Friday, April 29, 2011

Exploitation Madness

Friends, I might have to do something drastic. There's no point in keeping secrets since it'll just pop up in my Netflix recaps: I've been exploring the soft-core exploitation genre and I might have to abandon this pursuit swiftly and severely. The journey began with a co-worker's recommendation of Emmanuelle in America by Joe d'Amato. I'm sure many of you are familiar with the Emmanuelle series by name, but not sight. Said co-worker posited that d'Amato is one of the greatest cinematographers of all time (and the movie did look good), surely a gambit to get a film-snob (ie, me) to watch such a low-brow movie. Further pushing me to this new cinematic world was reading Sleazoid Express (the book, not the magazine). In between full narrative accounts of films were some interesting anecdotes. I like other exploitation genres, so why not dive into the one that probably has the largest stigma attached (I don't think we could get a repertory series past the theater board on this genre). Plus, these movies are positively innocent by internet standards, and that includes the woman stroking the horse erection in Emanuelle in America.

Probably the most fun part of deciding to delve into this genre was discovering the amazing titles these movies have. A short list:

The Inconfessable Orgies of Emanuelle
She Killed in Ecstacy
Strip Nude for Your Killer
and my personal favorite... Nightmares Come at Night

It's hard not to get excited about this genre.

I'm not deep into the genre by any means. I'm about five films in and another filmmaker, Jesus Franco, is crushing my movie-loving soul. On Facebook, I opined about Emanuelle in America "how can a movie where a woman strokes a horse's penis be so boring?" and that was before I got to Franco. At least d'Amato made a pretty cool horror movie called Beyond the Darkness. Franco made a movie based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade (called Eugenie de Sade) and nothing happens! The most surprising thing about it is that they didn't wax the male lead's hairy butt.

I just got done with She Killed in Ecstacy today and, lord!, it's dull. How can a movie about a woman getting revenge on those she holds responsible for her husband's death by seducing then killing them be boring? I'm just going to take this as a sign that I've grown up and mere titillation isn't enough to hold my interest. Of course, that implies that the titillation is worth while. Because worse than failing on the most basic level possible, the films a boring to look at. For every decent shot, there is some pseudo-arty piece of crap thrown in arbitrarily. Even the seduction scenes lack energy. Everyone is going through the motions.

So here I am, contemplating striking all of these soft-core exploitation movies from my queue. Why don't I just do it? Because there has to be something worthwhile in a movie called Nightmares Come at Night, right? RIGHT? If that movie fails me, Franco is dead to me. I will never watch another of his movies. I suppose I'm willing to give other directors a shot, but I don't know for how long. I don't think I've ever rejected a genre as fully and vigorously as I have this one. I feel like I'm making a mistake going forward. God help me (which, ironically, is probably what many hardcore Christians would say if they found out I was watching this stuff).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Introduction/The Psycho Series

I was reading an article about worthwhile horror sequels. They may not be better than the originals, but they stand on their own merit. Amongst other films, the article mentions Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, The Exorcist III, and all of the Psycho sequels. I realized that for a lot of the iconic horror films, I've only seen the original (probably for the better), but the article made me curious about the sequels. Curious enough to (probably) torture myself with a marathon. So I'll be visiting many of these series and writing up my experience here. I don't know the exact form it will take (if I'll write after each film or when it's all done), but a form it shall take. I'm going to be under the wire today since I have a work meeting to go to later so I may not get to IV (plus, I have to find and hook-up the VCR). I'm not going to talk about well-trod series like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Evil Dead as much as I may like them all. Also, remakes don't get consideration though my curiosity will lead me to watch both Exorcist prequels.

First up: the Psycho series. The interesting thing about this series to me is that most people forge there are sequels. I know I did. And why would one of the great, classic thrillers of all time need sequels? And how is there enough story for Norman Bates to sustain three additional movies (I tend to think there isn't). I'm looking forward to where this rabbit hole might take me. We'll see how I feel by the end of it. A special shout-out to Movie Madness for having II, III, and IV while Netflix has none. Movie Madness: There in a pinch (not their real slogan). I can tell you already, judging by the posters, I don't think I have to worry about anything happening to Norman Bates.

--While Marion Crane is running off with the money and getting increasingly paranoid, Norman Bates doing... something. I'm actually very curious about what Norman Bates does when he doesn't have a customer to fixate on. Maybe I do want sequels.

