Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Eighties Experiment

Some of you might know how I've been going through "an 80's thing" for a little while.   Some of you might call that a dramatic understatement.

It all began when I was preparing to write the dream project that I'm sure I've bored most of you about already: the set-in-the-80's sci-fi action-comedy script that I've been kicking around and adding to since I was in high school, back in 1987.  

I thought about all the 80's movies that I loved or even vaguely recalled as a kid.  Stuff about robots, video arcades, super-vehicles, crazy stunts, tough cops, et cetera.  I decided to track down a few of these films that I hadn't seen in years and see them again, many for the first time in twenty years, to see what held up and what didn't and to see if I could fall back into them through their greatness and/or despite their faults.  

The thinking was/is... In order to recapture the adventure, the fun and the greatness of the Best Movies of the 80's, I would have to study the genre film by film and hopefully soak in, even unconsciously, what made them great.  

"Method writing," if you will.

I made a list and started compiling movies and watching them all over again, then added another few titles to the list... and again... and again.  I began with mostly genre stuff (sci-fi, action-adventure) but ended up expanding the list whenever and however I saw fit at any given moment.

Cut to: over a year later... (!)  What started as a twenty-five film list just exploded.  I'm still going at it with a few more titles to go.  But, it's time to grow up again, to finally cut this experiment to an end and move on, or else I'll just keep watching more and more of these flicks, this will never end and I'll never get this thing written -- which is already a far too recurring theme in my current creative output.  Or lack thereof.

I kept a list of how I liked the above 80's movies and figured I'd share it.  Now, please don't look at some of the ratings and think, "How could this fool rate that Burt Reynolds movie over that Clint Eastwood movie?" or "How could he not give that movie I love four stars?"   It's not meant to be the end-all-be-all of movie lists and there's no such thing as a "right" opinion.  To be fair, there are a lot of guilty pleasures on the list that get a pass just because I still find them funnyish or cleverish, personally.

And there are tons of movies that aren't on the list or that I just haven't gotten 'round to watching again.  (I still have Shanghai Surprise, Secret Admirer and The Ice Pirates to watch, for example.)  It's all very subjective and these are just one guy's opinions on an experiment that's been a real blast but has taken faaaaaar too long.   I'm just putting this out there for fun's sake.  For the most part, you'll notice that I like a lot more movies one way or another than I don't. I usually try to find something to praise about a movie, somehow.

Anything that gets two and a half stars ("good") or better gets a recommendation from me of some sort.  Be it some saucy humor, a good bar room brawl, car chase or laser gun fight.  Also, I cheated and put some late 70's movies in there, too, since most of those ones I'd never gotten around to seeing until at least the 80's anyway.  That, or they retain some of the 80's film spirit that I remember so fondly as a kid checking out the new releases wall at the local video shop.  Anyway, here we go.  Compare, contrast, and have fun! 

