Monday, December 31, 2012

My Month of Movies...December 2012

Total Movies Watched: 12

60s: 0     + 5 movies I certainly would not recommend to most people
70s: 2     + 2 Tarkovsky films
80s: 5     + 2 movies directed by a brother-brother duo
90s: 0     + 2 movies seen in theaters
00s: 0     + 2 re-watches
10s: 5     + 1 movies I was forced to sit through on a plane because I checked by books

Stalker [1979] dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

Offret (The Sacrafice) [1986] dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

Friday, November 30, 2012

My Month in Moves...November 2012

Total Movies Watched: 8 (Weak)

50s: 1     + 3 foreign films
60s: 0     + 2 movies seen in theaters
70s: 3     + 2 English movies watched entirely in Czech
80s: 0     + 1 re-watch
90s: 0
00s: 1
10s: 3

Hi Terezka [2001] dir. Robert Glinski

Ucho (The Ear) [1970] dir. Karel Kachnya

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why See This...Hukkle [2002]

To consider Hukkle a murder-mystery, as it is described, might be somewhat misleading, yet that is exactly what it is- to an extent.  Both murder-mystery and avant garde, this 2002 Hungarian film is a work of art that defies genres and categorization.  Hukkle is sometimes comical, other times eerie and always tantalizing. Hukkle assumes no relation to the classic story-styled narrative viewers are used to, director György Pálfi delivers more awe and wonder than thrills in his carefully presented survey of a rural Hungarian town.  There is a plot, sometimes, but the story is hardly what we concern ourselves with. 

Hukkle shares the similar scanty, free-wielding plot found in Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991).  For Slacker, the existence of a plot is highly debatable.  The same can be said for Hukkle, whose murder-mystery premise takes a backseat in favor of captivating imagery and visual poetics. The film, which runs close to 80 minutes, contains no absolutely dialogue.  The closest thing we have is an old man who constantly hiccups.

And given the array of both intimate and grandiose images the movie boasts, maybe a more sensible comparison for Hukkle would be Terrence Malicks’s The Tree of Life, and Malick’s own infamous and unorthodox directing style.  As the camera peacefully meanders through the town , Pálfi evokes a stunningly visceral and meditative approach to his cinematography.  More often than not, his fascination seems to be less with people and more with the birds and bees, or tall golden strands of prairie grass blowing in the praise. Such pristine images force us to reassess some of the most obvious truths regarding movies as well as life and beauty.  We find ourselves not only captivated by images, but also by these simple sounds- the buzzing of bees or whispering winds against the tall meadow grass. Hukkle is a voyeuristic parade that evokes wonder as much as bafflement and confusion.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Month in Movies...October 2012

Total Movies Watched: 10

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari [The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari] [1920] dir. Robert Wiene
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Ju-On [2002] dir. Takashi Shimizu

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1974] dir. Tobe Hooper

Thursday, October 18, 2012

After Thoughts...The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [1974] (spoilers)

Anyway you look at it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a brutal, grotesque and horrifying movie.  It is also funny.  Well, sort of.  In a movie filled with psychotic torturers, chainsaws and meat hooks, director Tobe Hopper finds a way to shed some humor onto this densely laughless circumstance.  The humor of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes in the form of satire.  It is subtle, neatly positioned under what I would argue to be the most horrific scene in the entire movie.  Given its context, the terror erupting out this scene overwhelms anything “funny” about what is going on.  But it is still there.

The “funny” scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes in the movie after Sally has been captured, tied up to a chair made of human bones and seated at the table.  When she awakes to find herself here, she gives out a blood-curling scream.  There’s clearly nothing funny for her.  But still, in a sick way, this is also the funniest and probably only funny part of the movie.  Let me explain using this picture-

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Reel News...Hitchcock Gets A Trailer and Fall Release Date

Fitting perfectly into the month-long celebration of all things horror movies, I present to you (I bit late I  will add) the first trailer for the upcoming Hitchcock film starring Anthony Hopkins.  There's not much more to be said beyond that.  Any regular readers of the blog will know that I have keeping tabs on this movie ever since word first broke out in the summer.  For me, this has been one of my most anticipated movies of the season and the new trailer does nothing more than reassure that fact.

When this trailer surfaced on the web a few days ago, I knew it was just a preview for something still a long ways a way. Hitchcock was originally scheduled for a 2013 release, but with this trailer came news that the movie's release was being pushed up to November 23 of this year.  Rarely do we ever see this happen in Hollywood, as movies typically just get pushed back and delayed.  Exactly what we saw with Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby.

With this new November 23rd release, this movie is in prime position for Oscar talks, more specifically, Anthony Hopkin's portrayal of Sir Alfred.  After seeing that first profile of Hopkins dressed as Alfred Hitchcock, I, and everyone else that saw that picture, knew it was a perfect casting decision.  And it seems no less true after watching the trailer as well.  Hopkins has it all locked in, down to the signature Hitchcock drawl under every word he speaks. speaks.