--And is Marion's paranoia making her imagine those voices or are they actually what's going on back in Phoenix?

--It's been a while since I've see this film, so I totally forgot how much foreshadowing there is.

--I'm very impressed at how well Janet Leigh was able to keep her eye open and still as Hitchcock pulled back from it after Marion Crane's murder even if part of it was a freeze frame. Oops! Spoiler alert!

--The "passing of the torch," so to speak (or more appropriately, the "murder of the main character so I can have the spotlight") has been talked about a lot, so I won't dwell on it. But aside from being bold and pretty seamless, I'm very curious if any of the sequels will try the same thing, or at least something like it (and if it could even work a second time).

--I'm really sad that I wasn't around to watch this when it was first released. Aside from the various surprises (the shower scene, the real state of Norman's mother), the trailer prepares the viewer for a massacre of sorts and aside from some standard suspense, nothing really unusual happens for 45 minutes. Did the audience get restless? Were they expecting it to be funnier? (And yes, this is just an excuse to post the trailer.)

--By golly, Anthony Perkins is awesome in this movie. I hope he doesn't turn into a caricature in the later films (as the Psycho III poster seems to indicate).

--The restraint of this movie is pretty amazing. No trick scares or music trying to falsely ratchet up the tension. Just the mystery punctuated by moments of intensity and violence. I wish more horror movies used this approach.

--From IMDB: "After the film's release Alfred Hitchcock received an angry letter from the father of a girl who refused to have a bath after seeing Les diaboliques (1955) and now refused to shower after seeing this film. Hitchcock sent a note back simply saying, 'Send her to the dry cleaners.'"

--It's been said before, but the ending after the discovery of Mother is not necessarily pointless, but kind of a drag. Nothing like finishing up a tense thriller with gobs of exposition.

--I definitely need to upgrade to the Blu Ray.

No surprises. Psycho holds up wonderfully, is masterfully made and incredibly tense. The score is amazing and it features some great performances (though apparently Hitchcock referred to John Gavin as "the stiff"). Now we jump forward 23 years to let the director of FX2 follow up one of the greatest directors of all-time's most famous (and one of his best) films. Perhaps a reason to be slightly excited, Psycho II is written by Tom Holland who wrote Class of 1984, Fright Night, and Child's Play (and also directed the latter two).

Psycho II

My updates my be a little sparser for this one since I've never seen it and have no idea what it's about (I didn't bother watching the trailer), so I'm going to try to pay a bit more attention to it. Vera Miles is back (in addition to Anthony Perkins), so that's something, and Jerry Goldsmith does the music which I can't complain about too much (though right now it's sounding awfully melodramatic).

--It starts out with the old, black and white Universal logo, which is cool, then the shower scene from the original. Maybe people had forgotten about it 23 years later?

--Lila married Sam Loomis? The boyfriend of her dead sister? She has no right to be indignant about Bates' release under the guys of protecting his victims. Some sister...

--OK, I'm going to try not to make this a snark-fest. I want it to be good.

--Norman Bates: Hotel owner/line cook.

--He's looking awfully tan for being locked up for 23 years.

--Meg Tilly looks exactly like Jennifer Tilly. It's crazy.

--Lesson learned, don't look at character names on IMDB before watching a movie I haven't seen. I hope that wasn't one of the big twists (I think it was)...

--Almost thirty minutes in and already this movie is mildly ridiculous. Whereas the original creates a somewhat realistic scenario and characters acting in believable ways, this one is already kind of a mess. There's a sort of hackneyed relationship with the first film. And suddenly Norman not only has mother issues, but knives are a source of torture for him. Silly.

--Norman's regression is coming a little to fast for me. I wish they'd taken their time with it.

--I think we're meant to believe that Norman killed all of his victims in the shower with the amount of importance that's been put on it (there's a weird pause after every mention of the bathroom or shower). Just because it's the most famous scene doesn't mean you need make it the centerpiece of the sequel.

--I'm a little surprised that this fell into the slasher trap of introducing horny, drug-using kids to the plot.

--I definitely spoiled the film for myself. Pretty sure I've got it all figured out an hour into it. Stupid IMDB cast listing.

--Hmmm... maybe I was a bit too hasty...

--The references to the first film are a bit too much for me. It's not enough to have some original cast members and the same set? You have to fill it with call-backs and re-enact shots?

