Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best Books Of 2011

Most Disapointing: Swamplandia: I’ve read worse books this year (see below) but none that were quite so dispiriting as watching this lively original novel sink in a mix of grad school clichés in the final third. Like watching one of Russell’s indomitable Bigtrees take a perfect swan dive off the highboard only to plunge directly into the gullet of a gator upon landing.

Worst: My Boyfriend Wrote A Book About Me: I know Sloane Croasley, and you ma’am are no Sloane Croasley.

10. The Wise Man’s Fear/ The Magician King:

There is true magic in both of these imperfect, wildly ambitious, wonderful sequels.

The Wise Man’s Fear takes The Name Of The Wind and turns it up to eleven. For all the good and bad that that implies. On one hand, no book that contains the line “Thank the moon for sending me this lusty young manling,” (a line that caused my sister to laugh from one end of a long car trip to the other) can be said to be perfect. Around Kvothe’s eighth sensual encounter with the sex ninjas, it takes a powerful reader not to wish that Rothfuss had perhaps chosen to limit himself to four. And like The Name Of The Wind, one reaches the end of the book with the dispiriting realization that not all that much has happened.

And it doesn’t matter.

The Kingkiller Chronicles are the rarest and most valuable of stories, those that are entirely in the telling and not the tale. Rothfuss is simply put a wonderful storyteller. As his smooth prose unfurls the reader is helplessly drawn deeper and deeper in. In his ambitious, deeply humanistic fantasy epic, Rothfuss is giving us the fantasy story of our age. And doing it with a skill that makes me frankly angry that when I turn to my bookshelf there are only two books that bear his name on their spine.

Believe me, there is no book I anticipate more than the final volume in this story. If Rothfuss is somehow able to pull off this absurd dare he has set for himself and get everything he has promised into the final volume it will be simply wonderful. Even if he doesn’t, one can’t help but be thankful for storytellers like him.

The Magician King is something altogether, and powered by a different sort of magic. In it, Grossman does nothing less than an act of transubstantiation. Turning the very ambitious dissertation that was The Magicians into a real life story. It’s thrilling, like watching The Blue Fairy turn Pinocchio into a real boy.

In a daring move that pays dividends Grossman splits the narrative between occasionally insufferable malcontent Magician, Quentin Coldwater’s reluctant stumbling progress towards actual heroism and his childhood friend Julia’s brutal quest for self knowledge. The most ill advised search for truth since Harry Angel made that trip to New Orleans. Equal parts The Chronicles Of Prydain and Darren Aronofsky. The Magician King climaxes with a vile parody of religious enlightenment and a galvanizing blast of what may be the real thing. For all the admiration that The Magicians got, there were those who insisted on writing off Grossman as a clever boy. This ought to shut them up nicely.

8. Fear And Loathing At Rolling Stone/ Pauline Kael The Age Of Movies:

Fitting tributes to two of the finest Raconteurs American letters have produced. Both of these volumes capture the authors in all of their complexity. Both their unassailable brilliance and their infuriating lapses.
Fear And Loathing At Rolling Stone chronicles Thompson’s dizzying rise, blazing a trail of scorched earth through a thicket of stupidity and hypocrisy. Inarguably climaxing in Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail, a work that is generously excerpted here in that will stand alongside a Modest Proposal as one of the greatest works of satire created. It also is merciless in its documentation of Thompson’s decline, while being careful to highlight the flashes of brilliance that could still spring from Thompson’s typewriter.

I do have some issues with the anthology, including the baffling decision to abridge some of the pieces. But as a whole the collection is a fitting tribute to the man and helped me finally come to peace with my all too human idol. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Kael I have a much less personal relationship. Her work has always been too dogmatic and vindictive for my tastes and she has done little to shape my preference or ideas about film. That said, you can’t ignore the elephant in the room and few have written so influentially about film and even less with such pure, splendid ferocity. For Kael the movies mattered in a way that little else did. Her only real requirement was that they matter to the people making them as well. If the filmmakers in question didn’t bring as much care and passion to their movies as she did, Be-fucking-ware. You can’t help but admire that and if nothing else the aspiring writer can take this worthy lesson from Kael. Be prepared to take it to the mat. Every. Time.

6. Outlaw Album: The man who I sometimes consider the greatest writer working in America today delivered this slim collection of stories, as stark, truthful and beautiful as anything in American fiction. Bone hard and lean the stories of Outlaw Album show an American Master at the top of his creative powers. The last true master of the American vernacular. Small but mighty.

5. Reamde: I’m not going to lie, the fact that both William Gibson AND Neil Stephenson now find the present to be an appropriate place to set their stories scares the shit out of me. But it’s hard to mind when the result is a novel as thrilling, vivid and funny as Reamde. A novel with the density that rivals that of dwarf stars, yet somehow manages to breeze by as quickly as any dimestore paper back.

Like a Tom Clancy book for smart people Reamde unfolds over a global panorama across which enough ammunition is spilled to fuel several Balkan conflicts and/or another Wackowski Brother’s SciFi trilogy. Reamde combines all the best of Stephenson’s attributes, deadpan sense of absurdist humor, vivid detailed prose and unstoppable narrative momentum with virtually none of his weaknesses. To call it a perfect starting point for Stephenson fans would be unfairly reductive. When what it is is simply one of the most entertaining novels I’ve read this year.

4. 11/22/63: … I say one of because Stephen King’s late period winning streak continues unabated. Holy Crap. This is great. Watching King take a premise that seems designed to sustain roughly three hundred pages or so and turning it into one of the most propulsive reads I’ve encountered, is like watching a man ride a high wire on a unicycle while juggling flaming torches.

But all the narrative tricks in the world wouldn’t matter a damn if King hadn’t of found such a brokenly human story through which to tell it. Couching the uncanny in the human has always been King’s gift, but over his post Cell work it has grown to define him. King just keeps getting better.

3. Habibi: Perhaps the most beautiful comic I have ever read. Craig Thompson is one of the few who actually earns the term Graphic Novelist. Every work he does stuns with the complexity of its beauty and the depth of its compassion. Lovely.

2. Leftovers: Tom Perrotta’s eerily haunting novel is the best of a notable career. Following America in the wake of either The Rapture, or an event so like it that it literally makes no difference, Perrotta sketches a moving portrait of ordinary people facing the unthinkable… and then quietly gathering themselves up and going on. Most of them anyway. Worthy of Vonnegut and the best of Updike, The Leftovers is not only the greatest American Novel of the year, but an early contender for best of the decade and as delicate and moving a depiction of the post 9/11 mindset as I have read. D

Absolutely unshakeable.

1. The Pale King: A five hundred page tombstone, the most talked about, dissected unfinished novel since Edwin Drood, an unfinished epitath that leaves with it always the haunting possibility that maybe it was always planned this way. So much has been said about it that it’s tough to even know what to write. So I will just bow my head in humble thanks for one last gift from a man who held on for as long as he could.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Alamo Drafthouse Austin Montage for December 2011 from Alamo Drafthouse on Vimeo.

