Horror Genre Review: ABSENTIA (2011)

Absentia

There’s been a couple of predominant movements in the horror genre over the last decade. The first, starting with the overhyped and underwhelming The Blair Witch Project (1999), attempts to create immediacy and authenticity through handheld cams and “found footage.”  This subgenre picked up some steam with Paranormal Activity (2007), but it appears to be dying out for now.  Perhaps audiences realize that shaky cams and cheap scares don’t make up for a dumb plot and severe problems with the logic of the found footage (See my review of Apollo 18).

The other direction horror has gone concentrates on ideas that will scare you.  The producers of Paranormal Activity (the folks at Blumhouse Productions) have also teamed up to create a good number of these films, including Insidious (2011),  Sinister (2012) ,  Dark Skies (2013), and the recently released Oculus (2014), which is directed by Absentia‘s Mike Flanagan.

Absentia (2011) only had a budget of $70,000.  I’m not sure who would have seen this movie before it was on Netflix, but I’m glad that Mike Flanagan was rewarded by being given more to work with on Oculus.  But Absentia is more than just an audition tape.  It actually feels like the synthesis of the two movements–the low budget actually doesn’t hinder the look of the film at all; it gives the immediacy and intimacy the found footage films want to create, but it also has a really intriguing and scary idea that drives the film forward.  Yes, the suburban setting with the cookie-cutter apartment screams, “We couldn’t afford a filming permit in Los Angeles!” (Who can?), but it also makes you feel like this could really happen and is really happening.  Plus, that tunnel is one of the scariest tunnels I’ve seen in a movie, right up there with the underpass in Irreversible (2002).

I’ll leave you with the synopsis on IMDb.  There are a lot of horror movies on Netflix you’ve never heard of–this one is worth your time.

IMDb Synopsis:

Tricia’s husband Daniel has been missing for seven years. Her younger sister Callie comes to live with her as the pressure mounts to finally declare him ‘dead in absentia.’ As Tricia sifts through the wreckage and tries to move on with her life, Callie finds herself drawn to an ominous tunnel near the house. As she begins to link it to other mysterious disappearances, it becomes clear that Daniel’s presumed death might be anything but ‘natural.’ The ancient force at work in the tunnel might have set its sights on Callie and Tricia … and Daniel might be suffering a fate far worse than death in its grasp (Written by Mike Flanagan).

Netflix rating: 4 stars

IMDb rating: 7 out of 10

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Netflix Classic Review: Buñuel’s TRISTANA

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Luis Buñuel shares the distinction of having only one title on Netflix Streaming with Alfred Hitchcock (The Lady Vanishes) and Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove).  Some time ago, Un Chien Andalou (1929), Buñuel’s groundbreaking short featuring a young Salvador Dali, was available, but no longer.  Tristana (1970) is far from his best work, but deserves a viewing from those who enjoy his more celebrated movies such as Belle du Jour (1967) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie  (1972).

Unlike the more famous Buñuel selections I mentioned, Tristana is a relatively straightforward melodrama that features very little of Buñuel’s surrealistic tendencies (Surrealistic Tendencies sounds like the name of a bad ’80s punk band).  Fernando Rey plays Don Lope, the guardian of the much younger Tristana, played by DeNeuve.  Also being a lecherousold man, he soon wants to be more than her guardian.  They become lovers as well, but Lope maintains his philosophy that, as a free man (free of religion), he is still free to love others.  Soon that belief is challenged when Tristana meets someone else she loves as well.  Lope is not a hypocrite and allows her to leave.  However, their love still lingers, and Tristana’s subsequent illness brings them back together after a number of years.  Watch the movie to find out who she chooses.

Tristana struck me as being simultaneously ahead of its time, yet also feeling dated.  Rey as the main character gives a convincing performance as a forward-thinking atheist/socialist (Given that this was made during the Franco regime, this was truly a daring philosophy for any character to espouse).  Yet, at the same time, he often talks of women as if they are nothing more than sex objects and lower than men.  I would like to give Buñuel the benefit of the doubt and say that this contrast between being enlightened and being Neanderthal was intentional, but the film is 45 years old now, so I can’t be sure.  Tristana does become a complete person to him towards the end of the film, through challenging his beliefs and standing up for herself.  But the misogynistic overtones of some of the earlier conversations, coupled with the disturbing age difference between the two, don’t quite redeem Don Lope in my eyes.

As for Catherine DeNeuve, she like in Belle du Jour, plays an “ice queen” with an ever increasing amount of willpower.  The character is well-written but remains enigmatic throughout the film.  She remains an object of men’s desire, a beautiful woman whom men can project their fantasies upon, even as she asserts herself as an adult.  One thing I didn’t like about her is that she uses her illness as a way to test which suitor really loves her.  In my opinion, this undermined the idea of her becoming an independent person, and came off more like a schoolgirl pitting two schoolboys against each other to win her affections.  As for DeNeuve’s acting, it is really hard to judge, as her part was dubbed over in Spanish.  I realize that many movies of this time, especially Spaghetti westerns, had actors speak in their native tongue, and then had another actor dubbed in the language of the movie later.  But for Tristana, it detracted from DeNeuve’s performance.

Tristana shouldn’t be considered a classic by any means, but it held my interest.  While not pushing many boundaries, it still is an intelligent and thoughtful piece of film from a treasured director.  I’m not sure if viewing this would convince Netflix to stream more of his films.  But do yourself a favor, and if you watch this, put his other films in your queue.