--Mother issues are worked into more than one relationship here. I think I appreciate it, but it also seems a bit on-the-nose.

--There's a scene where a woman moves across the foreground vacuuming. I like to think that would have been Hitchcock's cameo.

--OK, something awesome just happened that I can't spoil for you, but it was amazing.

So... Psycho II is a pretty silly movie. One of the things I like best about the first film is that Norman Bates seems just like a normal person who's trying to cover up for his mother. In this, he's always a mental patient. You question why he would have ever been released, he regresses so fast. The screenplay is the biggest problem. It's all over the map and if you think about anything, it makes even less sense. The acting isn't nearly as good, Meg Tilly being the most awkward the most often, and is frequently pitched at an inappropriate level. The saddest thing for me is Jerry Goldsmith's score is totally uninteresting. He did Alien and Gremlins! I know he's got better in him. I feel like he approached Psycho II as just another paycheck. Since most of you probably haven't seen Psycho II (and I'll admit that there are some decent things about it), I won't go into details, but just about everything that seems clever falls apart upon reflection. The good things make the film all that more disappointing since it doesn't explore them any more than it does. I think I may be going easy on the film just because I wanted to like it, or at least have fun with it.

I've got to admit, my enthusiasm for part III is diminished a little, now. But we've got Anthony Perkins taking his first trip behind the camera as director (first of two) and the man who would write The Fly, Dragonheart, and Kull the Conqueror.

Psycho III

Once again, I know nothing of this film aside from what I mentioned above. I'm even going to avoid the IMDB page for risk of spoiler. I'm definitely not going to get to Psycho IV today, so hopefully this will tide you over for now.

--Both sequels have been rated R. Kind of surprising since Pyscho would easily still get at PG.

--Wow. The intro got my attention. Feels like and Exorcist film. Or one of The Omen movies. Though it also feels like a Vertigo homage.

--Carter Burwell did the music. One of his first credits. This series certainly has a good pedigree of composers.

--Jeff Fahey is ridiculous. I like it.

--It's early, but this film already has some visual references to the original. I wonder if it wouldn't seem so obvious if I wasn't watching them all in a row. For Psycho II, definitely. This one's too early to tell.

--"Stupid bitch! You could've been cummin' instead of goin'." Classic.

-- They get a lot of mileage out of the shower scene footage from the original in these sequels.

--I can already tell what the problem is going to be with this film. The only reason it exists is because of Norman Bates as a character. The viewer doesn't really care about these other characters. If we're watching this movie it's because we want to learn more about him.

--Well, that was an interesting little happening. Maybe these other characters aren't so bad.

--Nevermind. The film just had to cop out and let her live.

--Actually, I'm going to have to mull this one over.

--Anthony Perkins' acting gets more and more awkward as these films go on. I don't know if it's intentional or that he doesn't know how to act psychologically disturbed in a subtle manner anymore.

--It just occurred to me that these movies are exactly like the Scream series (vice versa, really). You have a tortured main character (mentally here, physically in Scream) who keeps having murders happening around him and there are innumerable red herrings and characters to obscure the real killer who is only to be unveiled at the end. Only the Scream series is better.

--Homecoming! More anonymous victims?

--I like that Norman Bates keeps his mother outfit close at hand and kept so nicely at all times.

--Definitely would recognize all of the references to the original. This one has shot for shot moments.

--You can definitely feel the influence of the slasher genre on these films.

--Probably the worst part of these sequels is that you don't feel that Norman Bates has changed remotely over the course of three films. He's still the same disturbed man, so everything becomes redundant.

--Thus far, the only new thing that these films have brought to the original has tainted the impact of the original. Not exactly what one is looking for in a sequel.

--If these films are going to be all about Norman Bates' psychosis, I wish they'd do more to exploit it. Play around with his perception versus reality. Stuff like that.

Well, I'm happy that Norman isn't as over-the-top crazy as the poster would indicate and there are several marked improvements over II, but it's still not very good. I detailed most of my issues above, there was a lot in this movie that didn't make sense. Like why would Norman seek to hire anyone? That's plain ridiculous. However, Jeff Fahey may be the best part of the film, so I guess I'll let that slide. The reporter character is a tired trope in film in general, but here she's just a cardboard cutout of a character. I can't even remember her name. Aside from just making money, there's no reason for either of these sequels to exist (and I hold out little hope IV), though that's pretty much why sequels exist to begin with. They don't even do anything different or unique with the material. They are trying so hard to honor the original that they just end up making cheap knock-offs.