I'll be back to wrap up the year with its various lists shortly. Until then,With a little help from The Alamo Drafthouse, allow me to wish you and your's a very merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Cameron Crowe makes big, emotionally generous, open hearted movies. These are the qualities that endured him to a generation of film fans and are of course the very qualities that landed him in Director Jail for the past half decade.

No matter I have faith in Cameron Crowe, indeed I have the kind of wide eyed faith in Cameron Crowe that Cameron Crowe characters have in things. Almost Famous remains both a pleasurable ramshackled shaggy dog comedy and one of the most honest movies ever made about the relationship we have with the art we latch onto, Vanilla Sky continues to be way ahead of its time.  I highly anticipate his return to narrative filmmaking this December with We Bought A Zoo and if Pearl Jam 20 is any indication, the time away has not overly bruised Crowe. His approach to documentary work contains the same optimism and sweet nature that his narrative films do. While Pearl Jam 20 may not exactly be what anyone would call hard hitting, it’s a commissioned victory lap of a film, it is still an intimate, interesting look behind the persona of one of the biggest rock bands in the world and the environment that spawned it.

It’s an interesting film to watch for me, if only because you would be hard pressed to find a band I have less investment in than Pearl Jam. I don’t mean this as a snobbish thing. I’m not trying to claim that they’re hacks or bad musicians. It’s an almost chemical reaction for me. Their music simply fails to elicit any kind of response from me. They’re doing their thing, I’m doing mine and we seem to get along very well without one another. That said, even if 20 doesn’t exactly inspire in me a love of Pearl Jam’s music, it couldn’t help but elicit respect. There’s footage here, particularly from their early live performances that is just incredible with Vedder climbing up scaffolding at shows like a howler monkey before leaping dozens of feet into waiting crowds. Looking less like a leader of a rock band and even less like the mellow elder statesman so prevalent today than some sort of crazed messianic cult leader. All I can say is it made me fervently wish for access to a time machine so I could see one of those shows and as previously stated I don’t even like the band. 

One interesting thing to note is that 20 is the first documentary about a band that grew up in the video era and if its any indication of where things are headed music documentaries are about to get a lot more interesting. While there are still plenty of talking heads, most of the story is told by the band itself in the present tense, through footage that they themselves shot over the years. There’s a staggering array of material here. One of Crowe’s strongest attributes as a filmmaker is the instinct he has towards the detritus that makes up pop culture. He tells his story with things like Operaman sketches, clips from Wheel Of Fortune and The Headbangers Ball, and even excerpts from Crowe’s own Seattle opus Singles and it’s disastrous after party where the drunken band assaults a room full of studio and music executives. It’s storytelling through collage in a way that manages to really bring the feel of the era that spawned Pearl Jam and the other Seattle bands to life.

Crowe  manages to keep 20 intimate and celebratory, but with just enough insight and journalistic integrity to keep it from crossing over into fawning. At the core of the movie is Crowe’s conviction that the thing that gives Pearl Jam so much of its power is the fact that its nice to see someone lead by example for a change. It’s this insight that makes 20 the type of film that makes even a non fan want to celebrate. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011


When I walked into the empty theater and took my seat for Hugo I saw Scorsese staring down at me.

Father Martin looked a little disappointed in me and well he should. Just look at the state of the place. Oh sure a lot of this neglect is due to Son Of Danse Macabre and I’m sure once that particular project is done I’ll have much more time for Things That Don’t Suck. But lets face facts some of it is very real burn out as well.

I used to have such a pure hunger for film. Relentlessly seeking it out. New or old, indie or mainstream, good or bad, it didn’t matter as long as I hadn’t seen them before. I wanted to watch everything.

I’m literally embarrassed by some of the stuff that I’ve missed seeing in the theater this year. Sure no one can see everything, but I’ve missed some truly basic stuff, stuff I’ve been excited about seeing for a long long time. If you don’t see Tree Of Life on the biggest screen available to you it means one thing, you don’t care enough. And if you don’t care enough well what business do you have writing a film blog?

The fact is a few moments of frisson aside; the narcotic junkie’s quest for film and its cousin narcotic bliss have been absent from my life this year, for the first time in memory. I had to make a decision yesterday regarding film that made me sick, literally sick all day. It transformed me into my most bearish and I really, truly pity anyone who had to encounter me. But the fact is, that five years ago, hell two, I would never have made the same choice. Part of that is growing up, but some of it feels like giving up.

Because the idea of making my own films or hell working on anybody’s, looks more and more unlikely with each passing day. Some of this is my fault, as time keeps on slipping I looked at my writing and my filmmaking and had to choose which to put my energy into. Paper is cheaper than pixels and I’m a more natural writer than I’m a filmmaker (no comments from the peanut gallery) and my chances of getting published are better than my chances of getting a production off the ground. But the sting of the dream abandoned, even temporarily, never goes away. If you’re not careful it’ll tarnish the very thing that made you dream in the first place.

It’ll make you bitter.

So as I sat there underneath the sounds of Scorsese’s A Personal Journey Through American Film. Hearing lines that I once watched so many times that I knew them by heart, the feeling of disappointment became all too keen. I once understood the lines that Scorsese spoke. Could I truthfully say that I still did?

I should have known that Scorsese would have a homily ready.

Hugo is a wonderful film. I mean that in the true sense. It reminds you that wonder itself is the primary force behind film. A film made all the more warm and humane given it’s knowledge of cruelty. It is simultaneously like no film that Scorsese has ever made and entirely of a piece.

It’s not hard to read into the story of an older filmmaker whose ability to produce art is stripped from him, Scorsese making an alternate history for himself. Today, even if Scorsese can’t make anything he wants (and if he never gets his chance to bring Silence to the screen, I will consider it perhaps, the greatest of unmade films) he is certainly in a better position, both creatively and financially, than the majority of his peers. Contemporary or otherwise.

It’s easy to forget that Scorsese’s films didn’t really make money until The Aviator. It’s all too easy to imagine that if that film hadn’t been made, if Michael Mann had directed it as was originally intended, and Scorsese’s lucrative partnership with DiCaprio hadn’t cemented. Had he instead followed up Gangs Of New York with another costly underperformer, that the state of his career would have much more in common with someone like DePalma, or Scorsese’s mentor Michael Powell at the end of their tenure, or yes like George Melies. Still dreaming, still scheming, working desperately to make films that no one wanted. It’s this quality that gives the film weight a knowledge of the road not taken.

