” at the library finally came through (Library Roulette: you never know what’s next!), or else on the recommendation of one of the many sites I routinely visit and read.

Let’s take a look!

BTW, that’s a mean headline—it’s eye-catching, but not necessarily correct: last month’s films weren’t that bad…

Additional BTW, this is going to be the last of the monthly mini-review round-ups where I try and review (or at least say something about) every film I’ve seen that month.
I’ll still post lists—much, much easier to do—and of course featured reviews. Hopefully, I can train myself to write briefs better going forward…
But as the last LERNER INTERNATIONAL post indicates, I’m also moving towards other fields of commentary.

Like for instance: all this talk of a superfly superflu struttin’ its stuff across the land. (C’mon everybody, FREAK OUT!)

Here’s my memo to SPECTRE/HYDRA HQ:
Start rumors of extremely contagious/dangerous new virus spreading.
Have the Propaganda Machine warm up its Wurlitzer pipes, and further spread the language virus of paranoia and fear (C’mon everybody, FREAK OUT!).
Offer vaccinations.
Reduce excess population with poison injections.

Hmmm… Sounds like an episode of Millennium

What We Watched As The Holidays Fucked Up the End of the Year:

Millennium Season Three (1998-1999; created by Chris Carter)
Watching this now, it’s surprising how relevant it all feels to today—I cannot imagine anyone watching this season on its original run and “getting it.”
There’s just so much paranoid weirdness: remote viewing; mass murder in an effort to cover up “what’s really going on;” labyrinthian conspiracies; overwhelming suspicion of everyone; biological breakthroughs that could easily be turned killer; the inevitability of doom reinforced by quasi-theology, and more.
No monsters or aliens, but many, many beasts in human form.
And of course, Lance Henriksen rules.
Others have explored the unique world of Millennium better than I could:
See John Kenneth Muir’s third season recap HERE, and Christopher Knowles’ exhaustive overview-interpretations of the series, HERE.

REC [3]: Genesis (2011; Paco Plaza) Decent zombie flick, not as good as RECs 1 or 2, but infinitely better than the soap opera hijinks of The Walking Dead.
Meanwhile, I really like that the Spaniards making the REC films are making their zombies a demonic/Satanic part of Catholic theology (verses from The Bible can stop these critters. Sometimes.)
If the flesh-eating undead are your cup of tea, you still must check out the BBC reality show/zombie apocalypse mash-up Dead Set (2008) toot sweet.

Never Apologize (2007; Mike Kaplan) is a filmed version of Malcolm MacDowell’s very chatty one-man staged show about the late director Lindsay Anderson, who gave the actor his first role in 1968’s If….
This performance is only recommended for either fans of Malcolm McDowell (of which I am one), or film students learning about Lindsay Anderson: those will have a blast.
The rest will have to do with an amusing story of how intellectually and artistically narrow Steven Spielberg can be: During an Off-Broadway play, because McDowell breaks the fourth wall (and then notices Spielberg’s dislike of it), the actor recollects, “At that point, I knew I’d never work for Mr. Spielberg.”
Malcolm, you’re better off.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011; Lynne Ramsay) is the ultimate in shallow, trite “hipster” filmmaking; a movie that takes such a hot shit on its source material I had to stop watching after 30 minutes, I was so annoyed.
This movie takes a classic of contemporary literature—and makes it stale and commonplace—worse; it desperately strives for ART and RELEVANCE, and commits a multitude of bad choices. Honestly, if you told me everyone making this film was too fucked up on drugs to understand what they were doing, I’d believe you.
This flick really wants to impress hipsters in the East Village and Williamsburg.
The music drop-ins are always so cool
Ramsey makes films that are beautifully art-directed, but soulless and superficial, with many chances for an actor to EMOTE, EMOTE, EMOTE, or worse INTERNALIZE, INTERNALIZE, INTERNALIZE—which just increases the superficiality as I as an audience member can see no real reason to be acting (or internalizing) so much.
Despite the Sturm und Drang, Ramsey’s films are willfully cold and over-intellectual: here’s someone trying really fucking hard to be the next Stanley Kubrick, and failing miserably.
Kubrick’s cold view of the world was uniquely his.
But Ramsey seems to be imitating, rather than creating, and not even imitating well.
Using the example of the novel and film of Marathon Man, William S. Burroughs once said something to the effect of “Great books make mediocre films, but mediocre books make great films.”
So now Lionel Shriver’s great book of We Need to Talk About Kevin is Lynne Ramsay’s damnably awful film of We Need to Talk About Kevin
Hopefully the film will be soon forgotten—although I fear it will be kept alive by the shallow semi-intellectuals and the terminally hip…