Tomorrow: The made for TV sequel Pyscho IV: The Beginning (of what? We'll have to wait and see) directed by Mick Garris, who has a lot of credits of a mediocre nature, but most notable for creating the unsurprisingly mediocre Masters of Horror series. HOWEVER... the film was written by Joseph Stefano who wrote the original. Intrigue!

Stay tuned...

Psycho IV: The Beginning

The biggest hiccup in watching Psycho IV: The Beginning was if my VCR was going to work and it does! Success! I'm going into this with zero expectations. I imagine that it's going to be about the relationship between Norman and his mother which is perfectly clear in the original Psycho. I don't know if we really need to go into it any further. Plus, since this one was made for TV, I can't even pretend it's a money grab. And remember, Mick Garris directed the "more faithful," but less good The Shining mini-series. I can't believe I'm going to watch a VHS. I can't remember the last time I chose to do this.


--There was a Universal Studios trailer prior to the movie. Actually, that makes a lot of sense.

--Olivia Hussey! And Henry Thomas (aka Elliott from E.T.) as young Norman Bates.

--They're using Bernard Hermann's original score. It's still awesome. Let's see how it meshes with this movie.

--I feel like radio call-in shows as plot points were really big in the late-80s and early-90s.

--Norman Bates is doing all right for himself.

--Huh. Boobs. I guess it was made for HBO or something...

--I'm kind of surprised that Psycho IV isn't the story about what drove Norman to kill his mother. I hope this surprise leads to enjoyment.

--The screeching violins don't really work out of the context of the original. The blend of image and music is inadequate.

--Ah, there's the super-young Norman.

--There's something that doesn't mesh about Norman Bates in the original and him spilling his guts to a radio host in IV.

--John Landis cameo!

--Did people used to keep strychnine in their kitchen cupboards?

--There's some inconsistency with the events portrayed here as they are shown to happen in earlier movies.

I was all set to rate Psycho IV higher than the other sequels. Much of the flashback stuff is fairly effective, if unsurprising. Unlike the other sequels, it does add to Norman's story. However, the radio call-in show stuff kills the movie. It's totally absurd that Norman Bates would unload like this, especially with as much therapy he's gotten in his life at this point. For all intents and purposes, he should have his own psychiatrist. It's ridiculous. Then, when it finally gets to the flashback of him killing his mother and her boyfriend, the movie values shock and action over accuracy. The more time I spend with and thinking about Psycho IV, the less I like it. However, absurdity aside, I think it does the best at emulating the tone of the original without simply repeating the beats. You could definitely feel the influence of 80s slasher movies on II and III and that is lacking here. Perhaps Bernard Hermann's score is all that the others needed to make them better movies...

I'm beginning to think that if I do this more, the overall article is going exhibit the same trend, which may not make for the best reading on your part. Hell, I don't think I'm entirely happy with the format of this write-up. I'll definitely do this again, it just may take a different form next time unless I'm told otherwise. I'm a little nervous to give away spoilers from the sequels since I'm sure many haven't seen them.

Anyway, thanks for reading! I'll take suggestions for the next series if you're feeling frisky.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Orson Welles, Con Artists, Aliens, Crime Solvers, and British Stuff

Night of the Creeps -- Fred Dekker
Pretty much everything I expected from the director of Monster Squad, though it doesn't reach the same highs. Night of the Creeps is fun '80s horror through and through. Jerk-ass frat boys. Nerdy protagonist who desires an unattainable girl. Wacky sidekick. Alien slugs that will enter you through any available orifice and turn you into a braindead zombie. Nearly all of the characters are named after horror directors, not to mention the school is Corman University. Perhaps my favorite realization of all is that Jason Lively plays the main character, Chris Romero. He looked familiar, but I couldn't place him. It's Rusty from National Lampoon's European Vacation! I'm just happy that he has more than one credit even if he is the least of the Rusty's.

Who's Harry Crumb? -- Paul Flaherty
While Night of the Creeps is everything great about '80s horror, Who's Harry Crumb? is pretty much everything you expect out of '80s comedy, which is a mixed blessing. The music is horrible, the movie looks pretty terrible, and many of the gags must have felt tired upon release let alone watching it today. But there's something about John Candy playing a lovable (and occasionally competent) goofball that's totally winning and there's some inspired silliness. The cast is really the best part of Who's Harry Crumb? and while it's not bad, I feel like it could have been a lot better, which is the status quo with most '80s comedy. Incidentally, director Paul Flaherty is Joe Flaherty's brother.

