Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Clearing The Docket

Time for a bit of housekeeping. I’ve built up a bit of a backlog over the last few weeks and thought I’d go ahead and clear it.

Doghouse is another attempt to recapture The Splatterpunk style of Jackson/Raimi/O’Bannon/Gordon/Corscorelli dominated eighties, and like other recent forays, Dead Snow, Undead and Black Sheep it only ends in tears.

Oddly on the surface it doesn’t seem like it’s a tough aesthetic to reproduce. Get a good natured screenplay. Populate it with a game cast. And get your buddies to help you out with some over the top gore effects. So why is it that every time I come across a film that promises to reawaken the elicit thrills of my favorite sub genre they so manifestly fail to do so.

It’s actually pretty easy to pinpoint what goes wrong in Doghouse because there’s just so much of it. The film follows a group of friends out for a boys weekend in order to cheer up a friend who just went through a nasty divorce. First the cast is overstuffed, nearly a dozen folks line up for the weekend, so its difficult to get attached to any one of them. The one name in the bunch, usual live wire/favorite character actor (I still can’t believe he’s “Not Jason Statham” in Snatch) is woefully miscast as the sad sack of the bunch. The effects quality is WILDLY erratic, ranging from decent gore gags to what literally looks like a mannequin head slathered in blood. There’s a larger conspiracy subplot that absolutely nothing is done with and sucks up an ungodly amount of runtime. But most problematic is the film can’t decide whether its message is that the crew are a bunch of Pussy Whipped sad sacks who need to get their mojo back by killing a lot of women, or misogynists getting their just deserts at the hands of a bunch of vicious man killers. Both of these messages are problematic but a little consistency would have gone a long way to making it more paltable. Hedging it’s bets is just cowardly, especially when the movie keeps proudly mentioning just how “Un PC” it is at every opportunity.

So basically you have a movie that is intrinsacly flawed on a narrative, character, tonal visual and thematic level.

Other then that its pretty good though and truth in criticism I did laugh at the line, “If she wanted a pet she should have bought a Labrador.”

Doghouse is just another disappointment in a long line of them. One day I will see a movie that earns the right to mimic the gleeful anarchic feel of the glory days of Splatterpunk.

That day is not today.

Predators is one of those frustrating movies that works great on paper and not at all on screen.

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly where it all breaks down. It has a concept (Intentionally bringing dangerous people to be hunted by The Predators rather then a bunch of randoms) that I still think is pretty killer, assembles a good and game cast for the proceedings, gets some smart people behind the camera and then just kind of sits there.

Predators is so completely unengaging as a movie that it crosses the line into simply being depressing to talk about.

Note to Universal, the horse is fucking dead. You killed it. Now please stop beating it.

I don’t know why I suddenly got the urge to watch the original Halloween 2 again. Yet despite the fact that I knew I hated it, I somehow had convinced myself that if I saw the film again, I would somehow find it a misunderstood bit of wonderful.

Instead, the reaction I had was once again “Oh wait, I remember why I hate Halloween 2. Because it’s an awful fucking movie.” With its TV movie palate, dreadful pacing, graceless filmmaking and off kilter performances from the original cast, there’s not an element in Halloween 2 that doesn’t scream “Train Wreck”

Carpenter wondered what all this mother fuckery was, and Rosenthal was infamously kicked off the film. No one really knows just how much of the film Carpenter reshot, though its safe to say any moment that conveys any kind of atmosphere (The long tracking shot of Meyer’s walking unnoticed through crowded downtown Haddonfield) is probably his.

Rosenthal left the franchise in shame, until in one of the great ironies of horror film history he was welcomed back with open arms to accomplish what he could not quite do the first time out. Namely make one of the most phenomenally shitty horror films not merely in the franchise's history, but in the history of franchises.

Hard Times is a bare knuckle boxing film which costars Charles Bronsan and James Coburn. Bronsan is at his coolest and most charismatic. Seventies Bronsan is my favorite, he hadn’t yet morphed into the clipped caricature he would play through the eighties and nineties (“Now I’m going to Emmet’s Fix It Shop to fix Emmet”), yet had a real sense of his persona and his own brand of cool. This is the Bronson who gave us The Mechanic and Mr. Majestyk. The avuncular Coburn makes a great foil for the taciturn Bronsan. The two complement each other so well it’s a shame they didn’t make a habit of staring in films together (Obvious exception notwithstanding of course).