If that gives it its weight, than it’s the gratitude in the road that was taken that gives the film its delightful fleetness. There is a filmmaker’s film and one can feel Scorsese’s palatable glee as he attempts to one up the silent filmmakers he pays such righteous tribute too. Watching him restage Harold Lloyd’s Clock scene is like watching one magician, make a pocket watch disappear, than watching another bow to him and make a Grandfather Clock vanish. The highlight of the film is a blistering montage of silent cinema that probably made a bumper crop of young cinephiles in every theater in which it played. It’s followed immediately by a jaw dropping recreation of the silent era, showcasing Scorsese as one of the few filmmakers capable of simultaneously pushing cinema forward with each film he makes, and revering its past.

There is to the film just the slightest whiff of Tati, as Scorsese benevolently watches his “parts” play across the station Including the likes of Richard Griffiths, Christopher Lee (in a role that made me tremendously happy) Sacha Baron Cohen (less broad than the awful trailers would have you believe) and the lovely Emily Mortimer.  Whimsical is not exactly the word that one often uses when describing Scorsese and it’s not exactly overplayed here. But it fits.

But it is the central cast of Asa Butterfield, Chloe Morentz and Ben Kingsley who carry the film. Butterfield is great, tapping into some deep wells of bitterness that feel real in a way that children performances rarely do. Morentz, is an odd case, she feels mannered here, less natural than she felt in her archer roles in Kickass and Let Me In. Perhaps it’s simply the novelty of having to perform sans body count. But it’s Kingsley who truly impresses. His resemblance to Melies in the film is truly uncanny, but that’s only part of it. The performance it reminds me of the most is Martin Landau’s in Ed Wood. Both have that ineffable sense of what happens when someone who has been stuck in dreck for far too long is suddenly given something fine to work with. It’s a perfectly played part.

Of the much vaunted 3D I remain unconvinced. There is no doubt that there are some isolated moments here (such as when Scorsese overlays his great clock with the city of Paris, in a shot that would make Von Stroheim cry bitter tears of envy) where it is used to great effect and the uber depth of field he achieves is astonishing at times. But I face the same problem with it that I face with every 3D film that’s not using the Disney Digital system, there’s a lack of solidity to the image that irritates my eyes to no end (That’s Disney shot in 3D, the trailer for the post conversion job done on Beauty and The Beast horrified me, if it’s any indication of what the feature film will look like than I am much afeared). 

There are some other bumps to the film; it feels like a movie with scenes cut from it. Kingsley and Butterfield don’t spend as much time together in the film as you might think and I’d be willing to bet that there are scenes missing from the first third of the film that where sacrificed for the sake of narrative momentum.

Still these are minor issues. I found in Hugo, just what I needed. A reminder of all I truly love in film, and more importantly a reminder that the things we love may go dormant inside us but never truly die. My hunger will return in full. As surely as a man’s appetite is aroused when he smells something delicious cooking on the air. It may take a few more months before TTDS is back to full speed, but it will be one day.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go watch some films. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Encounters At The End Of The World

The key word in the title Encounters At The End Of The World is Encounters. For any other filmmaker it would be a word strictly defined to the encounters the film crew had with the landscape and found in Antartica, an almost incomprehensibly harsh and wild environment. And Herzog gets his fair share of that. But for Herzog, that also means encountering the people, he’s fascinated by the landscape but studying the personality that brings someone to the very ends of the Earth and pushes them to go even further is what really drives him, A Machinist who contends that he is descended from the Aztec royal family, a zoologist who has spent so much time with penguins that he is markedly uncomfortable with people; the film easily could have been titled Some Strange People That Werner Herzog Met In Antarctica.  

Because make no mistake, though this is a G-rated movie, mellow enough to show to Grandma and the kids, the personalities Herzog finds at the bottom of the world are every bit as intense as any who have populated his R-Rated Opuses (in one of the best running gags the joke “Everyone who ended up in Antarctica just fell off the real world and slid to the bottom” is told about a half dozen times by different people). The soft spoken, dedicated scientists might not look like Klaus Kinski, but they speak in the same tone of barely suppressed fervor nd have the same farseeing glint in their eyes..

Life in the Antarctic takes on a surreal bent, both for humans and animal. Base workers walk around with buckets strapped to their heads during survival training, in order to simulate a white out. There’s the hulking square compound itself, looking vaguely like a Moon Base found on earth. There’s hallucinatory surroundings, shifting fields of ice. A woman blowing off steam at a bar on the compound fits herself into a suitcase. Underneath sheets of ice so thick that holes have to be dynamited for the diver’s encounters, luminescent beings live that look like illustrations. No other filmmaker has Herzog’s gift for finding images that look as though they should not exist.  He narrates them all in his unflappably calm, clipped Teutonic tones. Still marveling at the strangest of nature with the wonder glazed intensity that he spoke of in The Burden Of Dreams, his awe always tempered ever so slightly be amusement and horror.

If the documentary feels a bit more mellow than Herzog’s usual work, despite some doom saying near the end, it is only because the continent speaks so well for itself. Herzog seems comfortable here, even within the crater of a huge active Volcano, in a way he never did in the lush Rain Forrest of Burden of Dreams, and the other wildernesses he has visited. If it is true that Antarctica attracts a certain type of intense personality, than it is no surprise that Herzog eventually made his way to the ends of the Earth. All that is surprising is that it took him so long to get there. 


Hey guys I know it's been pretty quiet here this month, and er- it's probably going to be pretty quiet here next month too. 

Mostly this is because every moment of spare time I have as a writer has been dedicated to Son Of Danse Macabre.  I'm bearing down hard, we're in the home stretch here, I'm hoping to finish The Modern American Horror chapter by the end of the year. Which will leave only two (2) chapters to go. Check it out if you haven't yet had a chance lately.

I've also taken some time to do some much needed fiction work. Including a piece I'm in the middle of drafting for the ambitious Mr. Jose Cruz's Mad House. If you know Mr. Cruz you know he's one of the most enthusiastic horror bloggers out there, and his new project should be a fun one. So if you've got something creaking in your drawer why not join me in the first issue. Should be fun.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ken Russell R.I.P.

I won't lie and say he was a particular favorite of mine. But there's one less visionary in the world today and that's always a sad thing to consider. One things for sure, there will never be another like him. So long Ken.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Rum Diary

Bruce Robinson’s Withnail And I is one of my favorite films. Period. Maybe in my top five, certainly in my top ten. I’ve never really written about it on Things That Don’t Suck, mostly because its just a tough film to get a handle on. It’s a raucous comedy that for long tracks of its run time isn’t remotely concerned with being funny. It’s the film about the death of an era that doesn’t try and make any grand statements regarding said era. It’s two principles are blitzed for 95% of the run time, but I wouldn’t really call it a drug movie the way say The Big Lebowski or Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Occasionally lyrical, sad, the best film ever made about male friendship and yes hysterically funny (Withnail’s desperate whinge when he realizes that they’ve come to the country sans Asprins never fails to draw a huge belly laugh from me) Withnail And I is one of the very few films that can genuinely said to be it’s own thing.