Hopkins steals the show and by right he should, but we can't ignore the rest of the talent funneling through this picture.  Helen Mirren has never given a bad performance in her life and Scarlett Johansson looks spot on as Janet Leigh.  Heck I even see Red Foreman in there.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Killer B's...Dawn of the Dead [1978]

When does an excessively violent zombie flick from the 1970s permit itself to be something more than a low grade horror movie?  I know it seems a bit counter-intuitive to begin this post describing the movie’s retraction from B status, but for as bad as some of the selections of The Killer B’s have been so far, I'd say it’s a far better start than most. 

Admired both as a great cinematic achievement and a terrific midnight fright, George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead received almost a universal appeal on its release backed by both critics and horror junkies alike. Even to this day some 30 years later, the movie still has a marvelous showing, despite the many remakes it has produced and itself being a sequel.  Romero’s classic zombie piece consistently remains towards the top of many lists concerning the greatest horror movies of all time.

Our fascination with the living dead is nothing new, even at this movie’s release.  Dawn of the Dead is in fact a sequel to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead released ten years prior to this one and still we can dig deeper.  White Zombie, considered the first true zombie picture ever made, came out in 1932.  But even before this so-called invention of the cinematic zombie there were precursors of the zombie craze, most notably the stiff, muted somnambulist of The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari (1921).  Dawn of the Dead provided nothing particularly revolutionary or innovative in its story or zombie depiction compared to previous movies of its kind.  There’s not much you can do actually.  When zombies enter, it always becomes a struggle for survival.  And other than Danny Boyle giving zombies the ability to run in 28 Days Later, the creativity of one such creature is limited.  Despite the rather atypical and unoriginal formula left for these movies, Romero’s second installment of the zombie trilogy was a huge success.  Many consider Dawn of the Dead to be the best zombie movie ever made and I would certainly agree.   So to circle back to the initial question posed, what makes Dawn of the Dead such a spectacular movie?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Useless Clatter...12 Horror Classics Free on YouTube [and Some Thoughts on Existence]

Since in the 1970s, with the advent of the personal computer and the very, very earliest existence of the internet, we have lived in an era known as the Information Age.  Right alongside the Ice Age and the Middle Ages, there will be us— inventors of the personal computer and the internet— for better or for worse.  But that was a long time ago.  Gone are the days of VCRs, flatscreens and dial-up, what was once breakthrough technology was now an antiquated thing of the past.  We still find ourselves entranced by the pleasure of new technology just like we were 20 years ago. Only nowadays everything is just a newer version of what it once was— BluRay, HD, and wireless.  The personal computer can now be taken anywhere and you can have the entire World Wide Web comfortably inside your pocket.

The connection this has to movies is both vastly helpful and slightly critical.  The cinema, once a glamorous night on the town offering visitors an escape into worlds unknown, lost some of its magic.  TVs offer the same escape from the comforts of one’s family room.  No more worries about traffic or a babysitter.  Today it is even easier.  Streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube now offer that entertainment almost anywhere on your laptop or even smart phone.  There is something lost in that transformation from a duplex movie theater to a three-inch cell phone screen.  It simply doesn’t compare. 

But let us not be too critical and consider this the demise of the movie theater.  After all, these handy pieces of technology offer audiences a slew of new movies, or a rather a reintroduction to old ones.  Classics and rare titles, B-movies and foreign wonders can all stay alive on the internet and be introduced to movie lovers anywhere on the globe.  Some sites like Netflix and Hulu have made fortunes meeting the demand of instant streaming, while others the same and slightly less in the form of free, (il)legal content.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

After Thoughts...Psycho [1960] (spoilers)


+ If you have never seen Psycho and don't know what happens turn away now!!!  I would hate to be the cause of spoiling it for anyone.

Norman Bates is nothing I imagine a serial killer would be.  He is a shy and bashful; a young rather good looking guy who spends his days managing the family motel for his ailing mother.  But then again, after revisiting Psycho, Norman might just be everything I imagine a serial killer to be- he is shy and bashful, and awkward, reclusive and very, very creepy.

Revealing the timid and sincere Norman Bates as the psychotic, two-faced transvestite serial killer might be one of the greatest surprises the movie have ever given us.  Remembering all those reprimanding conversations overheard from his mother, the reveal comes as disturbing and the sympathy, out the window.  But for horror junkies watching the movie again, there could be a small sense of delight.  Watching that severely awkward dinner of sandwiches and milk as you wait for Marion Crane to step behind the shower curtain.

Anthony Perkins gives the performance of a life-time, one that many say he was born to play and never quite left behind.  Perkins took part in three more Psycho sequles, even directing the made for TV Psycho IV in 1990, 30 years after the release of Hitchcock's classic.

When the script was in the process of adapting Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel, Norman had to be changed drastically to suit Hitchcock’s liking.  The Norman Bates of the book took the form of an overweight 40-something year old man with drinking problems.  Inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, also the inspiration for the equally creepy characters of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs, there is nothing subtle about Bloch’s literary Norman Bates.

