FRED OLEN RAY DOES THE GIANT SHARK MOVIE

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SUPER SHARK is a charmingly bad, totally inane CGI-laden mess. Check your brains at the door, and read Ross’s movie review here.

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NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

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Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a complete sociopath who adheres to a thoroughgoing capitalist ethic, much like Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in AMERICAN PSYCHO.  Bloom communicates primarily by parroting the entrepreneurial self-help advice he reads on the Internet, and climbs the social ladder by cheating, lying, obstructing justice, and, overall, having a frigid heart. He’s a foil for the nasty underbelly of the so-called American dream: get ahead in life through hard work, elevate your status. NIGHTCRAWLER is here to remind us, all too often, getting to the top isn’t necessarily the most scrupulous endeavor, and—regrettably—certain sects of society have come to revere a greedy, Machiavellian ruthlessness.

NIGHTCRAWLER is the antithesis of feel-good escapism. It’s a sober, ballsy film with a bitter, bummer ending reminiscent of CHINATOWN, FIVE EASY PIECES, and so many classic, confrontational films of the 1970’s. Its socio-political indictments aside, it’s also an extremely well-crafted and engrossing thriller.

In the beginning of the film we find our antihero, Lou, hawking scrap metal to a construction company. It’s obvious he’s down and out as he drives around L.A. in his old, dingy Toyota, selling stuff he stole to pawn shops. His life changes, though, when he meets Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), a nightcrawler, or freelance video crime journalist and all-around gritty dude. I could do this, Lou thinks, and, sure enough, it’s not long before he’s racing to crime scenes to film bloodied car jacking victims and the like.

He’s in business. He eventually makes enough to trade in his Toyota for a Mustang and hire an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed), who is virtually homeless and willing to work for thirty dollars a night (Rick’s trust in Lou really comes back to bite him in the ass).

All the while Lou sells his footage to Nina (Rene Russo), the director of a news network down on its ratings. He becomes infatuated—enough to proposition her in a tacky Mexican restaurant (one of the most uncomfortable scenes I’ve watched in recent memory). She resists his forward, commodified attempts at seduction . . . but is that subject to change? Ultimately, she’s ruthless enough herself to admire him. She’s also willing to run his increasingly unethically obtained footage because, as Jane’s Addiction put it: “the news is just another show with sex and violence.”

Did I mention Lou’s footage is increasingly unethically obtained? Because it is. Big time.

NIGHTCRAWLER works. Unbelievably well. A lot of that has to do with its undeniably strong cast. Gyllenhaal: you thought he was screwed up in DONNIE DARKO? Just you wait . . . I don’t know what it takes to realize a venture capitalist sociopath. Now, I don’t think anyone does–not like Jake Gyllenhall, anyway. His dark, crazed power culminates as, in a fit of rage, he screams at his bathroom mirror before smashing it. That’s the face of a horrific refusal of weakness, and therin lies the essence of Gyllenhaal’s unforgettable character.

Everything about Rene Russo is so immensely believable, too. A seasoned, tough journalist, she’s beyond cynicism. It no longer occurs to her the purpose of the news is to inform citizens–to the best of its ability–of the true state of affairs in the world. Whatever gets the ratings is her mantra, and that means: “violent crime creeping into suburbia.” Aging Paxton is similarly jaded, and emerging actor Riz Ahmed is utterly plausible as a lost, desperate twenty-something. After his “job-interview” scene with Gyllenhaal in a greasy spoon diner, you’re left wanting to know more about him. Unfortunately, your curiosity is never satisfied.

Like the culture it critiques, NIGHTCRAWLER demonstrates an obsession with objects. So much cinematic significance is packed into recurring shots of the stolen watch Bloom wears, his Mustang, his chic sunglasses. Status symbols: the closest thing Bloom has to a raison d’etre.