Likewise the career of Bruce Robinson has always been one of cinema’s great what ifs for me. After Withnail, Robinson made How To Get Ahead In Advertising, a fairly vicious satire on European Corporate culture and then came to America to direct the dismal serial killer film Jennifer 8. The experience infamously broke any desire Robinson had to make not only films within the Hollywood system, but films in any system. Over night he packed up his game, emerging over the next two decades to occasionally have his scripts ruined by others.

Until now… His return to directing was without exaggeration my most anticipated cinematic event of 2011. Just what the hell would he make? Well if we are to use The Rum Diary to judge the type of films that Robinson might have made in those two lost decades (a problematic proposition I acknowledge) then perhaps we can rest a little easier knowing that we lost out of two decades of How To Get Ahead In Advertisings rather than two decades of Withnails. The Rum Diary is a messy, entertaining film that has some real moments but it can’t help but feel like less than what it could have been.

The Rum Diary follows Hunter Thompson stand in Paul Kemp as he lands in Puerto Rico takes up with a paper on its last legs and for the first time finds his way to the dark nexus of power, hubris and insanity that Thompson would make his home for the rest of his career. Depp is uncannily good as Thompson, all the more impressive for convincingly managing to play the character younger than he did in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, despite the near fifteen year break in between the two films.

There are scenes and images here that work incredibly well, Kemp’s eerie discussion with a lobster, a cameo by a certain runny food item that’ll make Withnail fans laugh, a night race through the Puerto Rico back country. They work so well in fact that I didn’t realize how conflicted I felt about the movie until I started writing about it. Despite all the fine moments, there is simply no getting around the fact that The Rum Diary is a movie with a broken spine.

The film almost plays as a super hero origin, with Thompson gaining bits of his persona from each character he interacts with. His hard drugs here, his love of cars there, his rage at societal injustice over there. And there in lies the problem, the film watches Thompson do these things with an awe usually reserved for watching Arthur receive Excalibur from the Lady In The Lake. The film is a hagiography of Thompson (and say what you will about Gilliam’s film but it was never that). All the rough edges smoothed away, the writer presented in The Rum Diary probably wouldn’t have written anything worth reading, let alone make a movie about. On the way home I rented Gonzo, which I had previously dismissed as empty surface hero worship and I feel like I owe the director of that documentary an apology, because compared to The Rum Diary, Gonzo is Raging Bull.

The flat feeling extends in all directions Robinson has assembled a good cast here and they’re all playing broad. Amber Heard, a talented actress with rotten luck (I mean God now she’s in the first Johnny Depp movie to flop in forever) never gets beyond “the girl”. Giovanni Ribsi is a sight gag the entire film (a good one) worst of all is Aaron Eckhart, who is capable of playing this character in a much more interesting way but instead walks around with “THE BAD GUY” Inked on his forehead. 

 Any hope of redemption falls apart when the film follows its ambigious ending with a title card so unthinkingly celebratory I had to suppress my gag reflex. Yes Thompson was a great author who wrote some great things. But his life was not an unqualified triumph, just the opposite. If you wanted to give The Rum Diary an honest ending perhaps you should have gone for, “The beauty of the world, paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dusk. Man delights not me, no, nor women neither, nor women neither."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Quick Message

Faithful readers might know that I love Cleveland. The mistake by the lake is where my family is from, it's my adopted home town, where I've spent some of my best times and where a lot of the people I care about most live. It is also the reason while I will curse a blue streak at the TV every Autumn Sunday until I die. But that is another story.

So it's only fitting that when his estate tried to get together money for a statue of the second greatest writer Cleveland ever produced (Chester Himes is number one with a bullet... or several) That I could only respond with a Hell Yeah. I mean I just love the idea of a statue of Harvey Pekar. Who wouldn't?

Anyway, I've donated, and if you've got any love in your heart for this working class hero and the city he portrayed so well, maybe you can too.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Drive is the sort of film that taps directly into my particular set of cinematic pleasure receptors. All the more satisfying because I had no idea that it would. Up until the moments the opening credits rolled I had no idea that I craved an elliptical, Euro crime thriller, starring Ryan Gosling, with a mile wide romantic streak, and a discordant electro score that sounds like it’d be more comfortable in a David Lynch movie, but voila, apparently I did. Drive is a work of masculine art cinema on par with Le Samourai and Pat Garret And Billy The Kid.

Drive the story of a getaway driver who finds himself betrayed by the people he works for, is of course a story you’ve seen before. Hell, lets face it; you’ve already seen the existential art film approach to this story as well. This is a film that wears its Le Samourai hero worship proudly. All Gosling’s spartan apartment lacks is a grey bird and I’m sure that was just an oversight.

Drive is one of those films where every element works, no matter how unlikely. Ryan Gosling with a mumble that would make James Dean envious and a smile that would melt butter. He has the amazing ability to look equally convincing shyly holding a girl’s hand and crushing a skull. Albert Brooks chilling banality of evil performance all the more effective for the way that it seems barely removed from his usual persona. Carey Mulligan reveals the uncanny ability to make herself look five years older and wearier at will and Bryan Cranston does his Bryan Cranston thing. Perhaps only Ron Perlman is not used to full potential here, but then again Things That Don’t Suck has always held firm to the position that it is difficult to get too much Ron Perlman.

Nicholas Refn shoots Los Angeles the way that Michael Mann used to. Turning it into a doomed megapolis of light and vice. Shooting the ground level unglamorious neighborhoods of The Valley and Echo Park as well as I’ve seen them represented. There is that sense of dislocation to the film that you sometimes get when a European director makes his first film in America. Like Wim Wenders Paris Texas, another film that Drive shares a fair amount of DNA with, Drive takes in its setting and action with a kind of bewildered wonder.  There’s a presence to the film, aided by Cliff Martinez’s hypnotic score a low key dread that is not quite like anything I’ve seen in a crime film before. A mixture of fatalism, icy Euro remove and iconic cinematic badassery.

Simply put Drive is a magnetic film, it keeps drawing you back into itself. It’s the little moments that I keep returning to. The way Refn keeps the camera centered on Gosling, so when he reacts to something you have no idea just what he’s reacting to. Or touches like the opening scene where you think you’re getting a humanizing detail about The Driver (Lakers fan) until it is revealed, nope also part of the plan.

Drive is the type of film that energizes me as a cinephile. The sort of film where you see a set of aims accomplished perfectly, with the flair, confidence and rock solid landing of a professional gymnast. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

November Sucks


Another October come and gone and I have the sads (sads may or may not be directly related to Hangover I was forced to battle yesterday, which can only be described as Amisian proportions).