 But the legacy of the film rests largely on the unexpected reveal at its end, where we find out the boy next door is really a perverse maniac.  Everything we thought was true is now not, exactly how Hitch wanted it.  The film, while typically considered a horror piece or even slasher is one of the great psychological thrillers ever made.  But it is only until after its over do you realize this.  If Hitchcock’s Norman stayed true to the novel, none of that would have been possible.  The reveal would have more obvious and the thrill, much less thrilling.  I doubt Psycho would have been a bad movie if Hitchcock retained the character written by Bloch,  but it certainly would not possess the legacy it has today.  Sure, we would still have the infamous shower scene and Bernard Herrmann's screeching violins, but no Anthony Perkins, and frankly I cannot imagine a Psycho without him.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Why See This...The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari [1920]

With a month of horror movies ahead, I decided to start the month off right with a classic, one that is often considered the first horror movie ever made.

Think back to any of the mesmerizing and lucid worlds crafted by David Lynch or a psychological thriller from David Fincher, and it is certain that these two great directors watched, or more likely, scrutinized The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari before making any one of their own.  For Lynch, the obvious influence comes from the bizarre setting and backdrop of this early German expressionistic film.  Taking place in the fictional quaint mountain village of Holstenwall Germany, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is not set in some far off, distant land or even the future, as it may appear.  Though the director has placed the film into a seemingly normal German town, the subjectivity of its “realness” is certainly called into question.  Tilted walls, slanted rooftops appear as if a strong wind just came through the town and almost, just almost blew everything over.  The townspeople are real people inhabitating a real town, yet there is something just not right with how it all looks.  Holstenwall is surreal in every sense of the word.  With one glance, any avid David Lynch fan can recognize the obvious influence this movie has on the surreal and decrepit world of Eraserhead or even Inland Empire.  These movies deal with real people, yet the existence seems to take place somewhere far off from our thinking of reality. 

Inside the realm of a David Fincher thriller like Se7en or Fight Club, the characters of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are hardly molded caricatures.  This is really something considering the fact that we are dealing with a somnambulist and a mad scientist.  Short in stature, hunched back and always wearing a lab coat, Dr. Caligari looks like nothing else.  His counterpart, the stiff Frankenstein-like looking somnambulist named Cesare has been sleeping in a coffin for twenty three years and can tell the future.  At the arrival of the town fair, Caligari decides to display Ceasre as an exhibit.  Along with herds of people fascinated by the premise of the somnambulist, two friends arrive, Francis and Allen.  Upon learning his powers, Allen quickly shouts out to Ceasre asking how long he has to live.  The response: until dawn tomorrow.  Early the next morning Allen is dead, murdered in his own room.  Francis instantly puts the blame on Caligari and Ceasre.  But after an entire night perched outside their window, Francis finds nothing, expect that his has been abducted, all while the pair were sleeping.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Month in Movies...September 2012

Total Movies Watched: 11

Coming Soon!

Up in the Air [2009] dir. Jason Reitman
Up in the Air Poster

Beasts of the Southern Wild [2012] dir. Behn Zeitlen
Beasts of the Southern Wild Poster

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Useless Clatter...October Horror Special [and My Defense for the Best Holiday Ever]

There comes a time every year, as the leaves turn a new hue and air becomes crisp, when we must finally admit that summer has come to an end.  Of the four season, Fall tends to get the short end of the stick, usually best identified as the end of good old summer and the onset of a seriously cold winter (depending on where you live of course.)

And Fall is generally not a special time for movies either.  The summer season's blockbuster have all released, and most of the Oscar-worthy flicks don't come out until Christmas time.  So there tends to be some time to kill for cinephiles.  Fall TV is just o.k. and I have never meet someone who consciously awaits the Emmys. [Did those already happen?]  But I personally hold nothing against Fall.  It happens to be my favorite season for a number of reasons, and the biggest reason growing up was the coming splendor of Halloween.  

I always considered myself a pragmatic kid growing up.  Sure I loved Christmas just like any other little Catholic kid, but Halloween was always the best holiday and the reason was quite simple- candy, and lots of it.  What Halloween had [has] over Christmas was the simple guarantee of hundreds and hundreds of sweet and neatly wrapped little gifts.  As long as you were willing to hike around the block for a few hours in a dorky mask, you would be rewarded with a pillowcase full of candy, regardless if you had been naughty or nice.  Santa and his elves could never promise that.  The only thing I could guarantee from him was a new pack of underwear, socks and a toothbrush.  I never new what else to expect, if anything more.  Maybe another Nerf gun, but what if it wasn't the cool one that everyone else had?  With Halloween I never had a growing fear that I would open my pillow case full of candy and find 500 Almond Joys.  

Unfortunately to this day, I no longer enjoy the chocolaty bliss of trick-or-treating.  It is sad, yes, and if it was socially acceptable for a 21 year old to go door to door and ask for candy would I go out there and do it?, you bet I would.  But its not socially acceptable  so I have to get by other ways.

So as we soon reach the month of October, I write this not just to prove that Fall doesn't completely suck and that Halloween is better than Christmas, but to present the ensuing month-long celebration here at FILMclatter.  All posts of the month of October will be devoted to the horror season's best and certainly worst movies, past and present.  From delightful treats like Psycho and Jaws to some tricks like Basket Case 2, no horror movie, good or bad (or even really really bad) is out of discussion.  Sure its not the most original movie blog theme for October but what could be sweeter, and without a pillow case full of candy, its all I got to chew on.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Killer B's...The Food of the Gods [1976]

The Food of the Gods is already an elite B-movie for two reasons:

1. It is an adaptation from an H.G. Wells story
2. It was nominated for an award that wasn’t a Razzie, more specifically the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films’s Best Horror Film of the Year award (rightfully beat out by The Omen)

If the movie 2012 reaffirms to us that our greatest apocalyptic fear is an array of giant, global warming induced mega-disasters, one can only assume the great apocalyptic fear of the 1970s would have come in the form of giant man-eating farm animals and monstrous, bloodthirsty mice.  Then again, you can’t believe everything you see in the movies.  We'll have to wait and see if 2012 and the Mayan prophecy hold true come December 21st.

In their original form, B-films came to life through low budgets, short schedules and flimsy morals. Every so often you’ll come across a director who wants to make a tacky horror movie about giant, bloodthirsty mice while trying to insert a social commentary about man’s disregard for the environment. I have a feeling the end result never pans out to the initial intentions.

Case in point with The Food of the Gods.

What on Earth?...The Food of the Gods [1976]

              posted for THE CAMP & CULT BLOGATHON hosted by SHE BLOGGED BY NIGHT

Watching The Food of the Gods reaffirmed the notion that anyone, anyone can not only make a movie, but make a giant-animal-apocalypse movie for that matter.  CGI is overrated.  All you really need is a few dozen mice and some Lincoln Logs.    

This is just one of those things where an explanation is far too bizarre to leave with only words.  In the age of computers, its easier than ever to grab a few screen shots and let the movie do the talking.  And that's exactly what I've done.  What you'll find below are a handful of my favorite captured moments from Food of the Gods. Hopefully it will convince you to watch the movie and experiene this disarray in real time, or better yet, inspire the creation of your own man-eating farm animal movie.

These are giant, man-eating mice.  Those are real people in a normal sized Jeep.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Reel News...First Trailer for Spielberg's Lincoln [2012]

This season's most talked about movie that's not titled The Master, film fanatics and historical junkies alike recently got their first glimpse into the upcoming movie Lincoln.  Spielberg's film becomes the second one this year to center on our 16th President.  Unfortunately in the upcoming biopic,  President Lincoln will not be wielding an axe and hunting down vampires.  On the plus side however, he will be portrayed by two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, so that should help fill the vampire void a bit.  The movie also boasts a number of other top notch actors like Tommy Lee Jones, John Hawkes, Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so we should have no problems with the acting here.  And with some folks already wanting to hand Lewis his Academy Award after this trailer, it seems no surprise that all the focus is on him, as it always is with any DDL performance.

But this interest should not be all about the Oscars.  I'll admit due to my busy schedule this summer I could not find time to make it to go see Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and as a result this trailer marks the first time I have ever seen Honest Abe portrayed cinematically.  Heck, it will be the first time I ever seen the guy move.  Like any other historical figure, our memory is served best by how ever many portraits and paintings they were willing to sit through.  Tall and stiff, slightly angled one way, I could hardly imagine George Washington doing anything other than standing that way.  To me, he has not other expression.  Lincoln is the same way, though the advent of photography during the mid-1800s offers him a bit more variety.

Watching the trailer, it seemed almost as if Spielberg knew that notion of mine and toyed with the idea.  The first time we see Lincoln it is from behind- along with the second and third times as well.  Like I have always imagined, he just sits there pondering as Congressman yell into his ears telling him how to end the war.  Almost a minute goes by before he says anything at all.  Finally when he gets the chance, his words are riveting, nothing short of fascinating- just as I would try to imagine.  Though I hate starting Oscar rumors before Thanksgiving at the very earliest, Lewis certainly shines in the brief glance we're given so I will agree for now that a third statue is not entirely out of the question.  The nomination is a gimme.

And I can see Lincoln racking up a few more nominations and acclaim outside of Lewis' acting.  Even last year's War Horse, a good not great Spielberg movie, grabbed six nominations and plenty of love from the critics.  I would think Lincoln has a stronger force behind it, but only time will tell. 


Monday, September 17, 2012

After Thoughts...Touch of Evil [1958] (no spoilers)

                         "Oh Mexico"

When looking back on any movie directed by Orson Welles, one's thoughts are almost always overpowered by a fascination for his meticulous and almost suave directing style.  Touch of Evil is no different and if anything, this one of his films boasts probably the single most famous piece of camerawork in Welles’ career and the history of film.  As memorable as that swooping tracking shot maybe, it holds no further discussion here as it fits all too well into another category. And as I look back, I am happy things worked out this way because had it not, the following topic would have been ignored completely.

Coming in at a close second to Welles' fine camerawork in my after thoughts of Touch of Evil would be the delightfully pomp original soundtrack composed by Henry Mancini.  Often considered the last true noir film, Touch of Evil defined itself by how it differed from the great noirs before it, felt clearly through its score.  Bent on an unsolved crime filled with seedy villains, corruption, and cops smoking cigarettes, Touch of Evil is a true and timeless noir.  But what sets this one apart from all the others is its location.  Touch of Evil is one of the few noir films to not take place in Los Angeles, instead departing south from the incumbent high rises and dark alleyways of the big city in favor of a small border town known as Los Robles.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

One Long Look...Touch of Evil [1958]

In one of the final interviews given before his death, Orson Welles stated, "I started at the top and worked down."  Part of that is true.  Welles could never match the success f he had with Citizen Kane, directing the masterpiece at only 25 years young.  Having a long and substnaitla directing career after Kane, Welles ' films were always met with cuts and re-edits by overarching producers and the success that came  seemed always second-rate.  Nowadays, Welles is considered one of the greatest directors of all time.  His intricate and innovative style filled with marvelous crane shots lends him the title of Hollywood auteur.

Second to Citizen Kane is Welles' 1958 crime thriller Touch of Evil in which we find one of the most famous shots in the history of film.  Touch of Evil opens with a marvelous three minute tracking shot that creates suspense that no other single take has ever matched.  Starting with an extreme close up of a bomb, the camera swoops up and about the city streets amongst the passing cars and pedestrians caught up in the glittering nightlife of this small border town.  The camera follows the fateful couple in the loaded car while introducing our leading man and his wife, all in one shot.  Welles took up an extraordinary task with this one shot alone, the result affirming his legacy beyond Citizen Kane as one of the great American directors of film.


Friday, August 31, 2012

My Month in Movies...August 2012

Total Movies Watched: 14

'40s: 3          + 5 movies from 1001 Movies to See Before You Die
'50s: 2          + 4 movies based on a true story
'60s: 1          + 4 Noirs
'70s: 1          + 3 B-movies
'80s: 2          + 2 Orson Welles films
'90s: 0          + 2 foreign films
'00s: 3          + 1 documentary
'10s: 2          + 1 movie that's not a movie

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Useless Clatter...My Sight & Sound Top 10*

Happening only once every ten years, the Sight and Sound poll always proves to stem its fair share of excitement and procrastination to cinephiles everywhere.  Even during those odd years, one certainly has enough internet at their hands to pass the time, memorizing each of the previous five polls s to get them through until the next voting.  And with the poll taking place this past July, so begins our long nine year hibernation.  But just like any animal heading towards their long winter’s nap, we have to be adequately prepared and make sure there is substantial feeding for our hunger. 

And we got it quite recently when Sight and Sound released the all-extensive statistics outlying every movie voted for and the Top 10 lists from all 946 directors, critics, programmers, scholars who partook in this year’s poll.  Thousands of films and thousands of links to click; I found myself overwhelmed by the magnitude of what we now had.  But after almost two hours, I found it difficult to differentiate my feverish clicking from what’s called procrastination.  I knew nothing was getting done so I decided to put my efforts towards something remotely more proactive, if that can even be said.

Below is my Sight and Sound Top 10*, though I must say the asterisk is stressed.  Instead making one of those typical “these are the 10 best films in my opinion” list, I decided to make it more difficult and place some restrictions on my selections.  I decided that the films I was going to choose could not be in the Top 25 from either the Directors Top 100 or the Critics Top 250 lists.  That was a big sacrifice and mean leaving many sure picks like Kane, 2001, and Seven Samurai off-limits.  But rules are rules, even if you're the one that made them up.

 So below you will find my Sight and Sound Top 10*.  I tried not to dwell too hard on my selections, but at the same time tried to make them as diverse as possible, picking one from various countries, genres and movements.  If anyone else would like to partake in creating a Top 10 list under these restrictions, please feel free.  I would love to see what others think and maybe it could be some sort of Blog-a-thon or something.

Here are the extensive rules:

1. Only 10 films can be chosen
2. All selections must exceed the 25th film voted by the Critics (ties included)
3. All selections must also exceed the 25th film voted by the Directors (ties included)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why See This...The Queen of Versailles [2012]

Before seeing The Queen of Versailles in theaters, I literally knew nothing about the movie, nothing about the infamous Siegel family, and nothing about Versailles (that last part’s not true).  By its title alone, I assumed the movie would be some sort of period piece drama, probably starring Kiera Knightley as one of King Louis XIV’s wives.  But as I glanced at the enormous poster before stepping inside the theater, I knew right then that my assumption was far off.  Worse, I feared that my mom dragged to some sort of Cougar Town movie spin-off.  Thankfully, that was wrong too.

The Queen of Versailles is a sort of quasi-documentary, though not quite a mocumentary. There is no narrator, but the characters, completely aware of the filming, speak directly to the camera.  In the spirit of popular TV shows like The Office and Parks & Rec., I figured a movie would soon bank on this trending style.  Our story revolves around the Siegels, David and Jackie Siegel and their eight children.  They are beyond far beyond any notion of the term. Don Siegel is the founder of Westgate Resorts, the largest timeshare company in the world.  The film counts his success showing pictures of David with celebrity faces like Donald Trump, George Clooney, all the 50 Miss America representatives, and oh yeah, he claims his money got George Bush elected to office.  What makes these 1%-ers such a sight is the fact that they are in process of building the largest single family home in America- thirteen bedrooms, twenty-three bathrooms, three swimming pools, two tennis courts, a twenty car garage.  When asked why, Don simply retorts, “Because I can.” 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Useless Clatter...Another New Category: What on Earth?

Every once in a while, you will come across a movie who’s explanation goes far beyond the use of words. Our English language contains tens of thousands of adjectives that could certainly fit the description of just about any possible scenario one could think up, so it surely it must be done.  But in the case of movies,  there always that feeling of something missing when dissolving a moving pictures into words.  Describing Ingmar Bergman’s Persona as “a lucid, fever dream of a masterpiece”[1] gives viewers an appropriate emotional context, but still does not match all that lies within the film.  Other movies like  The Tree of Life or Triumph of the Will leave me without words after each viewing.  Then again, this task of describing what we see should not necessarily come easily. I see it as a testament to any filmmaker who can create worlds so inexplicable that it leaves viewers speechless.

But above all, I must say this holds most applicable to the genre of B-movies.  As I pretend to be going off on some philosophical tangent about the vast possibilities contained in the cinema, I am really here for reasons much less technical but equally as appreciative.  I am introducing the newest category here at FILMclatter titled 'What on Earth?'.  Working twosome with my other addition, The Killer B’s, this will serve as bona fide proof that not everything can and should be described in words.  From each horrible B-movie reviewed in The Killer B’s, What on Earth? will feature an array of screenshots from the movie that best displays schlock cinema’s tremendous ability for crafting images where words have no place.  The images will be chosen based on the merits of unfathomed absurdity, ridiculousness, and the occasional illogic.  But that's a description right there.  I know, this is all a bit of an oxymoron and I continue to contradict myself the more I type.

The point of this category is not to try and stump the dictionary.  It serves no greater purpose than sheer entertainment and  an appreciation for the most unimaginable things movies have to offer.   Even better, this gives me a chance to be lazy and throw up a legitimate post consisting of five pictures and ten words.  I'll take that any day.

[1] Credit where credit is due! Persona description from Alex Winthrow at And So It Begins... (

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Killer B's...The Stuff [1985]

I have always heard that the mark of a good story teller is one who can convey everything they need to in as little time as possible.  Seven Samurai, which clocks in at around three and a half hours is a spectacular movie, no doubt one of the greatest and most impressive outputs the cinema has ever seen. But more impressive I would say is Ingmar Bergman’s Persona.  In a mere 87 minutes Bergman’s mesmerizing and illusionary tale carries the emotional weight well beyond any epic and lengthy masterpiece.

In a similar way (though I must immediately add that this is certainly the only thing they have in common), Larry Cohen’s schlock horror piece The Stuff has a running time of 86 minutes.  Does this mean it is a well-constructed, elegantly condensed narrative film like Persona? Of course not.  This just so happens to be the kind of movie that refutes my prior paragraph.

As it begins, the movie wastes no time introducing its audience to “the stuff-” a creamy milky-looking goo found in the ground that suddenly becomes the most delicious and addicting dessert in America.  The director finds no better way to communicate this information than by having the movie’s first speaking character make abrupt exclamatory statements out loud to no one.  Of course, we have to assume that his Schizophrenic outbursts are “important information” geared towards the audience. This old man is the first person to discover “the stuff” seeping up through the dirt.  And as anyone’s first instinct would be when finding a mysterious goo bubbling in the ground, the man immediately reaches down to taste it.  In his favor, the substance was not some sort of hydrochloric poison that burnt his tongue clean off.  Of course not, it tastes wonderful and from here enters The Stuff, a delicious dessert snack that floods the super markets and kitchens of every household in America even putting ice cream distributors out of business.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Useless Clatter...New Category: The Killer B's

When I first decided I was interested in film and actually began to study some academically, I realized there was over 100 years of movies behind me that I needed catching up on.  A few years back, it never occurred to me that I might ever watch a movie that was considered "old."   But that has changed some.  A lot actually.  Nowadays, most of what I watch is probably classified as old.

Sometimes though, watching a movie can be more of a task than anything else.  Film’s primary function is to entertain, lending its viewers a two hour escape from their own world into the bizarre creation of someone's mind.  That is how it began and that is how it always should be.  Often in the case of academics, I’m caught abusing this basic rule of thumb.  My experience of watching becomes engrossed by observation, and the balance between entertainment and analysis shifts harshly towards the latter.  I’ll sit there and analyze the movie’s mise en scene, eyes fixed on everything that is not going on and begin to brainstorm how I should formulate all this into the upcoming essay.  Watching a movie then becomes studying a movie and at times is almost stressful.  Example: sitting through the four-hour Hamlet adaptation for a Shakespeare & Film class, I have yet to recover.

The only cure of course is a supplementary dosage of thoughtless, mind-numbing B-movies, those of which I will feature in a new category- The Killer B’s.  You’ll find no Welles, no Fellini and certainly no Bergman films here.  Instead one might find something along the lines of Santa Clause Conquers the Martians, TheToxic Avenger or The Thing with Two Heads.

As in the classic case of sequels, B-movies are highly inconsistent pieces of art and caution must be exerted before diving in.  (Well, in one sense, they are all really bad, cheap, unprofessional and stupid, but that does not make them worthless!)  When the right balance of narrative, character construction and a lack of concern for anything but blood are found, you might just come across an outstanding B-movie that deserves it’s half-rate recognition.  But unfortunately, it is in their nature to be bad and occasionally one will stumble upon a B-flick that is so bad, so worthless and so utterly repulsive (and not in the good way) that it becomes difficult to even justify lending your time towards watching it.

That is where I come in.  

For The Killer B's, a simple 'Yea!' and 'Nay!' grading scale will be implemented here based on the merits found by your trusted reviewer.  Obviously going any further than a two-point grading scale and trying to grade these movies with any more thought would not be time well spent.  Following each judgment, a brief passage will follow with more specifics regarding the movie if one finds themselves half-interested in actually watching it or just wants the slightest bit of entertainment I will try and provide.

Finally, I must note that all of the reviewed movies found in this category can easily be attained either through Netflix Instant or, which to no one's surprise both contain a vast and deafening collection of B-movies.  We're gonna need a bigger boat.


The first installation of The Killer B's will highlight an extraordinarily wonderful and psychologically complex film called The Food of the Gods [1976] by the auteur director Bert I. Gordon.

The Food of the Gods [1976]


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Useless Clatter…The Case of Raging Bull II [and a Defense for Michael Bay]

When I first came across the news that a sequel to Raging Bull was in the works, I thought the rumors would dispel pretty quickly.  Soon after though, I came across a production still from the upcoming project that affirmed this insensible reality.  There were no rumors at all; a movie named Raging Bull II was actually being made.  Neither Scorsese nor DeNiro are involved in it either.  I originally began working on a post where I would basically do nothing more than complain about the fact that a Raging Bull sequel was being made, but that would only waste everyone’s time.

People can agree that Raging Bull is a near-perfect film.  From its gritty black and white cinematography to a flawless script to the ever encompassing, mad-house performance from Robert DeNiro (the greatest acting performance that isn’t Stanley Kowalski), Raging Bull stands on its own as one of the greatest American movies ever made.

I also think people can agree on the fact that sequels are wild cards.  Done right they can escalate a film’s fortune to new heights as with The Godfather and The Lord of the Rings.  But flip that around and watching a sequel turns into nothing more than a waste of time and money.  And as I always say in defense, I hate being too critical.  In this age, nothing is truly a failure if it breaks even, and for a Hollywood picture, that is no less true.

In hindsight, a sequel to Carrie was probably not necessary or in any high demand, especially when it came out 22 years after the original movie.   Yet as it stands, I have to be honest in saying that The Rage: Carrie 2 is a movie I am incapable of creating and  as much distaste as I might have for it, there remains a whole lot of skill that goes into making something of that caliber and that must not be ignored.  Hate Michael Bay as much as you want, but put yourself in his shoes and Transformers 2 would probably have been even worse.  Maybe it should not be called a movie as much as it is a capitalist venture.  Besides, there's no denying that Hollywood is a conglomerate service  business that occasionally puts out terrific products the year. Then in this case, Mr. Bay is one hell of an entrepreneur.  His $200 million investment into the Transformers sequel turned into a staggering $900 million from box office sales alone.  Warren Buffet would be thoroughly impressed.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

After Thoughts...Kiss Me Deadly [1955] (no spoilers)


Few times in my movie-viewing ventures have I come across a name so apt to a character's persona than with Mike Hammer.  Sure, Iceman and Maverick go without saying, but nicknames don’t count.  When a name is given in response to someone's attributes, that's too easy.  The name Hammer is no nickname, but rather a surname passed down through generations that was bestowed upon this man after a long line of men before him- maybe not, but I surely like to think it was this dramatic.  And if this was a real story and Mike Hammer was actually a real person, conceived of flesh in our world, the above statements would actually matter some, but given the fact that Mike Hammer and his entire surrounding existence was built through a means of creative fiction, none of that really matters.  However, in my experience watching Kiss Me Deadly, I could not get the idea out of my head.  And the more I watched, the more it was true.  Mike Hammer is Mike Hammer

Classic noir detectives like Philip Marlowe (The BigSleep) and Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon) would be in for a rude awakening if Mike Hammer ever joined their department.  A burly dude to say the least, Mike Hammer probably invented the knock-heads-first-then-ask-question approach to interrogation.  Messy and slightly unprofessional, but it works nonetheless.  If only he and Harry Callahan were born of the same universe, the streets of San Francisco would have been clean in no time, not to mention we would have had a terrific motion picture on our hands.

Dirty Harry with his .44 magnum side kick and “Do I feel lucky?” staple is a terrifically fearing and bad ass cop.  Mike Hammer is not. He is bouldering and clumsy.  At one point, he finds a way to combat a switchblade using a bag of popcorn.  I definitely would not call that bad ass, or even cool, but it works nonetheless.  For the most part though, the Hammer just relies on his fists and gets the job done fine.  Like all noir-set detectives, or any detective for that matter, their job calls for dealing with the most unpleasant and ruthless criminals on a daily basis.  Brain or brawn as the old saying goes, and Mike Hammer made his decision.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Reel News...Sight & Sound 2012 Poll

Citizen Kane is a second-rate film. I’m only joking of course, but actually sort of serious.

 For the first time in 50 years, Welles’ celebrated masterpiece has been knocked out of its familiar standing as the “Greatest Film of All Time” in Sight  & Sound’s decennial poll. The defeat came by way of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller Vertigo which surpassed Kane by a mere 34 votes.

Statistically speaking and with a hint of hindsight, it seemed only a matter of time for Vertigo to someday take the top spot.  Slowly and steadily the film has made its way upwards in the BFI poll since its inclusion as the seventh best film of all time back in the 1982.  In 1992, Vertigo was fourth and 10 years later it would move up to number two right behind Citizen Kane. This year of course, we see that's the other way around.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Month of Movies...July 2012

Total Movies Watched: 14

'00s: 1           + 8 movies in 1001 Movies to See Before You Die
'50s: 2           + 6 literary adaptations
'60s: 1           + 4 documentaries
'70s: 0           + 4 movies that have a skateboard in them
'80s: 2           + 2 re-watches
'90s: 1           + 2 sequels
'00s: 5           + 2 movies that take place in Chicago
'10s: 2           +1 movie that takes place in Middle Earth

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why See This...Moonrise Kingdom [2012]

As Moonrise Kingdom begins, its opening shots cleverly create the illusion that what you are looking at is not a movie.  What we see through the deliberately square and mechanically positioned camera is a series of perfectly set up rooms in a quaint New England styled cabin.  Everything in them so perfect and so intricately positioned that the frames look more like static pictures than a movie.  For a visual comparison, I immediately thought of the Thorne Miniature Room Gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago as I watched the film.  These miniature rooms bear a certain resemblance to the look of a Wes Anderson film. Whether they look like one of the cottage rooms from Anderson’s opening scene or instead take their design from 17th France, these miniature rooms all share a perfect design with a hint of elegance and intimacy.  In a similar way after seven features, cinephiles have come to recognize the Wes Anderson design within seconds of its playing- goldenrod hues, dysfunctional characters (lots of them) and always set to a rockin' soundtrack.  His style is wonderful and cleverly pronounced, though never over done.  Unfortunately, not the same can be said about his characters.

We have seen Anderson do this before with the distant brothers in The Darjeeling Limited, the incompetent, revenge-seeking marine men  of The Life Aquatic with SteveZissou and most famously with the hyper-dysfunctional family of The RoyalTenenbaums.  His consistent, cutting edge style has made him arguably the most recognizable director working today.  This unique influx of elegance and the deliberately bad make his movies such a joy to watch.  It mirrors the same fascination we have with watching videos other people failing and being able to only experience their pain vicariously and with a lots of laughter.  All in all though, Moonrise Kingdom is much more worth your time than 90 minutes on Fail Blog.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

One Long Look (and a little history too!)...Gun Crazy [1950]

In 1967 when two characters by the name of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker first appeared on movie theater screens, their presence would make a lasting impact on the forever changed American cinema. With its release, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde was an instant hit. Its gritty yet romanticized depiction of sex and violence won over both critics and fans and marked the beginning of an exuberant trend that would soon occur in the movies. Bonnie and Clyde became one of the first motion pictures connected with and created under the New Hollywood era. Paving the way for the soon-to-arrive big Blockbuster pictures of the 1970s (JawsStar WarsApocalypse Now), this new era of American filmmaking favored more studio control, bigger budgets, and less hindrance by censorship policies. The covers were finally ripped off in movies so to say.  Movies from this era such as The Graduate and Blow-Up pioneered a trend of unrepressed sexuality while films like Straw Dogs were packed tight with gut-wrenching violence.  Penn managed to sustain both of these exotic themes in perfect balance with Bonnie and Clyde and in the end managed to create a masterpiece that has yet to be forgotten.  Innovative, striking and perverse all adequately describe this great movie and very deservingly, Bonnie and Clyde will always be remembered as an American classic holding its place on the AFI’s list of 100 Best American films.

But Bonnie and Clyde technically did not mark the movie debut of the two rambunctious bank robbers.  Seventeen years prior to Penn’s movie, the couple appeared on screen under the names Annie Starr and Bart Tare in the 1950 film Gun Crazy directed by Joseph H. Lewis.  Also taken from the real life account of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, Gun Crazy tells the same story of two impulsive, bank robbing lovers- and did it first.  Though Gun Crazy was also a smash hit on its release and remains a critical acclaimed film (preserved in the National Film Registry), it is hard to say the original outshines its successor.    Many people simply do not know the original 1950 film exists, while others simply prefer to pass on it in favor of the more modernized, sexualized and violent 1967 version.

Similarities aside, Bonnie and Clyde and Gun Crazy together represent the phenomenon of this singular story as constructed by two different eras of American filmmaking.  Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde had the freedom to blast their way through everyone and everything, showing it all too.  His film includes one of the bloodiest death scenes in cinematic history.  But back in 1950, violence to the extent at which it is displayed to the audience in Bonnie and Clyde was not tolerated by censorship regulations of the time.  Lewis’ surrogate Bonnie and Clyde duo was forced to implement the same type of violent renegade characters only in a more repressed and subtle manner.  These tightly-bound censorship policies manifest themselves in a particular scene from Gun Crazy in which a long take is employed.  Here, the differences between the old Classical Hollywood and the New Hollywood are on full display.