The Eighties Experiment

Alien (1979)  ****
Aliens (1986)  ****
Back To The Future (1985)  ****
Back To The Future Part II (1989)  ***1/2
Back To The Future Part III (*1990) ***
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)  ****
Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)  ***
The Cannonball Run (1981)  ***
Cannonball Run II (1984)  **1/2
Ghostbusters (1984)  ****
Ghostbusters II (1989)  **1/2
Mad Max (1979)  ****
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)  ***1/2
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)  ***1/2
Poltergeist (1982)  ****
Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1985)  **1/2
Poltergeist III (1988)  *1/2
Porky's (1981) ***
Porky's II: The Next Day (1983) **1/2
Porky's Revenge (1985) **1/2
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)  ****
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)  ****
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)  ***1/2
Smokey and the Bandit (*1977) ***1/2
Smokey and the Bandit, Part 2 (1980) **1/2
Smokey and the Bandit, Part 3 (1983) **1/2
Star Wars: A New Hope (*1977)  ****
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)  ****
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)  ***1/2
Superman (*1978)  ****
Superman II: Theatrical (1980)  ***1/2
Superman II: The Donner Cut (1980/2006)  ***1/2
Superman III (1983)  ***
The Warriors: Original Theatrical Cut (*1979)  ***
The Warriors: Ultimate Director's Cut (2005)  **1/2
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (*1977)  ****
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (*1978)  ****
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)  **** 
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)  ****
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)  ****
To Live and Die in L.A. (1986)  ****
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)  ****
The Blues Brothers (1980)  ****
The Untouchables (1987)  ****
This Is Spinal Tap (1981) ****
Lost In America (1985)  ****
Something Wild (1987)  ****
Running Scared (1986)  ****
Raising Arizona (1987)  ****
The Terminator (1984)  ****
Lethal Weapon (1987)  ****
Koyaanisqatsi (1982)  ****
Midnight Run (1988)  ****
Time Bandits (1981)  ****
Blade Runner (1982)  ****
The Shining (1980)  ****
Miracle Mile (1988) ****
Blue Velvet (1985)  **** 
Evil Dead 2 (1987)  ****
Meatballs (*1979)  ****
Die Hard (1988)  ****
Predator (1987)  ****
Airplane! (1980)  ****
Diner (1982)  ****
Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)  ***1/2
Miami Vice: The Prodigal Son (TV, 1985)  ***1/2
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)  ***1/2
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)  ***1/2
Some Kind of Wonderful (1986)  ***1/2
Married To The Mob (1987)  ***1/2
Police Academy (1984)  ***1/2
Risky Business (1982)  ***1/2
At Close Range (1986)  ***1/2
Sid and Nancy (1986)  ***1/2
Bachelor Party (1984)  ***1/2
The Outsiders (1983)  ***1/2
Silver Streak (*1976)  ***1/2
The Big Easy (1986)  ***1/2
Paris, Texas (1984)  ***1/2
The Goonies (1985)  ***1/2
The Natural (1984)  ***1/2
WarGames (1983)  ***1/2
Beetlejuice (1988)  ***1/2
Innerspace (1987)  ***1/2
The Verdict (1982) ***1/2
Mona Lisa (1986)  ***1/2
Manhunter (1985) ***1/2
Body Heat (1981)  ***1/2
Brainstorm (1983) ***1/2
D.A.R.Y.L. (1985) ***1/2
D.C. Cab (1983)  ***1/2
Gremlins (1984)  ***1/2
Stripes (1981)  ***1/2
Foxes (1980)  ***1/2
Barfly (1987)  ***1/2
Tron (1982)  ***1/2
Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1983)  ***
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)  ***
Max Headroom: The Complete Series (TV) ***
Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling (1986)  ***
The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)  ***
The Man with One Red Shoe (1987)  ***
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)  ***
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) ***
Bright Lights, Big City (1988)  ***
8 Million Ways To Die (1986)  ***
Tom Waits: Big Time (1988)  ***
The Last Starfighter (1984) ***
The Monster Squad (1987) ***
Brewster's Millions (1985)  ***
Corvette Summer (*1978)  ***
Johnny Handsome (1989) ***
Modern Problems (1981)  ***
Band of the Hand (1986)  ***
Family Business (1989)  ***
Prince of the City (1981) ***
Stormy Monday (1988)  ***
The Quiet Earth (1985)  ***
Vampire's Kiss (1988)  ***
Promised Land (1987)  ***
Doctor Detroit (1983)  ***
Spies Like Us (1986)  ***
Three Amigos (1986)  ***
The Gauntlet (*1977)  ***
Runaway Train (1985) ***
Blue Thunder (1983)  ***
Body Double (1984)  ***
Rumble Fish (1983)  ***
Slam Dance (1987)  ***
Stroker Ace (1981)  ***
The Howling (1981)  ***
Sea of Love (1989)  ***
Crossroads (1986)  ***
Wise Guys (1986)  ***
52 Pick-Up (1986)  ***
Shakedown (1988) ***
Pale Rider (1985)  ***
The 'Burbs (1989)  ***
Valley Girl (1984)  ***
Automatic (1995)  ***
Superfuzz (1982)  ***
Red Heat (1988)  ***
Big Shots (1987) ***
Labyrinth (1986)  ***
Stakeout (1987)  ***
Runaway (1984)  ***
The Stuff (1985)  ***
Convoy (*1978)  ***
Dragnet (1987)  ***
Outland (1981) ***
Colors (1987)  ***
Class (1983)  ***
Cobra (1986) ***
Cop (1988)  ***
2019: After The Fall of New York (1983)  **1/2
Battlestar Galactica: The Movie (*1978)  **1/2
The Philadelphia Experiment (1986) **1/2
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)  **1/2
The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984)  **1/2
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)  **1/2
A Prayer For The Dying (1987)  **1/2
Wanted: Dead Or Alive (1986) **1/2
The Manhattan Project (1985) **1/2
Maximum Overdrive (1985)  **1/2
Concrete Cowboys (1979)  **1/2
Sharky's Machine (1982)  **1/2
The Golden Child (1986)  **1/2
The Delta Force (1986)  **1/2
American Drive-In (1985) **1/2
The Last Dragon (1985) **1/2
Cloak & Dagger (1985) **1/2
Action Jackson (1988) **1/2
Weird Science (1986)  **1/2
Capricorn One (*1979) **1/2
Streets of Fire (1984)  **1/2
Invasion U.S.A. (1985)  **1/2
Chopping Mall (1983)  **1/2
Mike's Murder (1984)  **1/2
Flash Gordon (1980)  **1/2
Times Square (1980) **1/2
The Survivors (1983)  **1/2
Return to Oz (1985)  **1/2
Dreamscape (1983)  **1/2
Silver Bullet (1985)  **1/2
Solarbabies (1986)  **1/2
The Wraith (1987)  **1/2
Spaceballs (1987)  **1/2
Nighthawks (1981) **1/2
Quicksilver (1986)  **1/2
Quiet Cool (1986)  **1/2
Megaforce (1983)  **1/2
Neighbors (1981)  **1/2
Reckless (1984)  **1/2
Explorers (1986)  **1/2
Raw Deal (1986)  **1/2
The Gate (1986)  **1/2
Six Pack (1982)  **1/2
Saturn 3 (1980)  **1/2
Trancers (1985)  **1/2
Scarface (1983)  **1/2
Wisdom (1987)  **1/2
Walker (1987)   **1/2
Zapped! (1982)  **1/2
Gotham (1988)  **1/2
Perfect (1985)  **1/2
Stick (1985)  **1/2
Tank (1984)  **1/2
Dune (1984) **1/2
Heat (1986)  **1/2
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)  **
Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984)  **
They're Playing with Fire (1984)  **
The Legend of Billy Jean (1985)  **
My Science Project (1985)  **
American Anthem (1985)  **
Enemy Territory (1987)  **
Comin' At Ya' (1981)  **
Logan's Run (*1976)  **
Thunder Run (1986)  **
Enemy Mine (1985)  **
Spacecamp (1986) **
Nightflyers (1987)  **
Def-Con 4 (1985)  **
Destroyer (1988)  **
Fear City (1984) ** 
Drive-In (*1976)  **
Cyclone (1987)  **
Tomboy (1985)  **
Wacko (1982)  **
House (1986)  **
Making Contact (1986)  *1/2
Jake Speed (1986)  *1/2
Star Crash (*1978)  *1/2
Terrorvision (1986)  *1/2
Breathless (1984)  *1/2
Joysticks (1983)  *1/2
Krull (1983)  *1/2
Firewalker (1986) *
Grizzly (*1977)  * 1/2 star
Grizzly II (1983 Workprint Edition)  * star
The Galaxy Invader (1985)   * star