But before we get back to our regularly scheduled Not Sucking, here's one last taste of Halloween magic courtesy of our friends at On The Stick. Enjoy

Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 29: Nosferatu

Nosferatu is very high up in my personal canon. It would be in any top ten list of my favorite films ever made. Most likely in the top five. There is something enchanting about Nosferatu on a literal level. It works on the mind in a very primal way. Seeing it with a live score was something incredible. Watching the film galvanize the musicians and then their score flowing out into the crowd of people watching the film. Watching the effect spiral out, it’s almost like magic. The best moments of Nosferatu have the purity of a child’s nightmare. The sequence where “Hutter” (perhaps the most ineffectual cinematic lead in horror history) opens the door to reveal the count at the end of the hall, only to have him draw closer and closer expertly sums up the feeling of dread that one had as a child. The sense of some lurking horror under the bed, in the closet, just out of sight in the dark. All Hutter can do is hide under the sheets and pray that it’ll go away. That the dark shape in the corner will turn out to be a benign pile of laundry. Only this time it’s not this time it’s exactly bad as you fear it is. And there’s nothing to do but wait as it draws closer. To have just one sequence capable of such elemental power would have made the movie a classic. But Nosferatu is made up of nothing but those scenes. The streets of the buolic little town flooded with undertakers and coffins. Nosferatu standing tall against the horizon before the bound ship’s captain, the flood of rats emerging from the grave dirt of the spilled coffin, Nosferatu himself rising from the coffin, straight backed and horrifying. The look of Shrek is still just terrifying, shrunken and decrept but with that gleam of cunning and malevolence glistening in his eye. He’s one of cinema’s most convincing images of evil and decay. It is a film that communicates through pure image, is it any wonder that the film is so admired by Herzog. Munrau’s film has been deconstructed and reconstructed in all possible ways. Including a proto Nazi parable (and it is chilling to reflect that the faces of the innocent children we see would grow up just in time to make up the prime of Hitler’s war machine) but the film is far deeper than mere allegory. Nosferatu at its best bypasses the forebrain and hits us deep in the place where we are weak. Where we remember the dark things that hunt us and haunt us and how little we are able to do about them. It is a movie that not only reminds us what we are afraid of but why we are afraid in the first place. And with that I’ll wish you a happy and safe Halloween. Missed the 31 Days by two this year. Which sucks but considering the work load of writing I’ve been under as well as various guests posts isn’t too bad. Until next year, enjoy The Pumpkin Beer while it still flows freely.

31 Days Of Horror: Day 28: The Burning

One of my favorite generic Slasher flicks of all time. So generic that it ends up becoming The Uber Slasher that Nietzche prophesied. Listen as I defend it against the crew of Ubercynics (and Joe) who make up The Action Cast.

31 Days Of Horror: Day 27: Dawn Of The Dead

I was there, it was amazing. I don't know what else to say.

31 Days Of Horror: Day 26: The Devil's Rejects

The first fifteen minutes of The Devil’s Rejects is as strong as any I’ve seen in modern horror. It’s hard not to feel that anyone criticizing Rob Zombie for doing the same old shit is doing so out of habit in this film. As focused and singular as House Of 1000 Corpses is scattershot, The Devil’s Rejects also benefits from the sense that Rob Zombie thought this might be the last film he ever got a chance to make. However the results of this impulse are totally different. Instead of the trying to stuff everything he ever might want to see in a film, it feels like Zombie took a deep breath, focused up and legitimately tried to make the best film he was capable of.

But those first fifteen minutes, man. The assault on the house, the crude homemade armor that the Fireflies don for the counter attack. The race through their underground dungeon where a few lucky survivors are still imprisoned, finally breaking out onto the rode to ambush some poor waitress while The Allman brothers croon. Damn that’s good stuff.

The Devil’s Rejects unfolds like a prolonged disturbed nightmare. Those who accuse Zombie of merely supporting psychopaths are looking at the film the wrong way. It’s true that Zombie certainly has a grim fascination with monsters, but in the long nightmarish hotel scene he makes no bones about whose side he’s really on. That’s us right there, Banjo and Sullivan and their wives aren’t some dumb squares who get what’s coming to them. They’re what happens when anybody crosses the Firefly’s path. And while much has been made of Zombie’s portrayal of Sheriff Wydell, (William Forsythe giving the best performance ever given in a Rob Zombie film) and the supposed equivancy it draws between their actions, I wonder if people aren’t quite copping to the amount of satisfaction they may feel in the final reel. Personally speaking it felt awful good watching the Rejects get paid in full for two films worth of cruelty, I’m not proud of that but I’m not going to lie.

The film plays like a walking tour of hell. Zombie’s infamous Mileu has rarely been put to better use. Every environment in the Devil’s Rejects looks like its been caked by a life time of filth and degradation. Zombie is one of the few of the neo-grindhouse filmmakers to copy the films of the seventies in philosophy as well as aesthetics. So much of modern horror attempts to get down right chummy with the audience. The Devil’s Rejects puts them under assault. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Couple Of Things

Yesterday I dropped my last article for On The Stick's  (Which just hit a landmark fifty podcasts. Congrats!) 31 Days Of Horror Games. If you haven't been reading it there's been some great stuff written there over the past month and now you have a nice juicy archive to blow through.

Inspeaking of Old Friends, Crazy Dog is offering Things That Don't Suck readers a five dollar discount on whatever purchase they might choose. Just type SCAREME5 at the checkout stand and you'll get five dollars off your purchase.

We'll be back later to close the gap in 31 Days Of Horror a little further. Got some good stuff coming up.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 25: House Of 1000 Corpses

As someone who has written an awful lot in defense of Rob Zombie it recently struck me as odd that the only films of his that I haven’t covered are the only two that people actually seem to like. What was I afraid it wouldn’t be enough of a challenge otherwise?

House Of 1000 Corpses is an awfully strange film, argument. It looks like exactly what it is, a movie made by a life long horror fan who was unsure if he’d ever get a chance to make another movie. And as a result threw more or less anything and everything he’d always wanted to see in a horror movie into one 90 minute long pot. As a result it rarely feels like two adjoining scenes are from the same movie. The film’s approach is summed up when it cuts directly from a cheesy horror host doing his best Ghoulardi in black and white directly to what appears to be real autopsy footage. The high artifice of Captain Spaulding’s Murder Ride clash roughly with the snuff film 8mm asethic of others, both of which look odd next to the comic book over the topness of the ten foot tall robot zombie who chases the heroine around with a battle axe, which when placed next to the natural lit sadism of- well you get the picture.

This gumbo school of filmmaking pervades across the whole movie, Sid Haig (Got to give Zombie credit for getting their first), fuck yeah. Bill Mosely, well yeah you gotta get him in here. Saw Karen Black begging for change by the side of the road? Sure why the hell not it’s a party. Michael J. Pollard? Holy fuck he’s alive? And is that Shane from The Shield about to get his head blown off? And Dwight from The Office? It surely is. To a certain extent Zombie is not directing a movie here, he is giving us a tour through a living wax museum that he has decorated as garishly as possible.

And I can understand why some people don’t enjoy the expirience. House Of 1000 Corpses is a mess to be sure, but I contend that it remains kind of an intriguing mess. Call me forgiving but I find it almost impossible to dislike any film made with this much passion.

