Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Other (1972)

The Other is a slooooooow burn. Some might say it simmers. Others might say the cook forgot to switch on the burner during parts. Let's be frank here. It gets a little tedious at times. I dozed off about forty minutes in. This has nothing to do with the lack of on screen kills or nudity. The picture just tends to meander. Yet, it does eventually manage to ignite. This thing ends in an eruption of (possible spoiler) Kentucky fried baby, extra spicy.*

The Other is the story of the Perry family. A typical family living on a farm in 1930s Connecticut. The opening of the film introduces us to eleven year old twin boys, Niles and Holland Perry. Holland gets the two involved in various forms of mischief involving rats, pitchforks, pushing mother down the stairs, spoiling magic shows for everyone, babynapping, etc. Also, Holland's dead, killed about a year before, a result of falling into a well (while about to drop a kitty down the well) . Whether or not he's a ghost, a figment of Nile's imagination, or in possession of Niles is left fairly ambiguous. Sort of. Also living on the farm are their immigrant grandmother (Uta Hagen), their shell shocked mother, an immigrant farmhand, their uncle, a young John Ritter and his wife, and a cousin (same age as Niles - also a reputed snitch).

Interestingly, the director (Robert Mulligan - To Kill a Mockingbird) never shows Niles and Holland, despite being played by real twins (Chris and Martin Udvarnovsky), in the same shot. This plays up the ambiguity as to whether or not Holland is a physical entity, a ghost, or inside Nile's head. Like I said earlier, the movie meanders, goes off on weird little tangents. Like the part where Nile's grandmother teaches him how to see the world through the eyes of a bird, predating The Beastmaster by a good ten years. The bird soars through the sky and catches a glimpse of a pitchfork left in a pile of hay that Nile's young tattle tale cousin is about to jump into. What's one more funeral for the Perry family?

About an hour into this thing, after I woke up, the grandmother takes Niles aside and is like "look you little brat, your brother's dead, died last year, fell in a well. Stop acting like he's still around, start acting like a normal fucking child, etc. Look, don't believe me" - yanks him to the cemetery - "here's his god damned grave stone" - huge reveal, stunned musical notes - "see, it says 'Holland fucking Perry'! Get over it, sheesh!" Ok, I may have paraphrased a bit there, but you get the idea. Niles seems to go along with grandma until late that very night when she comes down the stairs to find him still talking to Holland. She just sits down and shakes her head. Seriously though, it's all Grandma's fault. She's an enabler. She went along with this innocent "game" after the funeral. Should have put an end to things then, didn't expect things to go quite this far. We got one dead cousin, one dead neighbor, a snatched - possibly murdered - baby, spoiled magic tricks, one paraplegic mother, and lots more general mayhem-ic shit.

The relationship between Niles and his grandmother is actually pretty sweet. It has to be considering the state his mother's been in since the death of Holland, and, before that, her husband/their father. She doesn't leave her bed, barely eats, never speaks or engages in any type of motherly behavior. Then "Holland" pushes her down some stairs rendering her completely immobile. So yeah, grandma's got her hands full. Niles clearly has issues. Like, why is he carrying around a small case containing a ring that was supposed to have been buried with Holland? Also, what's with the wrapped up - spoiler - severed finger in the same case?

Of all the killer kid movies I've seen, I can say that this is better than something like Devil Times Five. It's no masterpiece and has difficulty sustaining itself for its full run time. Still, I gotta be honest. I sorta appreciated the meandering. The picture doesn't rely on cheap scares, quick editing, blood, gore, tits, etc. We got a general creepiness that slowly evolves into a terrific, and horrifying, conclusion. The finale is almost enhanced by the meandering, as long as you're awake for it.

*note: baby not fried

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Top Ten Films of 2009!

When I originally set out to do this list (some time ago) I thought I'd have trouble coming up with ten films I really liked. While perusing the list of films released in 2009 I started to realize how great the year had actually been. How in hell was I going to keep this thing limited to just ten pictures? Consider some of the pictures that just missed the cut: Coraline, Watchmen, Knowing, Star Trek, Up, Avatar, etc. Shit man, I could probably do a list of twenty and not be stretching things too badly at the end. Anyway, enough with the bullshit. I'm gonna just give you the list. Short and sweet. Feel free to post porn links in the comments.