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

New York / Boston - Summer 2012

Theatrical Reviews
Wild At Heart (1990)  ***1/2
Moonrise Kingdom  ***1/2
Cure For Pain: The Mark Sandman Story (Documentary)  ***
The Amazing Spider-Man  **1/2

DVD/Home Video
The Stunt Man (1980)  ****
Spider-Man 2 (2004)  ****
Lone Star (1996)  ****
Spider-Man (2002)  ***1/2
The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)  ***
Alien: Resurrection (1987)  ***
Vampire's Kiss (1988)  ***
Spider-Man 3 (2007)  ***
Slam Dance (1987)  ***
Automatic (1995)  ***
Conflict (1945)  ***
Invasion U.S.A. (1985)  **1/2
Return to Oz (1985)  **1/2
Looking for Lenny (2011)  **
Logan's Run (1976)  **
House (1986)  **
Making Contact (1986)  *1/2

The Maria Bamford Show (YouTube)  ****

LaBrava (Elmore Leonard)  ***1/2
When the Women Come Out to Dance (Elmore Leonard)  ***
The "Alien" Quartet (David Thompson)  **1/2

Friday, June 08, 2012

More Human Than Human?

Here's a conceptual question I'll throw out there for those who might be interested...  Is David Evil ?

He's an android, so by definition I'll assume he's programmable be it by use of programmed code or voice commands.  But he only seems programmable by Peter Weyland.  Though it's never explicitly stated, he seems to consider only Weyland his master (attending to him like a son).  David is defiant with Vickers (a suggested brother/sister sort of hate relationship which made me, too, believe that Vickers was in fact also a synthetic for a while - which could have been more interesting).  He often refuses to obey direct orders from various people, especially Shaw.   Not only does he not care about humans in any sort of identifiable way, he goes out of his way to lie to them, seemingly calculating equations of chance and intentionally infecting Holloway, which kills Holloway and leads to the near death of Shaw and the possible destruction of the entire mission and crew.  In fact, the his only real selfless act is trying to reach Holloway and Shaw during the storm and cable-pull them back to safety.  I suspect he only did this, though, to protect his Holloway Experiment.  Or possibly because Shaw intrigues him.  (He watches her hypersleep dreams and later snidely compliments her "survival instincts."  Very much like Ash marvels at the Xenomorph in the 1977 original.  Coincidence?)

Do we believe that he was, perhaps, programmed by Weyland to bring him a cure from the Engineers for his old age infirmaries no matter what the cost?  Or...  Do we think that he's simply exercising free will?  Perhaps he was never given the big three Prime Directives in his programming.  Do we think he has the ability to ignore them?  Bishop (Aliens) does say that earlier "artificial people" models were "a little twitchy," directly referring to Ash (Alien) but by proxy also perhaps referring to the much further back "David" android models. How much free will do we think David has?  Bishop seems to have less, citing his "behavioral inhibitors."  Ash seemed to have quite a bit, though he seemed to break down (go berserk) when forced into making the tougher choices of mission vs crew.