Besides it’s not all amateur hour (although like I said the sheer unpolished enthusiam is a lot of what I like about the film). You cannot tell me that anybody who can drum up a sequence as tense and just plain odd looking as The Scarecrow set piece is without some serious fucking chops. There are enough genuine scares, creepy moments and unique style to prove that Zombie is not a slave to pastiche. His films just feel enormously tactile in a way I respond to, people always complain about the grime of his films but I like it, his environments don’t just look lived in, they look positively burrowed in. The House at the center of the film does look like something you’d get if you had a family of lunatics nest in a place for a good couple of decades and then gave another lunatic a camera and a major studio budget to make a movie there. I mean that as a compliment. 

31 Days Of Horror: Day 24: Dog Soldiers

Neil Marshall is one of those guys who I just find to be completely on my wavelength. I don’t know if I could go so far as to say that he’s like Rian Johnson in that he’s specifically making movies for me, but when I see something like the Cannibal free for all in Doomsday or any random fifteen minutes of The Descent, or the Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid Redux in Centurion, it’s tough for me to come to any other conclusion.  What can I say, the man knows what I like and makes movies the way I like movies to be made.

Dog Soldiers is Marshall’s first film, and if it doesn’t quite hit my cinematic sweet spots with the eerie precision of Marshall’s other films, there is still much to enjoy and admire here, particularly for Marshall’s fans.

Dog Soldiers follows a group of British Soldiers sent on what they think is a training exercise in The Scottish Highlands. In reality they’re being used as bait so a group of Black Ops can suss out a werewolf. Unfortunately for the unlucky soldiers it turns out that they’re not hunting one werewolf, but a pack of them and unlike most of the civilized world the werewolves are more than happy to dine on British food.

The surviving soldiers make their way to an isolated farm house, where with the help of a friendly neighborhood zoologist they attempt to survive the werewolf siege. 

Dog Soldiers is a good deal rougher than Marshall’s other films. Thanks to a late stage twist there’ a plot hole you could drive a plot through. The tone is a bit odd as well, though it’s nominally a horror comedy, Dog Soldiers plays it straight for the most part. As a result, when something goofy does come out of the woodwork it’s really distracting. Ther is a fisticuff’s versus werewolf scene that is just plain silly and the single most out of place Matrix reference I’ve ever seen. The effects are what they are, but at the very least get points for being practical. More problematic is that Marshall had yet to learn to ask himself, “Would these people be making puns at this juncture?”

But as I said there’s much to appreciate here. Including many of The Marshall trademarks, his innate skill at framing, likable characters, tense set pieces and his ability to make his beloved Scottish wilderness look like one of the most foreboding places on Earth (indeed the film loses much when it switches locations from the woods to the farmhouse). There are some nice touches throughout Dog Soldiers, including a well played fairy tale subtext. It’s the work of a naturally talented filmmaker making much out of limited means, and if it left room for improvement? Well that is how it should be.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 23: Night Of The Demons 2

Night Of The Demons 2 was the belated follow up to you guessed it, Night Of The Demons. The key difference is that this time the on goings are directed by Brian Trenchard Smith. Brian Trentchard Smith has of course given the world much by proving that  the mentally insane can direct films too.

If you’re not familiar with Brian Trenchard Smith you really should be. He’s the man responsible for roughly half of the great clips in Not Quite Hollywood. Including Stunt Rock the only stunt and wizard theme Rock Opera yet made, Dead End Drive In and the immortal BMX Bandits.

The nineties proved a much leaner time for Smith, but he still managed to deliver this bizarre little number, which might have been made in the nineties but has eighties stink floating off of it like a fine layer of musk. Never have I seen a movie that rushed to fulfill the requirements of gore and T&A as quickly and thoroughly as it could.

Six years after Night Of The Demons Hull House and the stuff that has happened there have become the stuff of urban legend. Angela is still hanging around snacking on any Jehovah’s Witnesses unlucky enough to cross her threshold but is understandably getting a little bored.

Angela’s mousy little sister, named er- mouse, because that’s the type of movie this is, is now living at a Catholic boarding school after the Angela related suicide of her parents. This being a horror film, all the girls hate her and Mouse soon finds herself on the receiving end of the most intricately hateful and unmotivated prank this side of Trick R’ Treat. These kind of pranks always crack me up, kids are hateful and terrible to each other but they’re hateful to each other in terrible little mundane ways. If your prank involves blue prints and a time table it is most likely not going to ring true.

Unfortunately for these students their lucky stars are in retrograde. Some of them end up possessed and make it back to the Catholic School to cause some havoc. Faster than you can say “I kick ass for the lord.” The clergy and students retaliate, leading to one final battle at Hull House, where shit as they say, gets real.

Like I said, Night Of The Demons 2 may have been made in the nineties, but it has a definite 80’s vibe to it. There’s plenty of practical gore, wild monster design, thin characters and other assorted genre goodies, all delivered with that trademark unhinged BTS touch. Don’t let me oversell, this isn’t some kind of lost classic or anything, but for a belated sequel to something that wasn’t all that good in the first place Night Of The Demons 2 is a surprising amount of fun. The sort of movie you watch fourth in a horror movie marathon and perk up during because you’re not sure if what you’re seeing is real or the result of the dreaded Pumpkin Beer Delirium. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 22: Last House On The Left

My position on Horror remakes has been fairly well established at this point. As a general rule the most I hope for is for indifference, at worst I break out into hives.

But The Last House On The Left was singled out by Stephen King as one of the best horror films of the last decade and though King’s opinions do occasionally lead me to believe he is from Rand McNally (where people wear shoes on their head and hamburgers eat people) he has steered me towards more good films than bad. Here’s what he wrote about Last House On The Left,

“(The film) fills us with rage and sorrow, and if there’s an emotion more foreign to a Friday The 13th movie than sorrow, I don’t know what is. Our identification is all with the victim. The villains are bad people, they deserve what’s coming to them. What they do not deserve is a sequel they come back as our buddies.

Roger that in a big fucking way. There is another element at play here, being that the original Last House On The Left is a film that I care for not at all. I’ll let King take this one again…

The original Last House On The Left is so bad it rises to the level of absurdity- call it Abbot And Costello Meet The Rapists.

Too. Fucking. Right.

Unlike most of the other remakes it’s not exactly like this one could be worse.

In the final analysis, if The Last House On The Left is not as good of a film as King says it is, it at least tries to be as good of a movie as King said it is. The key phrase here is Victim identification. I haven’t seen a movie so unabashedly take the side of the victim in a long time.

Even in the original Last House On The Left there was the nasty subtext that by leaving the safety of home and going to the big bad city in search of drugs and rock n’ roll, that the girls got what they paid for, however inadvertently. Here they didn’t sign up for this, by any stretch of the imagination. The girls don’t go “looking for trouble” even the girl who drags along her friend in search of weed is just being irresponsible rather than self destructive. Hell if you look at it closely, trouble wasn’t even really looking for them. They weren’t being set up, it was just bad timing. A ghastly consequences of a terrible series of coincidences.