10. My Bloody Valentine 3D

Do I really think this is one of the top ten pictures of 2009? No fucking chance. But this is Moving Picture Trash after all so it makes the list. This thing's got it all. Tits, gore, Tom Atkins, 3D, and that iconic gas mask. It's not even better than the original but I'm still putting it on the list. Hell, I can barely remember the plot. There's a mine, a masked killer, a teen party, and a bit of a mystery as to the killer's identity. The scene that sold me was the one at the hotel where some naked broad runs from the killer for an extended amount of time. Jiggling in 3D. Yeah, it's probably a piece of shit. Yet, here it is.

9. World's Greatest Dad

Holy fucking shit, this picture pretty much came out of no where to hit me right where it counts. Bobcat Goldthwait , yes that Bobcat Goldthwait, directs Robin Williams in what has to be his best performance in years. Williams is Lance Clayton, an unpopular and soon to be downsized high school poetry teacher. Clayton's directionless son (a hilarious Daryl Sabara) attends the same school. His son's one passion in life is internet porn. Really fucking filthy internet porn. One night, Clayton comes home and finds his son in his room, blankly staring at some filthy shit on his computer, with a belt tied around his neck. Dead. Auto erotically asphyxiated. Clayton covers it up and writes a suicide note which makes its way into the school paper and before long his dead son has become a national folk hero. A fucking tragic figure whose depth goes beyond simply labeling all music "gay". Clayton's lie escalates to the point that the entire school becomes Bruce Hornsby fans. And Clayton gets the girl he pines for (from behind), while becoming the school's most popular teacher. Not since Election has a movie deconstructed the shittery that is High School and made me laugh so hard while doing it.

8. Where The Wild Things Are

I've already reviewed this picture here so I'll keep this to a minimum. It's been a while since I've seen it but I still think about it from time to time and can't wait to watch it again. The picture made me a little melancholy in that it made me wish I was a kid again. Yeah, it's a picture about growing up but it's also about just enjoying the ride to adulthood. Sure, there might be some hardships and pain along the way, but there's also lots of building things and then destroying them. That's fun too. And a great soundtrack by Karen O.

7. Moon

It's been a long time since I've seen this one (early summer 2009 I believe). Hence, the problem with these lists, especially considering I haven't written up everything I've seen. I do love intelligent sci-fi. I love character based sci-fi. Basically, we got Sam Rockwell starring as Sam Bell, an employee of lunar industries, working on the moon, mining for helium. His job is to maintain the equipment. His sole companion is a robot named GERTY (terrific voice work by Kevin Spacey). Sam is nearing the end of his three year contract, at which point he will return to Earth, making way for his replacement. Towards the end, Sam starts to lose it, hallucinates, and crashes his moon rover, later waking up in the infirmary. How did he get back? Something seems wrong. Things begin to spiral out of control, he starts to question his mission. GERTY tries to remain helpful. To reveal anything further about the story would be to massively spoil it. This is quiet, introspective (but not boring) sci-fi at its best. The director, Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) is on my radar.

6. Observe & Report

This might be the most polarizing picture on this list. People I've talked to seem to either love it or hate it. Seth Rogen, as Ronnie Barnhardt has never been better (or creepier). Somehow, we still kinda root for the guy. Rogen plays a mall security guard desperate to be a police officer. So desperate, that he vows to solve the case of the parking lot flasher (yeah, we see some junk). Ray Liotta plays the actual cop assigned to the case. Anna Farris (hilarious) is the flashee. The movie is dark (probably too dark for some) and frequently funny. What lands it on this list are the performances and the underlying sweetness which, while struggling to surface, never gets in the way of the laughter. Danny McBride, per usual, steals his scene. The ending involves Ronnie's best Travis Bickle impersonation that works because it's in his character. This isn't Paul Blart. It's fucked up. If you liked The Foot Fist Way or East Bound and Down, also by director Jody Hill, you'll appreciate this.

5. A Serious Man

I'm not even sure where to begin with this one. I should probably watch it again, but fuck it. I'm putting it on this list. Late 60s. Minnessota. Jewish community. Rabbis. Dybbuks. Bar Mitzvah's. Jefferson Airplane's "somebody to love". Extreme weather. Shit man, only the Coen Brothers could make this work. I think they did. Michael Stuhlbarg (who?) gives one of the years top performances as Larry Gopnik, a math teacher and all around nice guy, that bad things seem to keep happening to. I guess he's Job (I've heard of the story, never read it). His wife is divorcing him for his best friend, his son is an F troop junkie and pot addict, his brother Arthur has been sleeping on the couch for a while, one of his students attempts to bribe him for a good grade, someone is sending anonymous letters to his school's faculty in an attempt to prevent him from getting tenure. And these are the least of his problems. He sees a couple rabbis (who progressively become funnier and weirder) but they just tell him seemingly unrelated stories. The third rabbi (The man behind the desk - a Coen staple) is too important (and old) to even see him. Things seem to get better and then there's a phone call and what's with that funnel cloud. I don't know, this is just one of those movies I guess. Would make a good double with Barton Fink. Lots of Yiddish in this one that flew over my head but never stopped me from being compelled. It's also very funny. And, oh boy, what an ending.

4. Inglorious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino's version of a World War II movie isn't even a World War II movie. Really. It's a remake (in name only, except for the spelling of Bastards) of a 1970s exploitation-y war picture. Hell, this picture isn't even about the Basterds. They're a part of it sure. Basically, they're a squad of allies sent behind enemy lines to kill nazis. Utimately, it's a revenge picture broken up into four chapters. Like most Tarantino pictures the influences are all over the map. We got spaghetti westerns, men on a mission pictures (The Dirty Dozen), De Palma pictures, lots of weird musical choices that work, perfectly (David Bowie's Cat People song....what the fuck?), and some great star making performances (Christopher Waltz as Hans Landa is almost certainly going to be the best supporting actor winner this year). The first time I saw it I was put off by the juvenile ending (Tarantino remaking the end of the war). The second viewing I practically embraced the choice. It's a movie for people who love movies. Just like all his pictures.

3. District 9

District 9 is almost perfect. At times evoking Cronenberg's The Fly, Verhoeven when he's at the top of his game, modern docu-style war films, etc. It's violent, moving, funny. What happens when an alien race that resemble fish men ("Prawns") break down over Johannesburg, South Africa? They're offered "assistance", which is to say placed in camps and forced to endure a slum life. Sharlto Copley, as Wikus Van de Merwe, is a revealation in his first acting role. His character starts off as a boobish bureaucrat (kinda remiscent of David Brent), placed in charge of relocating the aliens from district 9 (a concentration camp) to district 10 (a concentration camp further away from the city). Things don't go as planned, there's some brutality, aliens and humans die, and Wikus is infected with some sort of alien goop. Wikus, who in an earlier scene callously destroys alien eggs, comes to empathize with the oppressed. Perfection is lost (only a little) in the heavy handed message. Still, one of the best pictures of the year.

2. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Werner Herzog. Vintage Nicholas Cage. "Remake" of Abel Ferrara's own Bad Lieutenant. Val Kilmer. Iguanas. Will the baby alligator seek vengeance for it's road kill momma? Dancing spirits. Smart. Hilarious. Eminently re-watchable. Cage asking a young clubber "did your parents molest you?" Iguanas. "There ain't no iguana".

1. The Hurt Locker

I like Kathryn Bigelow. Always have. But there's no way anyone could have predicted she was capable of this. Point Break is good. Near Dark is good. Hell, I'm a fan of Blue Steel. Missed K-19. The Hurt Locker is one of the best war movies I've seen in a very long time. Expertly filmed action scenes filled with unbearable amounts of tension. A brilliant opening scene that immediately lets us know what the stakes are. We basically have a bomb squad locating and disabling IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq. While protecting themselves from an enemy that could be hiding anywhere, always watching. Jeremy Renner is Staff Sergeant William James, the replacement Sergeant for Bravo companies bomb squad (previous Sergeant killed). I knew Renner would become a star after seeing him in 28 Weeks Later. I guess this is his coming out party. James is an interesting character; brash, compassionate, cocky, humble. The story is simple. The politics on the back burner. Here's a refreshing twist on a war film; Yeah, war is hell but how about we focus on the job at hand and try to get the hell out of there? Exciting and heart breaking. A thinking/feeling person's action/war film.

Honorable Mentions:

Star Trek
Land of the Lost
The Road
Fantastic Mr. Fox

Friday, January 8, 2010

Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

So, I realize I've been MIA for a while. Nothing serious. I didn't die or anything like that. I didn't stop watching shit. All that happened was I got a little burned out from working two jobs, one of which is in retail. Put the retail together with the holiday season and you can maybe imagine not having the energy to write after getting home around midnight (with an early wake up looming the next morning). I'm gonna try to be better about this kind of shit in the new year. I've already scaled back my hours a bit at the second job. Of course, that means less money to buy booze but I guess I'll have to make do. I also realize that I've got no top ten list for 2009. I'll try to get something done by the end of the January. Gotta be honest, not sure if I saw ten movies from 2009 that I loved enough to fill up a list. Not sure I saw enough movies I hated to fill up a list either. Oh well, I'll try to get something but I gotta be honest again: I'm not a big fan of compiling lists.

Anyway, 2010 is off to a good start. I watched this little picture from the early 80s with a very (too?) young Jennifer Jason Leigh called Eyes of a Stranger. Tom Savini did the effects but I have a feeling most of the gory shit was cut out. The guy that directed that Nazi zombie movie, Shock Waves, directed this as well. Basically, what we got here is Rear Window by way of The Miracle Worker. Jason Leigh is the Helen Keller part, rendered deaf, blind, and mute by a childhood trauma (involved abduction and other unsavory details). She now lives in a luxurious apartment building with her newswoman sister, Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes), in Miami. Meanwhile, there's some psychopath going around the city prank calling women, fondling their breasts, and then murdering them. Thankfully, Leigh is sheltered from this kind of stuff since she can't read the paper, listen to the radio, or watch her sister deliver the news reports.

Turns out, their apartment tower has a twin. What are the chances the killer lives directly across from their balcony? In a city of millions, I would figure not very good but since this is a movie I'd say the odds are more likely 1:1. The picture does a poor job of concealing the killer's identity. I mean, it could only be that creepy businessman who comes home late one night, parks in the garage (while Jane watches), has blood on his shirt, and disposes of some suspicious garments in the trash. Jane is already paranoid as indicated by the scene(s) where she interrupts her news casting partner to reiterate that women should report anything they see that appears out of the ordinary (1981 predates 9/11/01 so this is some eery shit).

Jane figures out which apartment the guy lives in (via some Nancy Drew-ish type bullshit) and then begins an investigation of her own. At one point, she even steals his key from the super, snoops around his place, etc only to have the creep come home mid-snoop, leading to a daring escape by swinging down to the balcony below. The suspense from this picture is generated not by the killer's identity, but, I guess, by who will live and who will get their head hacked off and shoved in a fish bowl. I can deal with this type of suspense.

John Disanti plays the killer as sort of a blank. He's good. We know the guy wears suits but we don't know what he does for a living (besides raping and murdering). We know he's got resources which allow him to get ladies phone numbers and also know when they are home or at work alone. His abilities frequently border on the supernatural such as the time he calls the secretary that's working late at her desk. She flees to the elevator and he calls her there. Then she flees to the her car in the underground garage and I'm pretty sure he's gonna be waiting for her in the back seat. See, here's what doesn't make sense about this scene. It becomes established that the secretary heard music on the other end of the phone. Jane discovers that this music came from the cuckoo clock in the killer's apartment. Now, how in hell did the killer get from his apartment (where presumably he called from) to the parking garage - miles away- in a matter of seconds? Wait, am I actually dissecting Eyes of a Stranger? Moving on.

There are a couple effective scare scenes. One involves a stripper, as these type of scenes usually do. Our killer (who, by the way, sorta looks like Raymond Burr) follows a stripper home from her club (plenty of boobies there). She gets home, takes a shower. We expect a slow Hitchcockian build up to her death. Not really. Immediately after starting her shower, she turns around (more boobies) and sees the killer with his face planted on the shower door. It's jarringly unexpected, which is why it works so well. The other scene involves Jennifer Jason Leigh being home alone only to have the killer break in, strangle her seeing eye dog, and then fuck with her. His fucking with her involves rearranging things around the apartment. At first, it's kinda silly but quickly progresses to disturbing. Of course, he wildly underestimates Jason Leigh's character. Yes, we see her breasts. I'm still not sure if she's of appropriate age. I guess I could look it up but I don't really want to know the answer.

Anyway, this is a pretty good picture. As far as Rear Window knock offs go I'd say it's about on par with Mimic 3 and Abominable. There's not an original bone in it's body. The cinematography is pedestrian. The performances are mostly solid though, especially John Disanti as the killer and Jason Leigh (in a mostly silent performance). It's probably worth your time. This was Jennifer Jason Leigh's first performance. Also, her breasts.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Altered (2006)

Altered is the long awaited follow up to Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick's The Blair Witch Project (this time, minus the Daniel Myrick). Well, maybe not so "long awaited" after all, I mean, I never heard of this one until a friend stuck it in my hand last week and told me to watch it. I always wondered what happened to Sanchez and Myrick though. I guess they found out making real movies is tougher than shooting a couple of douche bags lost in the woods and shaking the camera around real fast. I'm mostly kidding. Blair Witch is an effective little chiller but it's not something I would show film school students. Of course, it went on to spawn a series of copycats (Cloverfield, REC, Paranormal Activity, etc) in the so called "found footage" genre, some more successful than others. Hell, it was even accused of being a copycat itself (by that pretty shitty Jersey devil movie that I can't remember the name of). Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that Altered is actually a real movie. We got real actors, constructed scenes not involving running while the camera shoots the ground, and real (often shitty) special effects. I kinda liked it.

Although, I think I liked the idea of the premise more than the actual execution. What we have here is an alien abduction picture only where the tables have been turned on the alien. Three country bumpkins (in their 20s) venture out into the woods (the scene of their abduction, by evil little green men, when they were teenagers). Their plan: to abduct a little green fucker and then, I guess, torture him. I don't really think they thought this thing through beyond the simple notion of vengeance. See, it turns out that five teens were abducted, but only four returned (our three numb skulls here, and also some survivalist named Wyatt who, coincidentally, doesn't live too far away from the scene of this particular space crime). The fifth guy apparently caught some sort of alien wasting disease and died during experimentation. As luck would have it, aliens are always out and about in these particular woods so catching one proves easy. A bit too easy perhaps. With bound alien in tow, the three friends head for Wyatt's isolated house, where a battle of wits, followed by an actual physical battle, commences.

The picture actually manages to be creepy, at least for the first half. We see the alien in pieces. Forehead here, arm there, claw over there. It spends most of the movie wrapped in cloth, tied to a table, and helmeted. Turns out Wyatt was the only one to have received successful experimentation, which means, I guess, he can read minds and is immune to the wasting disease they spread (through biting or clawing). We've got conflict between the friends (Wyatt wonders what purpose they're serving by bringing the thing here when all it has to do is telepathically communicate with it's friends to find it's location and also did you know that if one alien dies then the aliens will think nothing of curing the earth of humans?). There's also a conflict between the alien (when it wakes up) and the humans which consists mainly of biting and clawing, nail gunning, acts of torture, mind control, taunting, etc. It's an evil little green mother fucker basically.

I appreciated the fact that the alien was just a man in a rubber suit. The thing looked like a cross between Streiber's little gray men and Ripley's toothy Xenomorphs. Unfortunately, towards the end we see way too much of the thing (culminating in a ridiculous scene where it flies through the air at Wyatt - I think I've pretty much established him as the hero). I also had trouble figuring out motives of an alien race that travels billions of light years just to fuck with rednecks. What's with the fucking scene where the thing digs out one redneck's intestines and threatens to yank them all the way out if other rednecks come any closer? There's lots of this type of shit. Thankfully, the gore is effective (if a little bit comical at times). The acting is inconsistent as well. Adam Kauffman (as Wyatt) gives probably the most consistent performance with Brad William Henke (as Duke) fluctuating wildly between a "dag gummit" sheep farmer and a Seth Rogan type stoner. Hell, the best performance may have been James Gammon as the sheriff (it's a small part) who asks for something stronger than beer as his intestines mop the floor.

The conclusion sorta just comes out of nowhere and we're not really set up for it. These aliens have the ability to wipe out humanity with the push of a button but are apparently suseptible to a little C4. Still, nit picks aside I liked the thing. Some scenes actually border of the scary. Similar to Shyamalan's mostly brilliant Signs, it falls apart a little at the end (substitute water for explosives I guess). Like Signs, we see way too much of the creatures at the end. I'm excited to see where Sanchez goes from here. As a director, he's better than Syfy quality. Perhaps something that might hit a theatre or two, like ParaAbnormal or Blair Witch 3? Holy shit, I didn't make those up.