Friday, June 29, 2012

Sydney Pollack: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Sydney Pollack’s adaptation of Horace McCoy’s Depression-era novel They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is as engrossing and affecting as I’m sure it was when it was released in 1969. The existential look at the celebrity machine and the producers (here in the form of a dance competition coordinator) that exploit the hopeful masses of one day “making it” differs from the source material (the film is definitely a little more frenetic than the book), but what film doesn’t take liberties with its source material? The fact the film is a little noisier and busier and kinetic than the sparse prose of McCoy’s novel doesn’t equate to it being a bad, ineffective, film; no, the film is still able to resonate and acts as an easy marker in Pollack’s career for one to point to and say, “this is where Sydney Pollack arrived as a filmmaker.” 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer of Slash: Superstition

Watching nothing but straight forward slasher movies for an entire summer can be a bit of a slog; this is why I prefer mixing it up by finding different kinds of horror movies with elements of the slasher. Earlier in this series I covered the sci-fi/slasher hybrid Without Warning, and last year I tackled The Boogeyman – a weird mix of supernatural horror that often detoured into slasher tropes. That brings us to Superstition; a film very similar in tone to The Boogeyman in that it mixes (not nearly as well, unfortunately) the supernatural horror film with the slasher. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Louie – Season One

Be advised that any links provided should be considered very NSFW

Louis C.K. reminds me of what punk rock bands used to be. Before punk became just another counter-culture movement that the mainstream exploited, it would act as the very representation for the marginalized and disenfranchised; it was more than just a style of music – it was an attitude, an ethos. With the commercialization of punk rock, everything punk represented was now being adopted by the very people it was never intended for. Why bring this up? I feel like Louis C.K. is the type of comedian that still carried the flag for the type of person that feels marginalized and disenfranchised. What sets him apart from the Woody Allen’s and the Larry David’s – other brilliant misanthropes – is that he isn’t whiny (which is not to say that whiny=unfunny); he simply observes and doles out the appropriate, often stinging, observations that come from being an balding, out-of-shape New Yorker (and entertainer). His writing style isn’t always palatable, but it’s honest (and one of the reasons why I think he’s maintained, and gained, such an ardent fanbase), and explicates the dark areas of comedy that nobody else seems to want to touch on. Honesty – especially honesty that gets really dark – is really damn rare in the cookie-cutter world of 21st century standup comedy where the Chelsea Handler’s and Dane Cook’s of the world have confused sophomoric vulgarity for comedy. C.K. seems to be one of the last remaining standups that doesn’t find his shortcomings to be an asset – his self-loathing to be charming – who doesn’t rely on vulgarity for vulgarity sake, and who will allow himself not to come off as the authority on certain issues or topics – but instead as the dude that simply puts up with the crap hands life deals him.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer of Slash: Nightmares in a Damaged Brain

Released as Nightmare in America, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (a title I like much, much better; therefore, I will refer to it by this title throughout this piece) is arguably one of the two or three most infamous titles to appear on the Video Nasties list (I'm going to assume, as I have in the past, that most reading this understand by this point what a Video Nasty is; if not, a simple web search on the subject yields hours of reading material). The director, Romano Scavolini, UK distributor actually released a slightly longer version than the approved cut by the DPP, and so he spent 18 months in jail because of it – the only filmmaker distributor during that ridiculous era of censorship to actually do jail time. Unfortunately, the film itself is pretty bad – coming off often as nothing more than a bad Halloween (at one point the killer dons a mask for no other apparent reason than to cash in on the The Shape) and Maniac (the film’s seedy New York setting) rip-off – only briefly showing glimpses of some kind of coherent filmmaking and coalescing tone and theme. There are times when it is conceivable to see just what Scavolini was going for, and by God, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain seems like a coherent horror film; however, as soon as those thoughts creep into the viewer’s head, Nightmares in a Damaged Brain does something – or cuts to something so random – so inane that it just proves what’s really going on here: schlock. Even with all of the film’s problems, the die-hard slasher fan will probably find something to enjoy here, and the film certainly needs to be seen for its historical importance during the era of the video nasty.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Director Retrospective #3 – Sydney Pollack

When I first decided to do director retrospectives for this blog, my mind immediately went towards the polarizing auteur ilk (which explain my first two choices for this series being Oliver Stone and Ken Russell) because it seemed like would be easiest since – no matter how bad the film – there would most likely always be something to talk about. Yes, I’ve been selective so far (covering more of a certain era than all of a filmmakers oeuvre – in the case of Oliver Stone it was for my own sanity as I wasn’t sure I could make it through U-Turn and Any Given Sunday a second time) in the sense that I’m really just cherry-picking the films I want to talk about. I knew that if I wanted to do another retrospective, I wanted to go in the complete opposite direction as my first two choices which led me to my decision to cover the films (in some cases watching them for the first time) of Sydney Pollack. More info after the jump...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer of Slash: The Burning