Elmer Gantry -- Richard Brooks
Elmer Gantry kind of blew me away. Whenever I get a movie from Netflix that's over two hours, I get a little nervous, but I was hooked the whole way through the 2.5 hour run time. It's rare that I think about a performance in terms of awards, but it didn't take long for Burt Lancaster to have me thinking, "If he didn't win the Academy Award, there is something terribly wrong with the world." I guess the world is OK since he did win (and the film won a few other awards, too). Shirley Jones' (who also won and Oscar) presence is interesting to me for two reasons: until I saw The Music Man a few weeks ago, I was unaware she had a career outside of The Partridge Family and both films she's in that I've seen are about flim-flam men/salesmen. Great film.

Never Let Me Go -- Mark Romenek
Never have I seen a movie about cloning and organ harvesting that is so boring. It doesn't even matter to me that the film is so deliberate as much as that I don't give a damn about the characters. And maybe I'm remembering Never Let Me Go with hate-tinted sunglasses, but it feels like the film was nothing but exposition. I'm getting impatient even trying to remember specifics about the film. Moving on...

A Man for All Seasons -- Fred Zinneman
I'm not sure why I was interested in seeing A Man for All Seasons except that I'm reading This Is Orson Welles right now and Robert Shaw is awesome. I'm not unhappy I saw it, but it took a while for the film to hook me. Once Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) started getting pinned in a corner and Thomas Cromwell (Leo McKern, who rules in the role) starts getting angry, the film is a lot of fun. It just takes a while to get to that point. The best thing to say about it is that the acting is pretty amazing. I just wish Robert Shaw's King Henry was more prominent.

The Stranger -- Orson Welles
Speaking of Welles, this is direct result from reading the aforementioned book. I had to watch it before Peter Bogdanovich and he talked about it. There isn't a whole lot of love between those two for The Stranger, but it's an effective thriller about a Nazi hiding out in America. It's notable as being one of, if not the, only film directed by Welles to turn a profit and for being the first film to show actual Holocaust footage. I'm inclined to be easier on the film and say it's definitely worth checking out.

Stray Dog -- Akira Kurosawa
Toshiro Mifune. Takashi Shimura. Kurosawa. C'mon. How can it not be good. A rookie cop has his gun stolen on a bus and someone starts killing people with it. The rookie cop delves into Tokyo's underworld to get it back. Simple, but awesome. I was particularly fascinate by set piece that takes place at a baseball game. Knowing little about Japan's relationship with baseball, I don't know how long they'd been playing, but I certainly didn't know their professional league existed in 1949. Maybe it's because I currently have baseball fever, but I was fascinated by the footage. I think I might have to start considering Kurosawa one of my favorite directors in light of how many of his films I like.

The Grifters -- Stephen Frears
I was totally on board after the opening credits (with amazing music by Elmer Bernstein) and the triple split screen, but The Grifters did not follow a path that a expected or particularly enjoyed. It's a fine movie and all that, but if I'm watching a movie about grifters, well, I want to see more grifting! It did offer the surprise of seeing Annette Bening naked. A lot. And I swear that Jane Leeves is an extra in a scene inside of an office (no confirmation on that, though). But overall, I was disappointed. I'd think a lot higher of the film if they made one minor tweak to the ending, but it's too late for that now (unless you're George Lucas).

Evolution -- Ivan Reitman
I vaguely remember some of the complaints about this film upon it's release, mostly that it was lacking in humor. And they're right. For a comedy, it's not all that funny, but it's never boring, which is an important distinction (I think, at least). It's mildly amusing (although it goes to low-brow humor a bit too frequently) but it's fun to watch the aliens evolve. It's kind of like when Will Smith's character in Men In Black goes into the headquarters for the first time and sees all of the aliens. The script was initially a straight forward sci-fi horror effort until Reitman got a hold of it. I'd say the biggest reason this didn't turn out like Ghostbusters is that the rapport between Duchovny, Jones, and Scott is a pale comparison to that of the Murray, Ramis, and Ackroyd (who makes an appearance). It also helps that the latter three honed their comedic chops in improv and SNL for years.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Something I like about the Rise of the Planet of the Apes trailer

I'm not a Planet of the Apes superfan by any means. I like the original and have seen the Tim Burton remake. That's as far as my experience with the series goes (aside from The Simpsons' musical, of course). I didn't really have much interest in this prequel with a goofy name until now...