You get so caught up in NIGHTCRAWLER’s thought provocation, in fact, that you worry it won’t have a bummer ending. The good guys, who are about as compassionless as the bad guys, can’t win, you say. A popcorn Hollywood ending would really muck up its integrity. It puts you on, for a moment, but there is no need to fear. NIGHTCRAWLER retains its integrity.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy (Rene Russo’s husband) has made his mark on confrontational cinema with NIGHTCRAWLER. He’s already a seasoned screenwriter (THE FALL, BOURNE SUPREMACY), but this is his directorial debut. He’s done something powerful. He’s penetrated a core, shown us a world all too real.

We’ll see if he can outdo himself.

I FAILED THE OCTOBER CHALLENGE AGAIN.

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The Internet Movie Database’s horror message boards, every year, invite fans of the genre to participate in the “October Challenge.” To succeed, all you have to do is watch 31 horror movies during the month of October. 16 must be first time views. The other 15 you will have seen before. I’ve been trying to beat this thing for years. No avail. I watch tons of movies, but, like always, I got behind.

Here are the 27 I managed to see:

* = first time view

1. House of Usher (1960)

This is my all-time favorite Vincent Price movie. I also think it’s Roger Corman’s finest hour. Price is amazing as the raving, “afflicted” eponymous character, who says things like: “The history of the Ushers is a history of savage degradation.” HOUSE OF USHER is melodramatic and enthralling to the last second. Its great, literate screenplay was written by pulp author and regular TWILIGHT ZONE contributor Richard Matheson, and the music was composed by lounge lizard maestro Les Baxter, who enhances the movie’s crumbling Gothic vibe perfectly.

2. Private Parts (1972)*

I finally got to see the debut film of Paul Bartel, best known for EATING RAOUL. Ayn Ruyman (GO ASK ALICE) is alluring, naive, and–in fact–downright kinky as runaway Cheryl Stratton, who goes to stay at her aunt Martha’s divey L.A. hotel filled with lunatics, murderers, and perverts. This includes her aunt (Lucille Benson, in a role even nuttier than Bette Davis’s Baby Jane). There’s suspense, sexual perversion, and weirdness galore. This is a smart, hilarious black horror comedy which undeniably lives up to its cult classic status.

3. Cat People (1982)*

Roger Ebert described this one as “mythic.” Indeed it is–I think. It’s also as lurid as can be. Note the great Giorgio Morroder soundtrack, including one of David Bowie’s finest songs from the ’80’s. “And I’ve been putting out the fire … with GASOLINE!”

4. Trick r’ Treat (2007)*

A twisted, funhouse of a movie with cool makeup fx. It’s an anthology flick, but streamlines. I woke up a little disturbed in the middle of the night, thinking my laundry hamper was Sam, the monstrous trick or treater with a sack over his head.

5. Body Parts (1991)*

Jeff Fahey and Brad Douriff in the same movie? Bitchin’. This “modern” retelling of HANDS OF ORLOC is ridiculous, but fabulous acting, suspense, an incredible car chase sequence, and over-the-top gore make it memorable.

6. Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

Yeeee-haw. 5 novel things about this bit of splatter hicksploitation: 1) Herschell Gordon Lewis based the story off the musical BRIGADOON. 2) Lewis, the “Godfather of Gore,” wrote, sang, and performed all the music, including the bluegrass numbers. 3) It was filmed in St. Cloud, Florida. Most of the town’s population is in it. 4) Its star and Lewis stock player, Connie Mason, was PLAYBOY’s June 1963 playmate of the month. 5) Lewis said, of his films, this was his favorite.

7. The Thing (1982)

What a flick. In my opinion, John Carpenter’s best work.

8. The Pact (2012)*

This one is terrifying. After her mother’s death, supernatural forces and an unimaginably frightening mystery emerge for Annie (Caity Lotz) in her deceased mother’s home. This movie is brilliantly plotted and paced with a harrowing level of suspense. It’s a victim movie par excellence, an underrated sleeper; I loved it.

9. Humanoids From the Deep (1980)*

Mutant fish monsters looking to mate with human women sure know how to crash a party.

10. Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Basil Rathbone, who played Sherlock Holmes over fourteen times, plays Baron Wolf Frankenstein. He moves to the village where his father made the monster and is greeted with scorn from locals. In effort to clear his family name he tries to make the monster good. Well … it backfires. This is one of the most visually striking FRANKENSTEIN movies with its dreamlike, asymmetrical sets and eerie use of shadows. Bela Lugosi plays a particularly evil Ygor, who survived a death sentence. Mel Brooks got a lot of mileage out of this one. It’s on equal footing with FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN–and marked Karloff’s last performance as the monster.

11. House of Frankenstein (1944)*

The second Universal Studios monster mash-up movie after FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN is corny and formulaic, but still pretty cool. Boris Karloff is great–not as the monster–but as mad scientist Dr. Niemann.

12. Lair of the White Worm (1988)

This is one of Ken Russell’s best films: trippy, offbeat, funny, and blasphemous.

13. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1970)

This team of nine surgeons picked the wrong accomplished organist’s wife’s surgery to botch. Doctor Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) exacts revenge on the surgeons, each of their slayings corresponding to a certain curse from the Old Testament. This is one inventive revenge story. It has great, weird sets, vibrant colors, and, in addition to Price, innumerable British character actors.

14. I Was a Teenage Zombie (1986)*

I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE has a distasteful cartoon logic similar to TOXIC AVENGER and STREET TRASH. Its soundtrack is also a repository for lots of cool ’80’s punk music.

15. The Nesting (1981)*

This is an atmospheric, but ultimately slow, rambling, and overlong haunted house flick. Not quite as boring as AMITYVILLE, but close.

16. Bride of Chucky (1998)*

Here I was, under the impression all the CHILD’S PLAY sequels sucked. BRIDE OF CHUCKY, albeit totally mindless, is a raunchy, self-aware, and hilarious movie. Jennifer Tilly is unforgettable, too.

17. The Invisible Man (1933)

Next to BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, this is my favorite Universal monster movie. Invisibility corrupts, big time. Big time.

18. The Invisible Man Returns (1940) *

Invisibility corrupts again, and we get to see one of Vincent Price’s first villainous portrayals.

19. God Told Me To (1976)*

Of all the horror auteurs, Larry Cohen has always struck me as one of the best storytellers. His riffs on Christianity make for a crazy and fascinating film. Underrated.

20. The Beyond (1981)

That tarantula scene is simply revolting. Classic Fulci through and through. Yecch.

21. The Last House on Dead End Street (1977)*

Why–WHY–did I watch this? Its notoriety, I guess. Is it, like all those heavy duty horror freaks have been saying all these years, actually the sickest, most reprehensible piece of trash ever to have existed? I am inclined to say yes. Its minimal budget and overall amateurishness only add to how harrowing this little meditation on snuff films really is. Couple that with the totally drug-addled cast and crew, and, whoa, this is some nihilistic, awful stuff.

22.  Sisters (1973)

I love all the clever use of split-screen (split-personalities on a split-screen). Brilliant. And is Margot Kidder’s French-Canadian accent really that bad? I don’t think so. SISTERS is the ultimate De Palma experience: a Hitchcockian suspense flick with murder, gaslighting, spying, and insanity. All the while, the director wears his French New Wave influences on his sleeve.

23. Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks (1974)*

You know what all these Frankenstein movies have been lacking? Cavemen and sexually perverted midgets.

24. The Blood Spattered Bride (1972)*

Like the Hammer film THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, this one is based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire story, “Carmilla.” It’s a smart, politically-charged film with anti-fascist, anti-patriarchical undertones. It’s hypnotic–part art house, part psychotronic–and has a brutal ending.

25. Phantasm (1979)

Morningside Cemetery has been invaded by some nasty inter-diminesional intruders. Watch out for their jawa-looking slaves and their flying metal ball which extracts all blood from your body. I love absolutely everything about PHANTASM, an offbeat horror classic and (unintentional) perfect distillation of the late 1970’s. Angus Scrimm as the Tall Man: it’s like Lugosi as Dracula, Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, Englund as Krueger.

26. City of the Living Dead (1980)

I feel sorry for Daniela Doria, who apparently had to puke up real sheep entrails in that car scene. Woof.

27. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Still, to this day, I think TCM is the scariest, most intense movie I’ve ever seen. Its “edge” persists with every re-watch.

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