Thursday, September 30, 2010

More October Terror starts tomorrow!

A spotlight on more frightfully good flicks starts again this October... So slap on your favorite Silver Shamrock mask and tune in each day for a look back on some favorites!

Meep Pic Of The Week: House (1986)

Successful Horror Comedies are few and far between. It's really difficult to get the proper tone down mixing those two genres, but Steve Miner & Sean Cunningham's House gets it right. It's gallows humor is an interesting and lively mix with a potentially depressing story revolving around a writer's grief over the accidental death of his child.

William Katt plays a Steven King-esque Horror writer, who while working on a more personal novel involving his experiences in Vietnam, and having to deal with his aforementioned grief, suddenly finds himself living in a House he inherited by his recently deceased Aunt. He also inherits the house's ghouls and propensity to get inside of your head.

House has many fun and zany moments involving severed body parts, a nosy neighbor played by George Wendt (Norm!) another nosy neighbor with big breasts and a brat for a child, and some crazy Vietnam flashbacks (Bull from Night Court!) Horror director veteran Steve Miner surprisingly imbues this movie with a lot of great, light touches without having to skimp on the horror. I'd also like to mention this picture makes some really great use of pop music.

House may not be a perfect film, but it's kind of a blast.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Previews of Coming Attactions: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

That particular voice over guy always managed to creep me the hell out.

My fair ladies of Sleepaway Camp...

The mega-bitch who rocks the side ponytail like on one's business:

Everyone's favorite aunt:

And the girl with the mostest:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Meep Pic Of The Week: Castaway (1987)

from Cannon Films
Original Theatrical Release Date (USA): September 11th, 1987
DVD Release: No, but you can find it on Netflix. 

Nicholas Roeg's Castaway from 1986 stars Oliver Reed as a scruffy, dissatisfied with-it-all writer who takes out an ad in Time Out London to find a woman who'll accompany with him on a deserted island for a year. Sexy Amanda Donohoe answers and the two hit it off right away.

The picture chronicles the couple's year of ups and downs, and explores the dynamics of a relationship in a way few films can as it eschews the day-to-day reality of urban life. The film is also stunning to look at. Roeg a former cinematographer himself gives the picture a vibrancy, but also an immediacy that is distinctive of his other films and frequent collaborator Ken Russell.

Like Russell's films, the picture is a unique in it's insistence to capture odd moments here and there that greatly add to the circumstances and the characterizations. And no actor other than Oliver Reed could ever match that oddity and intensity so well. Reed's Gerald is in turns magnetic, angry, pitiful and robust. He's full of contradictions and that's what makes him so interesting. He's also greatly matched with Donohoe. She spends most of the film undressed, but has equal footing with Reed. Hers is a strong character that is always a pleasure to watch undressed or not. Though that is truly a great bonus to watch!

The picture was based on the book Castaway, written by Lucy Irving based on her true experiences. Though the picture manages to capture both points of view. Gerald himself also had a book published about his experiences on the island as well. The picture also opens with a song by Kate Bush which she wrote for the film. Kate initially was going to star but decided against it considering all the sexual content.


Monday, September 20, 2010

My Favorite Classic Screwball Comedies

Back in the day when I went on a kick exploring different genres and sub-genres, switching from one to another to find something new to tickle and awaken my soul, I eventually stumbled on the classic Screwball Comedy. I instantly fell in love with these madcap, quick-witted comedies that almost always were populated by a married or would-be couple who almost love to hate each other. These Films started in the 1930's (one would argue 1934's Frank Capra's It Happened One Night to be the first film to really kick off the genre) mostly to counteract the times of the great depression, giving audiences something funny yet never condescending to go to. The dilms were popular, and up stayed as such for about a decade up until the end of the second world war.

 I can't fully articulate why I'm drawn to these Films, but upon reflecting on my favorite titles in the genre, I find a common denominator. These pictures were all superbly written and directed-- Their dialogue and editing was often at a breakneck pace (unlike anything else in Film of the time) and even though the story often revolved around a couple who couldn't stand each other, love often won them over at the end. These Films stimulate both the head and the heart and that is far too rare.

 Here are my 10 favorites, all movie shows I cherish dearly no matter what genre they are in...

Bringing Up Baby (1938) Directed by Howard Hawks

Howard Hawks' film is my favorite. It's also the first Screwball Comedy that I ever saw. The chemistry between Grant & Hepburn is dynamite. The lunacy captured here is like other film in the genre and Hepburn's Susan Vance is a complete original. Bringing Up Baby for me is complete movie heaven.

The Lady Eve (1941) Directed by Preston Sturges

Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve may not be the film he's always identified with (That honor usually goes to Sullivan's Travels) but I count it to be the best thing he's ever done. I'd also count The Lady Eve as one of my biggest inspirations for writing. The dynamics between the characters shine beautifully with Preston's sparkling and razor sharp dialogue.

The Awful Truth (1937) Directed by Leo McCarey

Leo McCarey won the oscar in 1937 for best Director for The Awful Truth (he won again in 1944 for Going My Way) and it was well deserved. McCarey may not be a household name like Hawks, Capra or Sturges but he's right up there with him. The Awful Truth is the perfect screwball comedy with star making performances by Irene Dunne and Cary Grant. Even the dog in the film, named Mr. Smith, gives a wonderful performance. See this movie!

His Girl Friday (1940) Directed By Howard Hawks

The Front Page gets another spin in Howard Hawks' now legendary version, His Girl Friday. This is the best version of the much adapted hit play because of it's writing and pitch perfect performances by the two leads. When I first saw this film I blown away at how lightning paced dialogue can be totally effective and joyous to watch. Nobody does it better than in this one.

It Happened One Night (1934) Directed by Frank Capra

The great It Happened One Night kicked off the genre and still remains one of the most influential movies of all time. Any film about romantic relationships, especially those of opposition, owes a great deal to this film. Capra sets the standard and the film remains hugely enjoyable and fresh to this day.

My Favorite Wife (1940) Directed by Garson Kanin

The re-teaming of Irene Dunne and Cary Grant leads to more screwball comedy gold. The quintessential story of love lost and suddenly regained leads to crazy antics as former spouses Dunne and Grant find themselves back in each other's lives after years apart, but now each involved with someone else. My Favorite Wife never fails to make me smile.

The Philadelphia Story (1940) Directed by George Cukor

The Philadelphia Story has since become a cherished classic, and a well deserved one. The performances by all 3 leads are magnetic and at turns hilarious. Jimmy Stewart won the oscar here, but I really think Cary Grant steals the show (he was the only one not nominated that year) Also, wonderful writing by Donald Ogden Stewart (Holiday, An Affair To Remember)

Mr. And Mrs. Smith (1941) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Suspense maestro Alfred Hitchcock put his bid into the popular Screwball Comedy genre in the early 40's and succeeds brilliantly. Mr. And Mrs. Smith like the best of screwball comedies is equal parts funny and sophisticated, and it's story prime for the genre. A married couple discover their marriage wasn't legally performed in their county so suddenly everything gets thrown into upheaval. Carole Lombard really shines here.

The Palm Beach Story (1942) Directed by Preston Sturges

Preston Sturges' with each film elevated the genre, and The Palm Beach Story is another treasure. Actors Joel McCrea and especially Claudette Colbert are wonderful as a husband and wife who decide to divorce in Palm Beach after financial issues and the ever important screwball comedy element of misunderstanding put a damper on their marriage.

Twentieth Century (1934) Directed by Howard Hawks

Howard Hawks' first screwball comedy effort is also one of the very first films in the genre (it's often cited as the prototype for the screwball comedy film) Great performances and master scribe Ben Hecht's (Notorious, Kiss Of Death, Nothing Sacred) screenplay are the star here in a story about a partnership between a Broadway producer and his protegee. This is the movie that made Carole Lombard a well deserved comedic star.

a still from "The Awful Truth"

I also have much love for:

Arsenic And Old Lace Ball Of Fire Born Yesterday Design For Living Easy Living Holiday I Was A Male War Bride The Major And The Minor Miracle Of Morgan's Creek My Man Godfrey Nothing Sacred Sullivan's Travels That Uncertain Feeling The Thin Man Series Topper Trouble In Paradise Unfaithfully Yours You Can't Take It With You


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Capsule Movie Show Reviews - September 2010

The Other Guys ***
Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg have some good moments in this buddy action/comedy spoof. The movie overloads on the action and the set pieces never really rise to anything more than routine, but the movie has a good deal of laughs and a strong undercurrent of satire. It's the kind of movie that grows on you.

The Ghost Writer ****
One of the best films of the year. Roman Polanski's latest is a mesmerizing thriller about a writer caught into the web of penning a David Blair-esque Prime Minister's memoirs. He picks up the pieces of his predecessor who died mysteriously, and we are hooked right along with him.

Kick-Ass ***
Kick-Ass isn't a totally satisfying movie because it's lead character isn't all that interesting. I can't really sympathize with a nerd who thinks he can become a human superhero without even learning the basics of self-defense (take a class, geek) But the supporting characters, especially Hit Girl make this movie POP. The picture succeeds because it at least tries to stretch the boundaries and taboos of mainstream cinema. So suck it, Spider-Man.

Open House **
I was with this horror picture for awhile as it had a unique angle of home invasion and confinement, but newbie director (and brother of Anna who has a small role) Andrew Paquin simply cannot sustain the suspense or sense of dread for it's entire running time. After awhile you simply zone out.

Death At A Funeral **
A remake of the Brit comedy from only three years ago struggles and comes up short of capturing the comedy magic of the earlier picture. One of the biggest sins the filmmakers make is giving Chris Rock absolutely nothing to work with. He's the straight man to the lunacy around him and never once gets to be funny. Watch the original instead.

The Collector **
A really intriguing premise gets lost in this over-stylized Saw rip-off. The movie's best moments are in the elaborate traps the killer sets up (and defies all logic in doing so) so it's especially frustrating that the filmmakers didn't have enough sense to highlight them rather than deflect with all the flashy, empty visuals.

The City Of Your Final Destination **1/2
Another look into the private lives of a family from a writer's point of view as a doctoral student flies to Argentina to pen a deceased writer's biography. James Ivory's film is well acted and visually stunning, but ultimately predictable. The picture lacks a real narrative drive as we learned next to nothing about the deceased author, but it's very pretty to look at.

The Back Up Plan *1/2
Jennifer Lopez one day decides she wants a baby and gets inseminated. Then J-lo immediately meets the man/douchebag of her dreams. Jenny From The Block and douchebag (Alex O'Loughlin) spend the rest of the movie in hell where we learn that having a baby will completely tear your romantic life apart and you'll eventually give into the douche who has turned his back on you time and time again since he learned the news. Who wrote this crap?

City Island **1/2
That quaint fishing town up in the bronx (I wonder if J-lo and douchebag go there with the baby sometimes) is the setting for this wacky comedy. For a movie about a family full of secrets, I think most importantly we ask: Will husband Andy Garcia and wife Julianna Marguiles learn of each other's deep dark secret of sneaking cigarettes behind their back? City Island has gotten very good notices, but I couldn't help but feel like it was all a bit forced.

Everybody's Fine (2009) **
Another family, another secret. This time it revolves around a very disconnected clan as they all live all over the country. Papa De Niro makes it his mission to get his family together for the holidays so goes on a trek to visit each one... but they are all hiding that deep dark secret from him which inadvertently spoils his fun. We the audience learn of this secret pretty early on, but mostly we are all pretty bored. Skip this schmaltz.

Piranha 3D **1/2
A remake in name only of Joe Dante's spoof of Jaws. Piranha 3D ups the gore and nudity like no other mainstream horror picture of present, but it's at the expense of any smarts whatsoever. So if you're in the mood for something completely over the top and brain dead, this is absolutely the right choice. At least the movie never once pretends to be otherwise.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World ***1/2
A total surprise. Fun and inventive and like nothing else at the multiplex, Edgar Wright's latest pays a great tribute to the Nintendo generation. The love story works, the action is kinetic and the actors all appealing. This movie gets a lot right. For those who complain that summer was lackluster in good fun or fresh movie choices, clearly didn't go to this one. I'm sure it'll find it's appropriate cult audience when it hits DVD and cable.

Dorian Gray (2009) *1/2
The Picture of Dorian Gray gets yet another face lift in this mostly boring take on Oscar Wilde's great novel. Colin Firth is slumming it here, and star Ben Barnes as Dorian never once commands the role or screen. Check out 1945's The Picture Of Dorian Gray from MGM/Warner Brothers instead.

Machete ***1/2
I'm not the biggest fan of Robert Rodriguez's silly movies, but this one hits the bullseye. Finally we have a real badass man of color to root for on the big screen that isn't Denzel Washington. Danny Trejo is 66 years old, gets all the ladies and kicks ass like no one's business. I caught Machete and the drive-in and it was the perfect venue to see this kind of movie. Here's to many more Machete roles to Trejo.

Red Riding Trilogy: 1974 **
The first part of the trilogy doesn't really get off to a promising start. For a series that is supposedly mind blowingly dark and twisted, this movie was mostly just badly stylized and predictable. Shouldn't a reporter, and one dubbed 'scoop', watch movies and read pulp novels? He makes so many incredibly bad choices that we really don't care for him whatsoever. Hopefully the subsequent movies get better. A whole lot better.

**** excellent
***1/2 very good
*** recommended
**1/2 not bad
** not so hot
*1/2 skip it, buddy
* don't even think about it, mister

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Meep Pic Of The Week: The Pit (1981)

The Pit
From Amulet & New World Pictures
Original Theatrical Release Date: October 23rd, 1981
DVD Release: Yes

A young boy. A Teddy bear. A hole in the ground filled with Trogs. THE PIT is not your everyday horror picture. Spiked with a macabre sense of humor, Canadian locales and plenty of weird, this picture easily sets itself apart from anything of the time. You'll wonder what planet the filmmakers were from, and question your sanity after you find yourself thoroughly enjoying this unique motion picture experience which features the second best scene of all time featuring an elderly woman in a wheelchair being pushed to her doom (the first being Kiss Of Death from 1947, of course)

A prime glimpse into this picture's development of abnormality can be found courtesy of IMDB's Trivia...

The director's wife refused to let him shoot the nude scenes, so the screenwriter shot them instead. The only shot involving nudity that the director was allowed to film was the "skinny dipping" scene and only because the actress was his daughter.

The Embassy VHS Cover:

Friday, September 10, 2010

DVD Evaders: Two Director's firsts - Seizure (1974) & Fear, Anxiety And Depression (1989)

from American International Pictures & Astral Films 
Original Theatrical Release Date: September 29th, 1974

The very first from the director of Platoon, Wall Street and JFK. And a horror film to boot! Seizure is bizarre and a product of it's time (and probably the drugs from it's director) and features the unlikely cast of Mary Woronov, Troy Donahue and Herve Villechaize. This first effort from the now revered filmmaker deserves a real DVD release (There are terrible looking bootlegs floating out there) so we can get a look at the beginnings of things to come... Which unfortunately for us is the soon to be released and likely to be unnecessary sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Fear, Anxiety And Depression
A Samuel Goldwyn Film  
Original Theatrical Release Date: December 8th, 1989

Todd Solondz wrote, directed and starred in his first feature film. A "quirky" independent film that seems at times heavily influenced by early Woody Allen. FEAR itself doesn't quite stack up against Allen's films all that well, but it's well worth a watch to see Solondz's own unique brand of humor and satire at work.. A lot of which really came into play in his subsequent features. It's also a fun peek into NYC and the art world scene of the late 80's. Trivia: Solondz, like Stone, also released a sequel to one of his past works this year, this one called Life During Wartime. It features several characters from his epic cinema dive into comedy and misery, Happiness.
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