Safety Not Guaranteed (2011; Colin Trevorrow) The Hipster romcom flipside to We Need…Kevin: almost as insufferable in its twee-ness, but because it follows its heart (this flick has one, We Need…Kevin doesn’t), this film succeeds. It also helps that the time machine in this movie works. Spoiler! Ha-ha!
The movie often feels like an ultra-extended segment from the Upright Citizens Brigade TV show, and I feel that if those guys had given this flick a screenplay polish, or directed this film, it may have been really funny. As such, it is amusing; pleasant in a weightless sort of way, but hardly essential.

Return to Oz (1985; Walter Murch) will be getting its own post soon—one hint: my new favorite robot, the clockwork-steampunk marvel, Tik-Tok!

Trailer Wars (compilation at Nite Hawk Cinema) Getting drunk with SqD and checking out the trailers at the fabulous and recommended Nite Hawk Cinema. It’s what we do.
The show was a promo for the Alamo Drafthouse DVD of Trailer Wars, which SqD recommends purchasing! And so do I.

ParaNorman (2012; Chris Butler and Sam Fell) Beautiful design and exquisite stop-motion animation ruined by an overly talky, unpolished script, and a too-self-pitying lead character with a very low learning curve.
Honestly, this movie plods, ruining the good will its brilliant design and effects have built up. I cannot fathom why this movie has ended up on so many “Best of” lists; I could barely stand it: An animated film should not have a climax where the “hero” and “villain” stand around and talk and talk and talk!
This was nominated for an Oscar? What the hell movie did everyone else see? (Although The Academy nominating a stinkeroo shouldn’t surprise me, and if anything reinforces my opinion that this movie is dreck.)

Capricorn One (1978; Peter Hyams) Underrated, wonderful, high-speed, very dense action flick that was ahead of its time with its sensory overload. I caught this in the theater (at a sneak preview) back in 1978, and have loved it since.
And if you’re going to risk your life revealing the conspiracy that the moon landing was faked (by Stanley Kubrick, natch—with Hyams “cleaning” up behind Big Stan K. again with 2010), then this is the way to do it: By “pretending” it’s about a fictional Mars mission—but “revealing” to those “in the know” that it’s really about the moon: the time-lag that “trivia” experts point out as a technical error. That’s right—if they were faking a Mars mission, it is a technical error.
But not if NASA was faking a Moon mission.
(Now if only Last Exit to Nowhere would make a Capricorn One logo T-shirt…)

“The Big Cast” Dragnet (1951; Jack Webb) reviewed HERE—additional 1951 Dragnet episodes screened include: “The Big September” and “The Big Phone Call,” neither of which could compare to “The Big Cast” with Lee Marvin’s chatty serial killer.

Best Seller (1987; John Flynn; written by Larry Cohen) Corporations use hit men! Wonderful metaphor that’s critical of America’s lack of business ethics. A must-see for fans of James Woods; he’s at his most normal for his “coked out” phase, but still a jingle-jangle spouting left-wing, anti-capitalism rhetoric: a pure delight.