The film takes place in New Orleans of the twenties and has atmosphere to spare. The film is directed by Walter Hill in his prime. He has a sure hand with both the actors and the aesthetics. His trademark energy, skill, bravado and great eye and ear all firmly in place.

The film is basically The Sting with some of the most high impact boxing scenes that I know of. Basically it’s a great compact little movie, well written, well directed and highly entertaining with two of cinema’s greatest tough guys at the center. The very definition of a good time at the movies. It’s well worth your time to seek out.

But skip the DVD. Which as almost as bad as the infamous Charley Varrick. Fool screen and lazy to the point of insult.

The film plays on TCM all the time. So it shouldn’t be too hard for an interested party to find a copy that doesn’t serve as an insult to interested parties.

Labels are often a hindrance as much as a help. I like everyone got a little oversaturated with J-Horror when it was presented for the first half of the decade as the only flavor of horror in existence. So when my friend/successful person Kyle Geradi recommended that I check out Cure I dragged my feet a bit.

Which was a stupid thing to do. Because Cure shares almost nothing with the tropes of J Horror, save that persistent tone of a dreadful thing only partially articulated. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a great admirer of Val Lewton. And his film shares that same oppressive dread as Lewton’s films. Cure plays a bit like a Japanese Seven. With a rash of murders sweeping the country, committed by a random assortment of people who when questioned are unable to articulate why they have done what they’ve done.

Soon enough this is all traced back to a sort of Patient Zero a dead eyed Grad Student, who can shed no more light on what he does then his poor victims. Imagine a John Doe who offers no answers and you’re halfway there.

Cure is an effortlessly chilling movie. Most of the killings are shot in dispassionate long shot. Its an incredibly unnerving effect. I’m reminded of Stephen King’s comment that Joe Spinelli’s Maniac didn’t even have the decency to leer at its murders. Offering absolutely no distance for the viewers. Cure is the same way; it is so resolutely unlurid that there is no space for the mind to go.

The film does share with its subgenre, if not its tropes, then a certain disregard for the regular rules of narrative clarity. I’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly what happens in the last fifteen minutes of the film. Only that its damningly affective.

I liked Youth In Revolt so much that I distrusted my reaction. I watched it again and there’s no mistaking it. I really did like it that much.

A hilarious portrait of a certain type of hyper literate personality. Youth In Revolt assembles a game comic cast, including ringers like Ray Liotta (at his freakiest) Steve Buscemi and Justin Long in full reptilian mode.

It’s far too arch to get the real wince enduing stuff like Rushmore and misses out on a fair amount of emotional resonance as a result. Comedy is the genre I write least about on Things That Don’t Suck. Mostly because I find it the one genre that is damn near impossible to quantify. Youth In Revolt is no exception. I cannot tell you if you’ll find it funny, I can only say that I helplessly did.


Andrew Green said...

The Doghouse cover art alone is enough to raise my interest....

le0pard13 said...

Fine post, Bryce. I especially admire your appreciation of the criminally underrated HARD TIMES. Walter Hill's first film was a great vehicle for Bronson (and his MAGNIFICENT SEVEN co-star, James Coburn). It is a lean, mean machine of the movie. I got to show this film for a week in my projectionist stint long ago and I grew to love it. BTW, for those with region-free DVD players, Sony's R2 disc does have the proper aspect ratio (something that bugs me no end when they screw up U.S. version). Thanks for this.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Andrew: I can almost guarentee Disapointment on thatt one.

@le0pard13: Thanks for the heads up. I really would love a chance to own Times. It's a great little flick.

Budd said...

that is a lot of reviews. I agree with andrew, the cover of Doghouse makes me want to watch it.

Have you ever seen dumplings?

Bryce Wilson said...

Like I said, prepare for some disapointment.

Dumplings was pretty messed up. But I think it was Hong Kong.

Biba Pickles said...

I'm proud of Michael Cera. He's slowly moving away from the nervous George Michael he's been in everything since Arrested Development. Youth and Revolt and Scott Pilgrim have really showed that he is capable of more. He's really moving up in the world.