Screw the special effects. Who cares if people have James Franco fatigue (the man gets a lifetime pass from me for Freaks and Geeks, anyway)? It's a freakin' zombie movie! OK, so it's a zombie movie without zombies. Like 28 Days Later. It's got all of the hallmarks of a zombie apocolypse judging by the trailer and we already know who comes out on top. I don't know if the hyper-intelligent condition is transferable, but it seems like there are too many apes running around for them all to have been tested on. That's the main issue with my assertion, but I'll stand by it (at least until I see the movie).

And before people site that the apes are getting smarter, if you watch the Romero zombie films, you'll note that the zombies are gaining intelligence as well (just look at Bub). And there are the zombies that never really lost that much intelligence (Return of the Living Dead, where they call for more paramedics).

Friday, April 8, 2011

Criminals and Detectives, Travelers and Wanderes, Killers and Lovers, and Explosions

Le Doulos -- Jean-Pierre Melville
I've spoken highly of Melville in this space before, and while not my favorite of his films, Le Doulos is still pretty great. One criminal seeks vengeance on another criminal who ratted him out, but there's much more than that. It explores themes of loyalty and friendship, but the viewer rarely knows where the characters stand in relation to those ideas. There's one hell of a continuous shot that you keep thinking is going to cut, but keeps going and a very Night of the Living Dead element to it (which sounds weird, but I don't want to give away too much... and yes I know NotLD came out years later). I wouldn't start with this if you haven't seen any Melville yet (Le Samourai is where I'd start), but if you dig his films, you'll dig this.

Mystery Team -- Dan Eckman
Mystery Team gets by mostly on my enthusiasm for Donald Glover (Troy in Community). Everything he does is hilarious (he has one of the best screams I've ever heard in this movie). The rest of the film is kind of dull and not too funny. It belongs to that genre of stupid/naive people getting in over their heads (Dumb and Dumber, The Brothers Solomon) but isn't nearly as good. Still, it's got some good chuckles and is available on Netflix Instant View. There are worse ways to spend your time (and I know people who love it, so maybe I'm just a funburgler).

The Road -- John Hillcoat
Hillcoat's The Proposition is an amazing film. Beautifully shot and acted and harrowing as anything I've ever seen. If anyone should make a post-apocolyptic film, it's him. But The Road was only OK. I haven't read the book, so I can't say much about that, but three things really bugged me. First, I didn't buy anything in the flashbacks. There didn't seem to be any real emotion tied into them and it didn't feel like the stories were developed enough for me to care or believe anyone's actions (mostly Charlize Theron's). Secondly, the cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe is oppressive. I know they changed the skies after the fact for the mood, but it gives the film an artificial film which takes me out of something that should be gritty and realistic (and gritty doesn't mean shot all cinema verite style). Lastly, I wanted the son to die or run off or disappear forever. It's just one bad position after another. I know he's young and doesn't understand everything, but he doesn't have to be that naive. Still, it was cool to see some places I'd been here in Oregon (the beach and the waterfall, both with the same visiting friend). If you come visit me, I'll take you there, too!

Dark Star -- John Carpenter
This is a weird sci-fi comedy from Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon (writer of Alien, writer/director of Return of the Living Dead). It's a little too bizarre to assess what I thought. It's not entirely funny and the clawed beach ball antics go on way to long with little purpose (apparently, O'Bannon restructured that into Alien), but it has some inspired moments that recall Douglas Adams (the conversation with the nuclear bomb). For Carpenter's first film, it's definitely impressive and it's interesting that his first film is a comedy given the rest of his career. Also, this has nothing to do with the Grateful Dead. Finally, I don't know if the original version had the opening scroll, but the DVD I watched had one, which would be interesting since it came out two years before Star Wars.