There is another crucial shift in the film’s narrative that has been more controversial. In this version of the story the girl survives the attack. Changing the situation from the parents merely getting gruesome revenge to the parents attempting to protect their wounded daughter (the fact that they have already lost a son in unrelated circumstances also a smart choice, making their resolve all the stronger and making the lengths they are willing to go to more understandable). As a narrative decision it’s gangbusters, adding a whole other of tension to the story.

Many have argued that by having the girl be alive the film has wussed out by giving the parents a much clearer moral imperative than they did in the original film. But let’s call a spade a spade here, if you’re watching a film primarily because you’re interested in the moral quandaries it poses, then you’re not watching The Last House On The Left 1972, unless it’s by some grievous error. You’re watching The Virgin Spring.

Director Iliadas directs with more flair and tension than Wes Craven has displayed in his entire career, comparing it to the porn production values of the first doesn’t even seem fair. The Cathedral woods are menacing, and the way he slowly but thoroughly desecrates the house is chillingly effective. If there’s a complaint to be had it’s the fact that you can see the Rob Zombie influence stamped clearly across the film (why wear grotesque art directed masks, if you’re going to A) Take them off after a few moments B) Kill all witnesses.) Particularly in the bizarre final fifteen seconds of the film which literally look as though they were tacked on from another film.

On the whole though, The Last House On The Left is a film of ambition and intense suspense. It might not be a great horror movie, but damned if it only misses that distinction by inches.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 21: Locke And Key

I think it’s safe to say at this point in time that Locke And Key is one of my favorite things ever. Note I didn’t say favorite comics ever, or even horror stories. Just things. The story of the Lockes is one that I’ve become deeply invested in over the years and the idea of seeing it turned into a TV Show was as intriguing as it was worrying.

So you can imagine my reaction The Locke And Key pilot in a mysterious Lynchian package in the mail. If you can’t lets just say that it involved yelling “SQQUUUUUEEEE” for several minutes before going behind The Winky’s to thank the man who lives beside the dumpster (not a bad chap that).

As a work in and of itself Locke And Key isn’t exactly flawless, but taken as a pilot it showcases a lot of potential. Make no mistake if a certain network (coughMTVhack) was smart enough to pick up this show (and really in the wake of Walking Dead why wouldn’t you?) this really does feel like the right cast and creative team to bring Locke and Key to life. An intriguing mixture of old and new mysteries that suggests that the creative team could simultaneously be faithful to the source material and spin it off into bold new directions.

The Pilot Episode of Locke And Key condenses the whole of the first arc of the comics into just under an hour. The basic story is the same; a family tragedy drives the Locke family back to their ancestral home where they end up dead in the sights of a dark supernatural force and in position of a certain collection of reality warping keys. The abridgement works surprisingly well, no Nightmare “Readers Digest Condensed” version here. Really only the nightmarish attack on The Locke family that kicks things off, and Sam Lesser’s journey across America feel like they actually suffer from their abbreviations. But considering that this was first being developed for Network TV the impulse to tone down those two rather disturbing segments is understandable. 

Other than that, it’s all good. Keyhouse and Lovecraft both feel just right, a ton of atmosphere and history. Though I have to admit I was expecting something a bit, well showier given that Mark Romenak was directing. Most of the actors do feel slightly broad in their roles, but that’s just par for the course with pilots and I’m sure by a few episodes in things would have been much smoother. Nick Stahl as the wounded Duncan Locke and Ksenia Solo as the androgynous, creepy as all fucking hell Dodge were already spot on.

Locke And Key promised(s?) to be a great adaptation and a greater variation (just where were they planning to go with their suggestions about Duncan?) Let’s just say that should it be picked up, I would be confident that one of my favorite pieces of comics material was in the right hands. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 20: Trollhunter

Now this is a strange one.

Trollhunter is the Norweigan not quite horror comedy. Done in found footage style the film follows a group of students who think they’re making a documentary about poaching, until they discover that their would be poacher is actually a government agent whose job it is to hunt and exterminate Norway’s troublesome troll population.

These trolls are giant ill tempered beasts who rampage through the countryside, searching for the blood of Christians (which in one of the film’s funniest moments rather abruptly necessitates the hiring of a Muslim Camerawoman). Hans, our mysterious hunter, is on a more less single handed mission to put them down (see it pays to specialize) in a very of matter of fact fashion.

The film straddles a lot of different lines, it’s a horror comedy but it’s not done as over the top as the premise might lead you to believe. Everyone plays things more or less straight. Hans, the troll hunter, is a blue collar guy, who treats Troll’s with the same amount of exoticism as a plumber treats a clogged toilet, when he dons his absurd Troll protection armor or his blasts away with his giant UV cannon its just another tool, like watching someone put on a hard had. He uses the opportunity of having a camera trained on him to bitch about the troll hunter bureaucracy and his lack of benefits and overtime pay.

The matter of factness and restraint make things funnier but it’s a double edged sword. Those expecting a fast, crazy horror film in the Raimi/Jackson vein should prepare themselves. The first half hour is a slow burn, and not in a good way either. The film takes a lot of time to set up things that don’t particularly feel like they need setting up. It’s the type of movie where it feels like a given thirty minute stretch could be reduced to five without particularly missing anything.

Yet once again this kind of attention to detail occasionally pays dividends. The TSS (Troll Security Service) keeps disguising the troll attacks and bear attacks. Where do they get the dead bears? At one point a van advertising a Polish Redecorating service drives up and drops off a bear corpse for the TSS. The driver speaking in broken enthusiastic Norweigen is happy about the whole thing, apparently he gets an order from these guys a couple times a month. When the kids quiz him about whether or not he’s curious what these people want all these bear corpses for, he smiles and shakes his head, “Why ask question when you just know it be problem?”

Why indeed.

On the whole Trollhunter is such an unexpected movie that I can’t help but kind of like and recommend it. With the major caveat that it is probably best that you make sure you’re in the right mood for it before you watch it. If you’re expecting a fast gory piece of splatterpunk you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re receptive to the art of the Shaggy dog story you just might have a good time. 

31 Days Of Horror: Day 19: Stakeland

Stake Land is the kind of film that I feel bad bitching about. It’s a movie with some real ambition, one that makes a lot out of obviously limited means. A film whose spirit and ambition I really admire. But there’s no getting around the fact that it just doesn’t quite have the means to  accomplish what it sets out to. As a book or a comic one could imagine Stake Land being a really affecting piece of work. As is I ended up too distracted by the zippers running down everyone’s back.

Like I said, this is the kind of thing I absolutely hate complaining about, particularly on an independent film, but if something took me out of the movie I have to be honest about it.