Interestingly, Scott chooses to end Prometheus by having the much-beset-upon Shaw rocket off into the unknown universe in search of the Engineers... alongside the severed but still capable head of David: the very person (android) who was directly responsible for the death of all her peers as well as her own alien pregnancy, near death in alien-child birth, near murder at the hands of both the Engineer and the Tentacle Monster and near-asphyxiation -- and near-crushing from the giant crashing Engineer Ship -- on LV-223's surface.. with Shaw none the wiser as to the nature of her tormentor and with him getting next to no comeuppance aside from being beheaded - which seems to him to be more of an annoyance than anything else.  Sending Shaw off into space with the very being who destroyed her whole life seems... an odd choice... for Prometheus' ending.

Unless David's had some sort of personal epiphany, Shaw would seem to be in a position of even more danger by film's end, trapped alone with perhaps the single most untrustworthy piece of cinematic hardware since the HAL-9000.   Then again, Ridley Scott similarly put everyone's most beloved psychotic killer, Doctor Lecter, onto a plane headed for safer pastures, minus a piece of his own body (his hand), back in 2001's Hannibal, so such a thing is in his history.   Hmm...

The HAL-9000 (machine) +  Hannibal Lecter (human) =  David (human-like machine)?

Theatrical Reviews
The Avengers  ****
Men in Black 3D  ***
Prometheus  **1/2

DVD/Home Video
Aliens (1986)  ****
Diner (1982)  ****
Swimming to Cambodia (1987)  ***1/2
The Outsiders (1983)  ***1/2
Galaxy Quest (1999)  ***1/2
The Cruise (1998)  ***1/2
Foxes (1980)  ***1/2
Barfly (1987)  ***1/2
Alien 3: The Assembly Cut (DVD)  ***
Bukowski: Born Into This (2003)  ***
Ninja Kids!!! (Japan, 2011)  ***
Band of the Hand (1986)  ***
Convoy (1978)  ***
The Jerky Boys: The Movie (1995)  **1/2
Wake Up, Ron Burgundy! (2004)  **1/2
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)  **1/2
Concrete Cowboys (1979)  **1/2
Mike's Murder (1984)  **1/2
The Survivors (1983)  **1/2
Megaforce (1983)  **1/2
Neighbors (1981)  **1/2
The Gate (1986)  **1/2
Gotham (1988)  **1/2
1408  **1/2
Highlander 2: Renegade Version (1991/1995)  **
Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984)  **
The Mechanic (2010)  **
Fire With Fire (1986)  **
Nightflyers (1987)  **
Fire Birds (1990)  **
Evolution (2001)  **
Tomboy (1985)  **
Cyclone (1987)  **
Star Crash (1978)  *1/2

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (George V. Higgins)  ***
Ronin (Frank Miller)  ***

Music/Spoken Word
Paul McCartney & Wings: Wingspan  ****
Henry Rollins: Northhampton, MA (May, 2011)  ***1/2
Thief (score by Tangerine Dream)  ***1/2
B.B. King: The Best of B.B. King  ***1/2
B.B. King: Six Silver Strings  ***
Moonrise Kingdom (score by Alexande Desplat)  ***
Nightflyers (score by Tangerine Dream)  ***
The Avengers (score by Alan Silvestri)  ***
Rush: 2112  ***
Men in Black III (score by Danny Elfman)  **1/2
Prometheus (score by Marc Streitenfeld)  **1/2

Friday, April 20, 2012

From Alien to Prometheus: Visions of Time

Alien: Perfect suspense horror.

Aliens: Perfect suspense action.

Alien 3: Some big mistakes, but decent performances.  I prefer the DVD box set extended-cut to the theatrical.

Alien Resurrection: Also some big mistakes but it's solid b-movie comic book fun.  Love Sigourney... but I wish the film were smarter.

One thing that bothers me about the Alien series is all the time jumps.  I understand that Alien takes place in the year 2115.  I can buy that.  It would probably take that much time to get us into space so often that we'd have regular freight routes like the Nostromo might use.  Then Aliens jumps 57 years to 2172 and that's fine since that duration seems plausible enough for Ripley to have been floating around out there (her daughter and friends back home have passed on, she's Sleeping Beauty).  Aliens leaves her, Newt and Hicks in cryostasis again until Alien 3 picks up... when?  My research doesn't turn up a listing for the year that Alien 3 takes place in, though I feel that it's meant to take place immediately after Aliens.  So, timewise, Aliens and Alien 3 are pretty much one long movie.  And after Alien 3 comes to a close, we jump 200 years ahead to Alien Resurrection, presumably set in 2372.

And all that's changed in 250 years, from Ripley's basic Alien timeline and the Resurrection timeline is...  Cloning?  Laser-melted alcohol?  Sexier androids (Ryder)?  Galactic freighters don't seem to have changed much, nor language, recreational sports (basketball), sexual attitudes (Perlman) or wheelchairs (Pinon).  That's what always bothered me most about Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection: that there just wasn't enough imagination in them.  Scott's Nostromo is both a nightmarish hanuted house in space and a giant live-in truck, basically sent out there to gather materials and transport them home to Earth, isn't it?  In film, it's pretty much the first of it's particular kind (aside possibly from Dark Star and maybe Silent Running).  Cameron's vision of LV-246 is still unmatched to this day in it's realistic-feeling workaday portrayal of the terraforming colony and far more sprawling and even daring in its tech visions (the anime-like cargo-loaders).