Almost Human (1974; Umberto Lenzi) Ugly movie about a rotten cowardly creep—up there with Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs (also 1974—a creepy year for Italian cinema) in feel-bad Euro-sleaze.
The film’s perfect, but only to be watched by those who need strychnine-shot of pure, undiluted feel-bad cinema. Man, this flick is a bummmmmmmmer! One of Massa Squeaky’s faves.

Battle of Okinawa (1971; Kihachi Okamoto) Very documentary style recreation of the first invasion of the Home Islands.
Those expecting an “American” style war film or any decent combat action will be disappointed. It’s a tragic movie, where everyone is doomed: I was quite happily surprised to see two very likeable characters survive—they were goners, I assumed.
Concentrating more on the human drama of military planning (lots of scenes in makeshift conference rooms), this film was not made for an international audience, and its pacing and themes reflect that. It’s a very, very Japanese film, and you’ve got to wrap your head around that to appreciate the film.

Battle Beneath the Earth (1967; Montgomery Tully) is stupid, stupid, stupid fun—a TV episode-cheap James Bond wannabe; or a kid’s idea of a spy movie with a Z-budget—that borders on racism (Englishmen with bad “Asian” makeup saying “Ah so” again and again), but is so stupid (and good natured) that it is forgivable.

The Hole (2009; Joe Dante) A wonderful dark fantasy—until Dante plunges the film into Jungian psychodrama with way-too-heavy father issues.
While still a superb visual stylist, Uncle Joe seems to have lost his way…
In that sense, he’s quite the modern version of George Pal: a wonderful fantasist with a gentle and decent soul, who’s just a tad out of touch with the mainstream and, more unfortunately, with nerds like me who like their fantasies with at least a tad of grit. (Honestly, films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T are more “hard-edged” than Dante’s more recent work!)
Dante may be the “dark side” to Spielberg’s visions, like so many claim, but not in any truly subversive way. Dante’s films are still set in an affluent whitebread suburbia that has little to do with anything in my experience—and all have “happy” ending where the USDA-approved version of “Family Life” is maintained.
And while Dante’s heart is in the right place socio-politically, his obviously “Leftie” work, like the zombie election episode of the Masters of Horror TV show, are so heavy-handed that they are boring.
(Uncle Joe, we’re only saying this to you not to be hurtful, but because we love you…)

The Crimson Cult (1968; Vernon Sewell) Like a Kuchar film with a decent budget: Moody, moody film, whose “explanatory” ending (a la Simon Oakland in Psycho, but here delivered by a satanic Boris Karloff) only furthers to reinforce the film’s weirdness by explaining hardly anything at all.
Personally, I wish the flick had stayed in the realm of the irrational supernatural, but such is life.
While dealing with the pagan (Barbara Steele is magnificent as a green witch), the film is up there with The Wicker Man and the more recent Kill List—I like movies about paganism, even when they disappoint me for other reasons.
Also known under several other titles, including The Curse of the Crimson Cult and The Crimson Altar, the picture gives great food for thought: Do the ingestion of hallucinogens enable you to visit the Witch’s Transdimensional Realm while in a dream state? Through astral projection, can we see what’s “not” there?
Watched under the recommendation of The Secret Sun.

The Man From Planet X (1951; Edgar G. Ulmer) Also watched on the recommendation of The Secret Sun blog. Wonderful, very low-budget sci-fi that uses the trapping of noir (B&W cinematography, fog, shadows, etc.) to hide its lack of money. A peaceful extraterrestrial gnome is abused by a greedy, ruthless scientist and lashes out with its mind control ray.
Flick is to be commended for postulating that while the alien was part of an invasion/colonization force, it was the brutal actions of stupid humans that ruined any possible diplomatic negotiations.
With an almost absurdly quick pace, this dark and moody film is highly recommended.

The Great Mouse Detective (1986; Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, Dave Michener and John Musker) Decent but forgettable animated flick, that seems very cheaply made at times. Watched because the Atomic Anxiety recently wrote about it.