Lost Highway -- David Lynch
I was WAY into Lost Highway up through the early points of Balthazar Getty's appearance. The home invasion/video tape stuff is incredibly creepy (admittedly, I'm digging on the home invasion genre right now) and Robert Loggia's rant about safe driving is epic. However, the more time I spent in the Getty segment, the more impatient I got and wanted to return to the Bill Pullman stuff. That said, it's everything you'd expect from Lynch, so if you like that, then you've probably already seen this... But, I can't not like any movie that introduced me to this:

And for good measure, the Robert Loggia scene:

Open House -- Jag Mundhra
I like the idea of people going to view houses and never leaving (get it? Because they were murdered), but Open House really missed the boat (or more appropriately, it didn't close the sale. Oh yes. That just happened). A lot of that has to do with a pretty stupid radio show plot line. I'd love hate on it more for having a killer that leaves more evidence laying around a messy roommate (not that what messy roommates leave laying around is evidence, but it might be. Anyway, the killer is messy), but the fact that the killer isn't caught using any of the makes sense with the rest of the film. The biggest thing I got out of Open House is that I have a second person I can compare my hair to (the first is Art Garfunkel): former wife of John Carpenter, Adrienne Barbeau (but, as a coworker noted, she has bigger breasts).

The China Syndrome -- James Bridges
I've liked several of the paranoia-thrillers of the '70s (The Parallax View, The Conversation), but Oscar nominations be damned, The China Syndrome was a bit heavy-handed. The "bad guys" are a little too cavalier in their ignoring of safety precautions. The film made me want to get up and defend nuclear power and I don't really have any strong affiliation to either side. The message is a little too in-your-face to be effective. I mostly liked the way the films resolved and there is lots of good stuff along the way, just be prepared for a STATEMENT (and it's pure coincidence that this showed up so close to the current nuclear disaster).

Winter's Bone -- Debra Granik
I'd been looking forward to seeing this film for a while. I missed it at my theatre, but I'd heard nothing but good things and the trailer looked great. Imagine my disappointment when I was severely underwhelmed. The biggest problem is that I don't believe any of the character's motivations outside of the main character. My summary of her quest: "you best not come 'round here... hell, no, I won't help you!... I'll help, but you won't get anywhere... get the hell out of here or we'll kick your ass!... grudgingly, I'll help you." I understand why it's structured that way, I just don't by that the entire community would treat Ree like she's her father. Certainly they would know as much about her as she seems to know about everyone else. At least we know that the redneck mafia is a thing now.

Sabotage -- Alfred Hitchcock

My favorite thing about Sabotage is that the proprietor of the theater featured in the film lives in the same building. There's something very appealing about going downstairs after hours for a late-night private screening. I don't have much experience with much of Hitchcock's really early work, though this certainly encourages me to go further (The Man Who Knew Too Much [non-Jimmy Stewart version], The Lady Vanishes, and The 39 Steps are the only ones from the '30s or earlier). I especially love all of the scheming and how the ending plays out. Plus, I learned that one wasn't allowed to transport film reels on public transportation due to its flammable nature (at least in England).

The Man Who Fell to Earth -- Nicolas Roeg
This would have fit in better last week during my bizarre and naked movie marathon. David Bowie plays the part he's played before: an alien. There's a lot of cool imagery, but the movie is very weird. I was left a bit confused at times, though I think I ultimately put it together (kind of, just don't ask me about it or I'll get lost again). I suggest you watch Roeg's Walkabout or Don't Look Now before giving this one a shot, but I know some of you Bowie fiends out there will ignore that advice, perhaps rightly so.

Three... Extremes -- Fruit Chan, Park Chan-wook, Takashi Miike
I don't really know how to discuss an anthology film in this space. Chan-wook's is, not surprisingly, my favorite of the three efforts, though Chan's may be the ickiest and Miike's the most suspenseful. Chan-wook's just featured a blissfully dark sense of humor (and a protagonist who's not much of a problem solver). I have to give Miike credit, though, even though his segment is very deliberate, he milks a lot of tension out of minimal tricks (it helps that his reputation precedes him). I'm looking forward to Three... Extremes II, especially since Kim Ji-woon is involved.

The Vampire Lovers -- Roy Ward Baker
Yet another Hammer Horror movie that falls right in the sweet spot of "not-really-scary/interesting" and "it's fun and look, pretty ladies (and boobs)!" I'm starting to feel like I'm just watching the same movie time and again with Hammer, but that's partially my fault since I've been sticking with mostly vampire movies. Methinks it's time to branch out. There is something that keeps drawing me back. Maybe it's the set design or the artwork or the boobs, but I don't want to stop watching them and would actually love to do a Hammer program at the theater.