Alien 3 and Resurrection feel been there done that in design and portrayal.  The "wooden planet" from Vincent Ward's take on the screenplay sounded promising, though, if only intellectually (and perhaps an early spiritual sister to Aronofsky's The Fountain).  It must be daunting from a design and storytelling sense to have to come up with a cinematic future like nobody's ever seen before.  The Fifth Element seemed a poppy, happy take on Blade Runner via The Jetsons.  The vision of Zion and the scorched surfaces of The Matrix Trilogy got deeply earthy (literally so).  Right now, the only futurist vision that comes to mind as being somewhat fresh is the one of Spielberg-and-Kubrick's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.  Love it or hate it, the combination of technology and nature (oceans, fields) paints what feels to be a future within something akin to reason, whereas Spielberg's Minority Report comes fairly close except for the auto-drive freeways and cryo-prisons.

In this way, it's interesting to me that Ridley's gone back in time a bit with Prometheus.  Closer to our (the audience's) present time than any of the Alien films, his concepts of a world between the now and the far-off imagined have me wondering just what ol' Ridley's got waiting for us.  By taking the huge gap leaps through time from Alien 3 and Resurrection out of the Alien equation, he might be giving us something unexpected --  an imagined future we could possibly relate to.  This story might not deliver any forward looking predictions of still-further technical times, but then again this story seems not necessarily to need them.  We'll see our future soon enough.  In both the cinema and reality.

Read all about it:
ALIEN 3 - Vincent Ward's "Wooden Planet"
The Unrequited ALIEN 3
The ALIEN Quartet by David Thompson

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods: Going Deeper

Note to reader: There Will Be Spoilers...  
Continue only if you've seen the film already.

There are three genres of motion picture that I'm typically less than engaged by.
1. War movies.  ("Yay, let's celebrate humanity's ability to destroy itself.")
2. Weepy family drama.  (Don't we get enough of this in reality?)
3. American Horror Movies.

The main reason I have such a disconnect with the horror genre is simple.  For me: it's not very interesting.  Much can be said about the psychological nature of people, the necessity to spin a frightening story and the cathartic need to both feel that fearful excitement and then purge it.  A horror film isn't like reading a scary novel or those moments you might have known as a kid among other kids sitting around a campfire telling stories about the Hook Handed Man or some such creepy crawly oogy-boogy.  To me, those scenarios, when everything is in the imagination, are far more satisfying.  A scary movie seems like a stranger thing, as what scares one person doesn't necessarily scare another, and what scares someone one day won't necessarily scare them the next.  When I was a child I was full of fear, scared of barking dogs and thunderstorms... but not anymore.  Ghosts and monsters and Jasons and Freddies, they never really got to me.  Also, I've never been a big fan of gore, which was a huge horror movie trope of your 70's/80's horror movies and seemed to come back in a big way with the recent crop of bleached-out, grimed-up, slice-you-up-for-no-particular-reason "torture porn" films of the last ten years that just drove the genre down even deeper, as far as I'm concerned.

That said, there are plenty of exceptions of horror cinema that I really do love.  Mostly, it's monsterless regular person-on-person horror (or "psychological thrillers" as the marketing people call them now).  Classic Hitchcock, The Silence of the Lambs, Cape Fear (both versions), The ShiningAudition, The Hitcher (original). What sets those movies apart is the intellectual intent and/or artistry of the storytellers.  There are a few monster offerings that work for me: mostly Japanese offerings like the Ring and Grudge films and the works of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, classic John Carpenter, Alien, the first few episodes of The Walking Dead. And then there's horror-comedy, a tough genre to pull off but beautiful when it works. Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, ScreamAn American Werewolf in London, even Ghostbusters if you like...  It's just that for everything that comes out of nowhere and revitalizes the genre like Frank Darabont's The Mist, we're asked to sit through a dozen or more weak sauce offerings like the Saw and Hostel movies.

Which is why something like CABIN IN THE WOODS makes me so happy.  It's a great combo of all of the above.  Part psychological thriller (in that the evil humankind can do is a potent tale), part monster movie (love that anarchistic third act) and all comedy, all told with both intellectual intent and high artistry.  It's an all-too-rare thing: a movie that deconstructs genre and takes the piss from the silliest of the horror herd, all while making you laugh and maybe squirm just a little bit.  The tone of the film's poster just above pretty much says it all.

The following are a few things I've been thinking about regarding Cabin in the Woods.  Not so much a review as a laundry list of what the film does right... and other forms of imagination food and unanswered questions that the film opens doors to but never quite explains.

1. Character identification.  For a change, Cabin isn't so much a film in which we as an audience identifies with the teen/twenties victims. (Not for the most part, anyway.)  This time, the characters that are the most identifiable are the tormenters; those in the Bunker.  These guys are the ones who react the way we would - and do - as an audience as they put the kids through the paces.  The already-infamous "Fuck you" moment; the "Take off your top and show us the goods" lines...   These Puppetmasters are the ones sitting in their chairs with their food and drinks, watching things unfold as they in fact create the scenarios. They are the audience and the filmmakers and we can identify with them as both viewers and behind the scenes storytellers.  They have all the answers, and they have all the best lines.  Cabin is the only horror film I can think of right now where we're actually as engaged by those dishing out the horror, as people, as much as those receiving it. If these people weren't heading up the Sacrifice Department of Endtimes Incorporated, one gets the feeling they'd be fun to hang around with. ("You are not your job." -- Tyler Durden)

2. Image narrative. Cabin is one of those movies in which there are a great many narrative references (and so many great referential visuals) that can reward the viewer during his/her multiple viewings. The ability to slow down and go frame-by-frame via blu-ray or DVD will reveal more jokes and details than the naked eye can take in upon a single theatrical screening. Often, a movie can make a lot more money in its home-viewing run than in theaters and the visually joke-packed imagery of Cabin will keep some people entertained, re-watching and studying details of scenes and frames at home, for years (Example: That one shot with all the monsters in their cubes. I look forward to studying that one.) I like to think I'm a fairly together viewer, and I know there are probably dozens of inside jokes that I missed. Gotta love visual-narrative depth.

3. Reverse humor. The first act is nothing less than brilliant, in that all the jokes and lines that are the funniest are actually being told backwards. We're getting the punchlines before the set-ups. We can relate to and understand the humor in a line like "maintenance screws up a lot" from daily experience without being told what business we're in and who any of these characters are. But these lines still work, because they're idnetifiable in a real-life context. And the more info we're given as the film goes on rounds out that world further and helps make these moments and dialogue lines make more and more sense. To tell a joke backwards and a few moments later have it become even funnier than it would be if we knew all the facts beforehand is an unusual style of humor and more challenging and even rewarding. I applaud Cabin in the Woods for that sort of puzzle styled narrative construction.

Odds and ends: The chamber at the end. The one with the blood-filled wall etchings. It's like a missile silo, a long vertical tube at the bottom of which The Ancients seem to be hanging out. Is that platform "The Director" and our Last Two Heroes are talking and fighting on there for a reason? At first I thought "Well, maybe it's acting as a cork to keep the Ancients down there." But it seemed that the Ancients could break through anytime they wanted if they so chose to violate the Pact. Do the bloody wall etchings have a caretaker? Someone to make sure the Ancients know things are going as planned? Sounds like an intern's job to me...

If the Jock thought he had a cousin who bought the cabin but didn't really have a cousin, how did the Company make him think he had a cousin? A hired impersonator or actor like the Harbinger? A gas that makes you imagine family members? Just how long have these kids been on the Company's radar, anyway?

The Company Men (Jenkins and Whitmore) make a lot of references to "Guys Downstairs." (The Ancients) But when the Red Danger Phone rings, I remember someone saying "It's the guys Upstairs." Did I hear this wrong, maybe? And if I didn't hear it wrong, who are the "Guys Upstairs?"

I wonder who originated The Pact with the Ancients and how the monsters are decided upon and conjured/created. And what could the Ancients gain from making a Pact with humankind anyway? The blood in the wall etchings? Respect from or fear from what little of Humankind actually knows that the Ancients exist? If they just took over, they'd get all the blood/respect/fear they want. Until they killed everybody, I guess? Maybe that's why there's a Pact. To ensure future blood/respect/fear for the Ancients. I never understood this about sacrifices made to appease the gods. Sorry for my lack of knowledge regarding ritual.

And lastly, Ancients making pacts with humans... Isn't that a little like people making a pact with ants? Has there been a film or novel in which a world is entirely populated by gods like the Ancients with no humans?

Maybe some of this was all fully explained and I just missed it while having so much fun watching the film. I've always been a fan of the nuts and bolts of world-building in narrative. At least Cabin in the Woods has a depth of mythology to be considered and explored in a fun way. A lot of movies seem unfinished due to the laziness or the lack of care of the writers. Cabin has the extra-added-bonus of giving us gaps that feel as if they've been left for us to fill in the blanks ourselves, challenging us to be creative in our own right, rewarding us by jump starting our own imaginations.

You know... Just like kids sitting around a campfire telling stories. :)

An Evening with Don Hertzfeldt ****
The Cabin in the Woods ***1/2
The Raid: Redemption ***

DVD/Home Video
Running Scared (1986) ****
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) ***1/2
Futurama: Volume 5 ***1/2
Future Cops (Hong Kong, 1993) ***
Raising Cain (1992) ***
52 Pick-Up (1986) ***
Love at Large (1990) **1/2
Rumble Fish (1983) **1/2
RocknRolla (2008) **1/2
The Dukes (2007) **1/2
Ricochet (1991) **1/2
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) **
Enemy Territory (1987) **
Nothing (2005) *1/2

Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger's Irish Mob (Kevin Weeks) ***
Frank Miller's Holy Terror **1/2

Music/Spoken Word
The Best of Bill Hicks ****
Rollins' Choice (Henry Rollins, Blue Note) ****
John Carter (original score by Michael Giacchino) ***1/2
Laserhawk: The Vistors ***
Charlatan: Equinox **1/2

Monday, March 26, 2012

No News, More Reviews...

Theatrical Reviews
Life Without Principle (Hong Kong)  ***
John Carter  ***

DVD/Home Video
Audition (Japan, 1999)  ****
Koyaanisqatsi (1982)  ****
Japan's Tsunami: Caught On Camera (Documentary, UK)  ***1/2
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)  ***1/2
Visual Acousitcs (Doc, 2009)  ***1/2
At Close Range (1986)  ***1/2
Kikujiro (Japan, 1999)  ***1/2
The Bank Job (2008)  ***1/2
The Natural (1984)  ***1/2
Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcarde (Doc, 2007)  ***
The Million Dollar Hotel (2001)  *** 
Noriko's Dinner Table (Japan)  ***
Bright Lights, Big City (1988)  ***
8 Million Ways To Die (1986)  ***
Panic in Needle Park (1971)  ***
Moon Over Parador (1992)  ***
Modern Problems (1981)  ***
Family Business (1989)  ***
Take Me Home Tonight  ***
Out For Justice (1991)  ***
Captured (Doc, 2008)  ***
State of Grace (1990)  ***
Nobody's Fool (1994)  ***
Spies Like Us (1986)  ***
Three Amigos (1986)  ***
True Believer (1989)  ***
The Killer Inside Me  ***
Crossroads (1986)  ***
The Expendables  ***
The Outfit (1973)  ***
Revolver (2005)  ***
Iron Man 2  ***
They Came Back (France, 2004)  **1/2
A Prayer For The Dying (1987)  **1/2
Love Exposure (Japan)  **1/2
The Killer Elite (2011)  **1/2
Streets of Fire (1984)  **1/2
Suicide Club (Japan)  **1/2
Quiet Cool (1986)  **1/2
Perfect (1985)  **1/2
Rambo (2008)  **1/2
Tank (1984)  **1/2
What Women Want (Hong Kong)  **
The Legend of Billy Jean (1985)  **
Comin' At Ya' (1981)  **
Breathless (1984)  *1/2

Music/Spoken Word

The Adventures of Tintin (score by John Williams)  ***1/2
War Horse (score by John Williams)  ***1/2
Van Halen: A Different Kind of Truth  ***1/2
Mitch Murder: After Hours  ***
Mitch Murder: Television EP  ***
Mitch Murder: Elevator Music EP  ***
Mitch Murder: This Is Now EP  ***1/2
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross)  ***
Worship: The Dome EP  ***
Worship: Out There EP  **
Stephen Falken: Phantom Tracks, Volume One  ***
Lazerhawk: Redline  ***
Com Truise: Galactic Melt  **1/2

Drew Struzan: Oevure  ****
Spider-Man: Noir (Marvel)  ***
Spider-Man: Noir - Eyes Without A Face (Marvel)  ***
Machine Man: Four-Issue Limited Series (1982)  **1/2

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fall/Winter - 2011/2012

Theatrical Reviews:
The French Connection (1971)  ****
Battle Royale (2000, Japan)  ****
The Terminator (1984)  ****
True Romance (1993)  ****
Poltergeist (1982)  ****
Manhattan (1979)  ****
Annie Hall (1977)  ****
Hugo (3D)  ****
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (USA)  ***1/2
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol  ***1/2
The Adventures of Tintin (3D)  ***1/2
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  ***1/2
War Horse  ***1/2
Drive  ***1/2
The Rum Diary  ***
Real Steel  **1/2
The Thing (2011)  **

DVD/Home Video:
Until The End of the World: Director's Cut (1991)  ****
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse  ****
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)  ****
American Graffiti (1972)  ****
Miller's Crossing (1990)  ****
Something Wild (1987)  ****
Harakiri (Japan, 1962)  ****
Ugetsu (Japan, 1953)  ****
Midnight Run (1988)  ****
1941 (1979)  ****
Enter The Void (France)  ***1/2
Kwaidan (Japan, 1965)  ***1/2
Onibaba (Japan, 1964)  ***1/2
Naked Lunch (1991)  ***1/2
High Fidelity (2005)  ***1/2
Beetlejuice (1988)  ***1/2
Insomnia (2002)  ***1/2
The American  ***1/2
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (HK)  ***
Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann (1983)  ***
The Life and Legend of Buffalo Jones (1976)  ***
Space Battleship Yamoto (Japan)  ***
The Man From Nowhere (Korea)  ***
Hide In Plain Sight (1980)  ***
Snuff Box (UK, TV Series)  ***
Cyborg She (2008, Japan)  ***
Winnie The Pooh (2011)  ***
The Rain People (1969)  ***
Kuroneko (Japan, 1968)  ***
We're No Angels (1989)  ***
Promised Land (1987)  ***
The Town (2010)  ***
Shaolin (HK)  ***
Southland Tales: The Cannes Cut  **1/2
Ghostbusters 2 (1990)  **1/2
At the Sinatra Club  **12
Countdown (1968)  **1/2
Feeding Frenzy  **1/2
The Car (1977)  **1/2
Slither (1973)  **1/2
Woochi: The Taoist Wizard (Korea)  **
Lulu on the Bridge (1998)  **
Underworld (1997)  **
Drive Angry  **
Born To Raise Hell  *

The Films of Humphrey Bogart: 
The Petrified Forest (1936)  ****
Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)  ***
Dark Victory (1939)  ***1/2
High Sierra (1941)  ****
The Maltese Falcon (1941)  ****
Casablanca (1942)  ***
To Have and Have Not (1944)  ****
The Big Sleep (1946)  ***1/2
Dark Passage (1947)  ***
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)  ****
Key Largo (1948)  ****
In A Lonely Place (1950)  ***
The African Queen (1951)  ***1/2
Beat the Devil (1953)  **1/2
We're No Angels (1954)  ***
The Desperate Hours (1955)  ***1/2

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)  ****
The Steel Helmet (1951)  ***1/2
Mystery Street (1950)  ***1/2
Pickup on South Street (1953)  ***
Satan Met A Lady (1936)  ***
Out of the Past (1947)  ***
Act of Violence (1948)  ***
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)  ***
Gun Crazy (1949)  ***
Murder, My Sweet (1945)  **1/2
Lady in the Lake (1947)  **1/2
The Maltese Falcon (1931)  **

Music/Spoken World:
Miles Davis: Elevator to the Gallows (soundtrack)  ****
Tom Waits: Bad As Me (Limited Edition)  ****
Scrooged: Danny Elfman (La La Land)  ****
Mitch Murder: Burning Chrome  ****
Blade Runner: EMS Recombination (soundtrack bootleg)  ***1/2
DJ Z-Trip & DJ P: Uneasy Listening, Volume 1 (2000)  ***1/2
The Adventures of Tintin (score by John Williams)  ***1/2
Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two  ***1/2
Michael Ian Black: I Am A Wonderful Man  ***1/2
Die Hard: Michael Kamen (La La Land)  ***1/2
Explorers: Jerry Goldsmith (Intrada)  ***1/2
mc chris: Marshmellow Playground  ***1/2
Drive (original score/soundtrack)  ***1/2
Michael Ian Black: Very Famous  ***1/2
Dexter Gordon: Gotham City  ***1/2
Joe Bargar & the Soul Providers: Two Sides  ***
Isaac Hayes: Hot Buttered Soul (1969)  ***
The State: Comedy for Gracious Living  ***
Chrysta Bell & David Lynch: This Train  ***
David Lynch: Crazy Clown Time  ***
James Hyman: Pulp Mixin'  ***
mc chris: Race Wars  ***
Jeff Bridges (2011)  ***
Michael Showalter: Sandwiches & Cats  **1/2

Frank Miller's Sin City: The Hard Goodbye  ****
Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For  ***
Frank Miller's Sin City: The Big Fat Kill  ***
Frank Miller's Sin City: That Yellow Bastard  ****
Frank Miller's Sin City: Family Values  ***1/2
Frank Miller's Sin City: Booze, Broads & Bullets  ***
Frank Miller's Sin City: To Hell and Back  ***1/2
Woody Allen on Woody Allen (Stig Bjorkman)  ***1/2
The Blade Runner Sketchbook (Blue Dolphin)  ***1/2
Art to Choke Hearts & Pissing in the Gene Pool (Henry Rollins)  ***
Ghostbusters Infestation: #1 & 2 (IDW, miniseries)  ***
Ghostbusters #1 & 2 (IDW, monthly)  ***
Wolverine Noir (Marvel)  ***1/2
X-Men Noir (Marvel)  ***
X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain (Marvel)  **
Dennis Hopper: A Madness to His Method (Elena Rodriguez)  **1/2
Dennis Hopper: Movie Top Ten (Jack Hunter)  **
100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call (DC/Vertigo)  **

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review (Red Letter Media)  ***1/2
Star Wars Uncut: Director's Cut (on youtube)  ***1/2
David Wain's Wainy Days (wainydays.com)  ***1/2
Black Lodge: "Twin Peaks" Atari 2600 Game  ***

2011: The Year's Ten Best Films:
The Tree of Life
13 Assassins
Midnight in Paris
Blank City
Page One: Inside The New York Times
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part Two
Norwegian Wood
The Booth at the End