Hollywood Animation (1944-1959) retrospective at MOMA, including “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” (1944; Friz Freleng) and “Rabbit of Seville” (1950; Chuck Jones), among others.
Bugs Bunny, the 1940s version (and to some extent his character in Looney Tunes: Back in Action), is the patron saint of individualists. Leave him alone, and everything’s fine. People like Elmer Fudd or Cottontail Smith underestimate the little guy and overstep their bounds. Then, “You know of course this means war.”
And Bugs will defy the laws of space and time not so much to physically destroy you but to crush your spirit and shatter your will (not just to punish you, but as a lesson for all hunters)—and laughing and smiling the whole time. Bugs Bunny is above it all, but you just had to stick yourself in his life. Now you will pay.
Next!” (as Bugs says at the conclusion of “Rabbit of Seville.”)

Souls for Sale a.k.a. Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962; Albert Zugsmith) reviewed HERE

The Split (1968; Gordon Flemyng) A great surprise! The first officially rated-“R” film—based on a Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) book!
Any synopsis would ruin the flick’s twists (and there are several), but it’s a top-notch “caper” flick, with a cast that demands your attention, most vets of either The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch (or both!): Jim Brown (every inch the action leading man), Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Donald Sutherland, the recently departed Jack Klugman, and more—including Gene Hackman in what’s essentially a cameo. (What’s interesting about Hackman’s role is how the filmmakers use our expectations of Hackman as shorthand: he’s a tough, dogged, ruthless but basically honest cop—he doesn’t have enough screen time for us to discern this: it must be understood by the actor cast in the role.)
Wow, a new fave—I really should add this to Best New Old Films Discovered this year! 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968; Stanley Kubrick) reviewed HERE

Django Unchained (2012; Quentin Tarantino) reviewed HERE

Wise Blood (1979; John Huston) Excellent film essentially ruined by a mood-shattering, semi-comedic cornball-hayseed-style music soundtrack that is always at odds to the emotionally and religiously-tortured Southern Gothic themes and dialog.
Is there a way to strip the music track off this DVD?
Because then this movie would be perfect.
However, nothing could smother lead Brad Dourif’s INTENSE perf, and supporting actors Amy Wright and Harry Dean Stanton are spot on.

Green Lantern: First Flight (2009; Lauren Montgomery) Holy moly, this is anime agitprop, very critical of the ever-increasing super-surveillance state and the paranoid, preemptive neo-con thinking behind it—an ideology that would turn the whole universe into a prison camp “for our own protection.”
Sinestro is Cheney!
Meanwhile, The Green Lantern is like an extraterrestrial Dr. Strange, with alien superscience so inexplicable it might as well be sorcery: unearthly tech that mutates into mysticism.
Kozmik Kid Stuff!

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011; Tomas Alfredson) Incredible and complex filmmaking that mimics the paranoia and information-confusion of spycraft.
With a superb cast, but WOW, Gary Oldman does so much by doing so little. Fantastic performance: raises his voice only once, had only two close-ups in the whole movie, doesn’t speak for the first 18 minutes of the flick—and commands the entire film, even when he’s not on-screen.
Really one of the best spy films made.

The Loved Ones (2009; Sean Byrne) Grueling nasty flick, that I recommend for gorehounds but don’t necessarily love myself.
There’s not enough reason behind the psychos’ actions: We’ve had far too many serial killer movies released to let another one go by with the excuses we gave the earlier ones.
The Loved Ones needs a little more depth and perception, not just buckets of blood and unrelenting tension.
Not that this film doesn’t provide the necessary chills and frights, but when it was over I didn’t feel like I’d learned or gained anything from it. Enjoyable to the gorehound in me, but that was it. Fun, but pointless.
Sort of how last year was….


  1. Well done! Also, love the first pic. Heh heh. :D

  2. Marisa, Thank you for visiting!

    Anyone passing by should check out her site, the fab

    And Marisa, from 2010, here's my write-up of Carey's The World's Greatest Sinner: