Friday, April 26, 2013

What To Watch on Instant Watch: Bernie

I'm not a huge Richard Linklatter fan, but this ended up being one of my favorite movies that I saw last year. Mortician Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) befriends lonely (and controlling) widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). When her friendship becomes too much to bear, he kills her, but no one in town want to see him do time. It's Jack Black's best performance, and the movie resonates with warmth and biting humor.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Short Review: The Lords of Salem

So, I've never wanted to see a Rob Zombie movie before. I love horror movies, but tend to go old school, and his stuff just doesn't look like anything I'd be interested in. However, The Lords of Salem previews looked kind of intriguing, so I thought I would attend an early matinee today since I had some time on my hands. The story is about radio DJ Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie) who gets an unexpected record delivered to her at the radio station. She plays it, and all sorts of weird shit starts happening, much of it concerning an ancient witches coven referred to as The Lords of Salem.

So, a lot of reviews have been throwing around the names Dario Argento and Ken Russell when describing this movie, and they are right to do so. You are not going to find a conventional narrative here. This film is high on visuals and atmosphere and low on sense-making. Did I like it? Not as much as I wanted to. It wasn't so much that this film is crazy, it's that it just isn't crazy enough. It does owe a lot of Argento and Russell (I'd even throw in a little Kubrick) - Zombie knows his film history and it shows. The problem for me is that it is just too sedate. When I watch a movie with unrestrained hallucinatory imagery, I want to question what the hell is going on. I don't want crazy; I want batshit crazy. I'm not sure how a typical Rob Zombie movie fan is going to take to this movie, but Argento/Russell fans are going to appreciate it, if not exactly like it. It's a little bit silly, and sometimes has a 70's made-for-tv feel, but I liked that. It also has some fun performances by Bruce Davison, Dee Wallace, and Meg Foster. I'd recommend it with the caveat that it is more interesting than good, but it's cool to see Zombie taking a risk here; I can't see a lot of other folks being willing to go so far out there.

A note about Sheri Moon Zombie: I don't think she's a great actress, but I think she did fine here. My greatest issue with her character, is not really with her, but with how she is constantly sexualized by the camera. It might just be the creepiest thing in the film. However, I do like that her character represents a different way for female lead characters to look. She's still a skinny white lady, but with her dreadlocks, tattoos and glasses, she's got a unique look you usually only see in peripheral characters.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What to Watch on Instant Watch: The Thin Blue Line

I remember the first time I saw this movie on PBS; I was blown away - not by the content (which is good) but by the sheer style of the thing. I had never seen a documentary quite like it. The Thin Blue Line tells the story of Randall Adams, a man purporting to be falsely accused of killing a police officer. Director Errol Morris' investigation of this case helped free Adams from prison.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tomorrow night we will be discussing The Thing From Another World and John Carpenter's The Thing with special guest Ben Nason. We will also be pleading our case for The Thing getting picked by the National Film Registry.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Personality Crisis: Nick's Thoughts on David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook"

David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook received near universal praise; the all-knowing Tomatometer gave it a whopping 96%, and the now late Roger Ebert said the film was “so good, it could almost be a terrific old classic.” It was nominated for eight Oscars, and Jennifer Lawrence even got to take home the little shiny man for Best Actress. Everyone loved this movie.

I saw it last night. The local art house was chalked full with the Thursday night crowd – mostly 55 and ups. They loved it. They laughed on queue. They even awwed on queue. Some of them clapped at the end.

I was shuddering, and had been doing so throughout.

I couldn’t help but compare the anxiousness Silver Linings bred in me to the anxiousness people feel when watching Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love – the anxiousness that so infamously drove our benevolent host, Adelaide, to pop a Xanax and view the film in 15 minute increments. When a movie has that kind of effect on its viewer, it’s doing something right. But I walked out of Silver Linings feeling like I’d been played. I absolutely hated it, and that’s not something I throw around lightly. How could I react so negatively to something that 96% of the movie-going public enjoyed? Am I that much of a contrarian? 

I don’t think so. Contrarians are sad and lonely, and probably listen to Metallica ironically. My gripe was not with the unease that was created on screen; I didn’t walk away feeling violated by the content of the film. I did, however, walk away feeling violated by the haphazard way in which the unease was presented.

A little backstory: Silver Linings Playbook is about mental illness. Or at least that’s how it starts. Bradley Cooper plays Pat, our severely bi-polar protagonist, who has been staying in a mental health facility. Pat went through a breakdown after walking in on his wife taking a shower with a fellow teacher. He is prone to delusions and fits of rage. It’s serious stuff. His father, played by Robert DeNiro, also shows signs of being bi-polar and exhibits a few chronic obsessive compulsive tics. There are two untreated mental illnesses under the same roof, and little is being done about either.

In one scene, Pat gets into a physical dispute with his parents, which leaves his mother, albeit accidentally, elbowed in the face. The edits are quick and the shots are all a bit too close to their subjects for comfort. As a viewer, you feel claustrophobic and trapped – helpless –  just as we can presume Pat feels by his disorder. That’s the tone set the film’s first half.

It’s all very realistic, and this is where an important distinction can be drawn between Silver Linings and Punch Drunk Love. When watching Barry in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, there is never any question that he is a caricature of humanity – of the loneliness and isolation we can all feel to be specific – but Silver Linings clearly sets its viewers up for an unflinchingly tough and realistic look at mental illness. 

And then, halfway through, everything changes.

Pat meets Tiffany, who has recently become a widow, and displays similarly neurotic behaviors. From this point on, Silver Linings meanders into the territory of Rom-Com. I won’t go into specific plot details, but the strange interactions between the two, fueled by their respective mental conditions, become punch lines. Serious mental problems are passed off as quirks, and as I said, people laughed at them. Seriously, red wine spilled on white khaki slacks laughed.

It’s not as if I have an aversion to films experimenting with genre. On the contrary, Punch Drunk Love plays with elements of noir, the western, and new wave, among others. Where Anderson experiments artistically with genre and explores the nature of humanity, Russell feels around, trying to suss out his film’s identity. Its big finish is even a literal one, as the film is wrapped up with a dance number, miles removed from the violent outbursts of its first half.  Russell’s tonal shift from “hard look at mental illness” to “Pat meets Tiffany” exhibits a kind of irresponsibility that is difficult to anticipate. 

The film lacks cohesion, and so far, I haven’t been able to come up with any sort of intentionality on David O. Russell’s part. 

But, 96% of critics can't be wrong, right?  

Catch SAFC's discussion of Punch Drunk Love here.

Friday, April 5, 2013

What to Watch on Instant Watch: Slither

Good, gooey horror fun starring Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks. Creepy slugs from space take over a small town, and man are they disgusting.