Stake Land wants to play it big. It takes place in an America decimated by a Vampire apocalypse, where small townships face against the growing encroachment of bloodsuckers and doomsday cultists who are often times even more dangerous. The film follows Martin, a young teen whose family is killed in a vampire attack. He’s saved by and apprenticed to The Mister, last of the vampire hunters and winner of this year’s Mickey Rourke look alike contest. The Mister takes Martin under his wing, trains him in the way of Vampire killing and guides him through post apocalyptic America. They form up a ragtag family with some other survivors which includes the ever appealing Danielle Harris.

Like I said, you really have to admire the film’s ambition, what it goes for would be tough to pull off for a film with ten times its budget and for the most part it does it reasonably well. The characters are likable of well drawn and I like its take on Vampires, transforming them into bestial, barely sapient creatures driven by unthinking hunger and not much else. Director Jim Mickle, has a real knack for atmosphere and action. Though not always convincing there is a real sense of place in Stake Land, the feeling that Mickle has lived here in his head for quite a while.

On the downside the film is choppy. It feels like a film made from a script that was chopped down to save on budget and time. Characters disappear and reappear with no explanation. At one point the group stumbles upon the corpse of one of their members, who I didn’t even realize was missing at that point.  It also leans a little too heavily on Malickian ellipses, if I had to see one more magic hour shot of stake practice it might have driven me around the bend.

Yet despite it’s flaws its hard not to like Stake Land and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who has a real interest in the horror genre. Sure Stake Land’s reach may exceed its grasp, but it is still refreshing to see a horror film reach that far. Would only that, “too much ambition” was a problem that more horror films had. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 18: Tucker And Dale Versus Evil

Horror comedy is one of the toughest subgenres to do right. As I’ve written before part of my fascination with both genres is how involuntary they are. How they completely bypass most of the usual criteria that we use to judge films and live or die by the gut instinctual reaction that they cause in the viewer. That’s a tough thing to do when you’re just going for one reaction, but when you’re going for two gut reactions that run directly counter to one another, well then you’re spinning plates while riding a unicycle.

I can say without hesitation that Tucker And Dale Versus Evil is the most successful horror comedy since Shaun Of The Dead. If it misses that movie’s heights well that’s because most things do.

Tucker And Dale follows two good hearted, slightly dim witted Good Ole Boys, who plan to spend the weekend fixing up the old shack they’ve bought deep in the heart of Appalachia. Unfortunately their trip coincides with a group of college kids led by the loathsome Chad, who quickly convinces the others in the group that they are about to star in an unauthorized remake of Just Before Dawn. After their rescue of the kids  is misinterpreted as a kidnapping attempt, Tucker and Dale find themselves under siege. And before you can say “Mass Epidemic of Suicides” they find themselves dealing with quite a body count. 

The strength of Tucker And Dale is the effortless way it swings between goofy splat stick and comedy of errors material (such as an early encounter which has Dale holding a scythe, giggling menacingly and asking “Y’all going camping.” But builds to it in a way that feels totally natural) and some genuinely witty material. Somehow the film manages to become more than a one joke movie.

It’s a genre lover’s treat of course, with a flashback to “The Memorial Day Massacre” proving that Eli Craig has just as good of a feel of/affection for the subgenre of the slasher film as Edgar Wright has for the zombie movie. The atmosphere is creepier and more consistent than most straight horror films released these days and needless to say the gore gags, including the already classic “head long dive into the woodchipper” bit are pretty great.

If the film has one flaw, which I will admit is kind of a nitpick to the point where I was genuinely trying to figure out whether to bring it up, it’s that the balance of the characters is a bit off. If you think back to Shaun Of The Dead (and yeah I know I’m bringing this up a lot but it’s the gold standard) the balance between Shaun, Ed and Liz is just perfect, with each character getting equal weight. With Tucker and Dale I feel like the balance is just a little off. The film does a great job establishing the relationship between the two, but after the first third it takes kind of a back seat to the budding romance between Dale and one of the “college kids”. With Tucker popping up mostly to deliver a few of the gags, and then act as a hostage. He becomes more of a supporting character than a co lead and I think the movie suffers for it.

This could just be me. Or the simple fact that I prefer Tudyk to Labine (who I was actually a fan of from way back on Reaper, a show I wish had gotten more of a chance, but who has played out his persona to diminishing returns ever since). He plays a hell of a straight man to the chaos here and the understated way he delivers lines like “That Chad kid has got some issues” raised some of the biggest laughs in the theater I was in.

 But like I said, that’s just me. On the whole Tucker and Dale is a blast, a nostalgia piece that doesn’t rely on it and a horror comedy that delivers the goods on both fronts.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 17: The Dark Half

The Dark Half has never exactly had the greatest of reputations. On the scale of George Romero films that no one really gives a fuck about it ranks well above Bruiser but below Survival Of The Dead.

After watching The Dark Half I can’t help but feel that this is at least just a bit unfair. I wouldn’t go so far as to call The Dark Half a lost gem or anything. It certainly is a flawed film. But it is not without merit and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as completely as it has.

Of course The Dark Half has never exactly been what you would call a beloved Stephen King novel. Not bad certainly, but not great. It’s the kind of book you shelve next to The Tommyknockers and oh I don’t know- Insomnia. Not bad not great, just one of the books that King puts out so he can be sure he has a book out every year. The kind you devour and then struggle to remember any specific detail about when you pick up the next one a year later. The Dark Half is notable for it’s unusually dark ending and not much else.

Not that it doesn’t have a good hook though, Thad Beaumont is an unsuccessful literary writer who happens to run a cottage industry publishing hardcore pulp novel’s written by “George Stark”. Thad Beaumont also had an ingrown twin removed from his skull when he was ten. I leave it to you to piece together whether those two events are connected.

When a fan finds out what Beaumont is up to and tries to blackmail him, Beaumont decides to “kill” the pseudonym rather than pay up. You get three guesses to figure out how well that goes and the first two don’t count.

For the most part this is pretty effective. Hitchcock’s Wrong Man syndrome is always going to be effective on a very primal level unless the filmmaker is incredibly incompetent, which Romero is not. The film actually has more in common with the likes of Season Of The Witch and Martin than it does the Romero’s Dead gorefests. Most of the violence is offscreen, and what does end up happening on screen is heavily implied more often than it is explicitly shown. It’s a smart approach in many ways running counter to the ultra violent novel that King wrote, with winning results. Romero builds an unseemly amount of tension in the film.

That said, the movie is not without its flaws, Timothy Hutton (or Princess Timothy as I have it on authority that he is known) is fine as the beleagured yuppie who finds his security threatened, but is a lot harder to swallow as a stone cold sadistic badass who will strike the fear of God into you with a single look. The film ends abruptly and tones down the darkness of King’s novel just a touch too much. All leading to a muddled home stretch.

Yet as a whole the film works surprisingly well. It might not be Dawn Of The Dead, but Romero fans who have had much to shake their heads at post Land Of The Dead would do well to check it out.