I wrote about The Burning when I first started my blog four years ago. The review – which was really short – sucked. I believe it’s still on here somewhere, so if you’re so inclined to search for it – all-the-while seeing what a horribly inept writer I was when I started this thing in 2008 – do so at your own risk (I believe it was part of the first Halloween-themed series I did for the blog, and I unfairly attached my review of the film to the sort-of-similar, but annoyingly tongue-in-cheek, Hatchet). So this is to say that I don’t think I’ve ever given The Burning – certainly one of the most important slasher movies to come out in that oh-so-fruitful year of 1981 – a fair shake on this blog. I’ve seen the film about five times now (so really how bad can it be?) and each viewing improved on the one before. After my most recent viewing, I think I’ve come around quite a bit on The Burning; a film that certainly stands out as one of the best examples of the early ‘80s slasher film. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer of Slash: Without Warning

In light of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus – and whether or not it is or isn’t a good/faithful extension to his horror/sci-fi/slasher Alien – I figured I’d kick off the Summer of Slash this year with a film obviously influenced by Scott’s seminal film. Greydon Clark’s Without Warning (also known by its more apropos drive-in title It Came Without Warning) has very much in common in with Alien (and what horror/sci-fi hybrid post-1979 didn’t) in that it plays more like a slasher than a straight science fiction film about alien invaders. As I like to point out often in these Summer of Slash entries, there are a lot of films that pre-date Friday the 13th that give us a sense of what the commercialized slasher film would eventually become. Without Warning is interesting not because it’s necessarily an effective slasher movie (or even a good sci-fi movie – it is, though, an extremely likeable, goofy lark), but because it was made around the same time Friday the 13th was (Without Warning, then it would seem, just as Friday, would owe a great deal to Bava’s Bay of Blood) and predates by seven years Predator, the film it most obviously reminds the viewer of with its alien hunter throwing killer Frisbees around for sport (an interesting link to Predator is found in Kevin Peter Hall who also plays the alien here).

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Rookie (1990)

I knew I wanted to review watch and review The Rookie after I was done with the Dirty Harry movies because it seemed like a natural bookend to the series I did back in March. Well, it took me about three months, but I finally got around to writing about Clint’s ‘90s action bomb. What other blogger, I ask, would be so dedicated to delivering a piece on something as insignificant as this movie? If you’re at all curious about the movie by the time you finish this, it’s playing on Netflix Instant right now. Enjoy.

During Spring Break, I decided to go through the Dirty Harry Blu-Ray set and a funny thing happened: I got the urge to watch more of Clint shooting bad guys. That’s a good thing, right? Now, as I stated in my reviews back in March, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan when it comes to Clint behind the camera – and really, as we found with the directors like Ted Post and Buddy Van Horn, even if he isn’t given “directed by” credit, Clint still directs his movies – but I’m a sucker for Dirty Harry shooting hippies and crooked cops and other types of baddies with his .44 Magnum. I looked back at other Clint action films while I was watching the Dirty Harry series, and the one that stuck out the most to me – probably because it seemed like a natural progression for Eastwood even though he had retired the Harry character with The Dead Pool – was his 1990 film The Rookie. Unlike The Gauntlet (classic Clint action film) or Tightrope (a nice break from the mold for Clint as it delved a little darker into the psycho-sexual thriller subgenre) – two films made while he was still making Dirty Harry movies – The Rookie is a giant piece of shit of a movie. In fact, it’s the argument against those of us that pine for the “good old days” in modern action films. There’s a lot of us out there that decry the modern action film as too spastic (Bourne), serious (Nolan’s Batman), or self-aware (Crank 2), but The Rookie is proof that it wasn’t all John Matrix quipping as he single-handedly destroyed an army, Riggs’ and Murtough’s antics, or even Clint’s own (usually) straight-forward approach to the action film; no, that nostalgic twinge for the good ‘ol days of the action film lends itself to certain blind spots about the ‘90s action film (The Last Boy Scout, anyone?), and Eastwood’s The Rookie is certainly one of the worst offenders of that ever so subgenre-rich decade.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The West Wing -- Season 5

TV fans are a funny folk; we have a tendency to revere certain writers and producers to the point where they become infallible. The worst of this bares itself out when should the writer/producer not continue to write for the show they helped create – and that show continues to produce new episodes under the guidance of another producer – we completely dismiss the show’s new voice. Perhaps I am describing you – I know I am describing me; it’s one of my biggest faults when it comes to getting invested in a television show. Perhaps I am not describing you, but it does seem that this does, to some extent, describe the fan of the Aaron Sorkin-penned/produced seasons of “The West Wing.”

What is easily one of the great television runs in modern history, Sorkin’s first three seasons (and part of the fourth) of an idealized, Capra-esque White House – and the staff that inhabited it – was always funny, rapid-paced, capable of sparking great discussion, and highly dramatic. Season one contains one of the great television theses on the death penalty (an amazing fete in how Sorkin tones down his liberalism and considers the hot-button topic from an array of points of view). Season two and three were so packed with great episodes that I often go back and forth deciding which season stands as my favorite. In season four, however,  Sorkin would write and produce (let us not forget about Thomas Schlamme who was just as important) his last season as his differences with the production company (read: Sorkin had a tendency to go over budget and take forever with his shoots) were getting so divisive that even though Sorkin cited season four as “a return to form,” he and Schlamme decided to split – leaving one of the best written shows in the history of television in the hands of the more-producer-than-writer John Wells.