My Netflix rating: 3 out of 5

My IMDB rating: 7 out of 10

Working on my best 100 movies on Netflix

Working on my best 100 movies on Netflix

With the time it takes to write posts, my ambitions to post a top 100 list on movies on Netflix, and review some of the titles, would be difficult in the WordPress format. This is due to the fact by the time I post and write something, it may no longer be on Netflix instant. This happened when I thought about doing it at the end of last month. Sure enough, one of my top 10 choices, Some Like It Hot, left at the end of April.

I will get to this project, but in the meantime, I’ve made a quick list at Listal of the top movies currently on Netflix. I haven’t had time to order them, or actually narrow it down to 100 (it’s at 102). But it’s far quicker to edit this list than to post and re-post the list here. Listal is a fun site, you should check it out.

Coincidentally, Rosemary’s Baby (1968) probably would be my #1 choice at this time. I look forward to the day when I have nothing but free time to go back and watch all these movies to compare and confirm my rankings. But until then, it’s still fun to make lists. Please post a comment if you feel there are titles I’m overlooking, or ones that I’ve overrated and should reevaluate.

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Review of Dirty Girl (2010)- Leaving the state of Netflix May 9

I’m trying something new with this review. I’m linking it to the trailer, because why explain a movie’s plot when a trailer (like a lot of trailers these days) tells you everything you need to know about the movie?

Dirty Girl (2010) stars the likable Juno Temple in the title role, and “introduces” Jeremy Dozier as the “dirty” girl’s gay friend/road trip companion ((I hate when movies use the term “introducing”; it implies that there is some high level of acting skill that demands we know that this is their first role in a major film. It is rarely warranted, and definitely is not necessary for this actor or this role). It’s directed and written by Abe Sylvia, who has not really directed or written much of anything else (directed one episode of Nurse Jackie and written several more episodes of that series). I’m getting really tired of watching movies that are mediocre at best and discovering that they’re directed by a first-timer. It’s like going to a baseball stadium hoping to see the Yankees and ending up seeing the Toledo Mudhens. But anyhow, like the previously reviewed Stand Up Guys, it left me wondering how this first timer could pull in established actors such as William H Macy, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam, and Milla Jovovich in supporting roles.

The first half of the trailer basically nicely summarizes the first 30 minutes of the film, with the added benefit of providing the viewer of the trailer the same emotional involvement in its characters in a minute and 20 seconds as watching the film. So according to my math, you can save yourself 28 minutes of your life by watching the first half of the trailer instead of the first 30 minutes of the movie. As far as the remaining hour of the film, the trailer basically gives you a good idea of what happens in the end, but doesn’t give away too much. Perhaps that is due to the setup being more promising than what the film can deliver.

Dirty Girl does have its share of supporters here on the Interwebs. I would suspect most of those people don’t really consider themselves critics, and also give into the charm and faux sentimentality of the film. Reading reviews and message boards, however, there are people who attempt to defend the film’s mistakes and/or give the director too much credit. Like the soon to be reviewed Room 237, you shouldn’t read more into the film than is there, especially in the case of Dirty Girl, which was not directed by a Kubrick level talent. The first critique of the critics (this film has a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes) is that they didn’t understand why it was called Dirty Girl. Supporters say the title is ironic, that she’s not really a dirty girl at heart. Reading some reviews on RT, there are some critics who don’t get that. But besides a brief introduction at the beginning, where Temple is having sex in a car in the school parking lot, and she asks the teacher an inappropriate question during an abstinence talk (wow, what an original way to show that these townspeople are so repressed!), we don’t really get the feeling that she’s much of the dirty girl that the film wants her to be. There’s literally 3 minutes of the “Dirty Girl” before that concept is almost completely abandoned by the film. Her supposed reputation has little to do with the film besides provide her a way to meet her gay outcast friend and road trip companion.

The other big topic of discussion surrounding this film concerns the setting and anachronisms involving the hairstyles, music and clothing in the film. The film clearly states that it takes place in 1987, starting in Norman, Oklahoma. Yet the Farrah Fawcett style hairdos and fashion on display scream late 70s. One person on IMDB argued that this was a deliberate choice by the director, as a way to indicate that the people’s attitudes and beliefs were old fashioned and out of date. Puh-lease. If that were true, why are the heroes of the film, Danielle (Temple) and Clarke (Dozier) similarly dressed? (And why do they listen to schmaltzy ’80’s pop instead of something edgy for 1987?) Since they are not backwards in their thinking, they should not be backwards in their fashion, but they are. You could argue that fashion takes longer to get to certain parts of the country (I had a laugh in Ohio in 2001 watching the news reporting on this “new” trend of “sagging” jeans- apparently Ohio had slept through the ’90’s), but not that long. Especially since Norman is a college town. Nope, it’s just pure laziness on the director’s part.

The wardrobe choices for the film point toward the larger problem with the film- despite the cast being up to the task of making this mediocrity watchable, everything feels false, slightly off, and borrowed from other movies. A third character, a male stripper they pick up on the road, seems to come from another movie. He’s in it for maybe ten minutes, but you think he’s going to be someone of importance. I guess he was just there to help with Clarke’s sexual awakening, because I’m sure the director saw something like that in other movie somewhere, and figure he needed that in his film. The stripper character is less than one dimensional. Being a road trip, of course at one point they run out of money, and Danielle starts to strip for money at a bar. But only after she starts does Clarke realize it’s a gay bar, and HE strips for money! Boring! So unimaginative. It’s labeled as a comedy and drama on IMDB, but the only time I laughed was at a throwaway line about going to the beach when they get to Fresno. Her search for her father ends predictably and quickly. The one point where I thought there might have been something different and interesting about the film is when Danielle’s mother is repressed by Mormonism rather than some non-descript fundamentalist Christian religion or Catholicism. But that angle is not explored beyond some lame jokes.

You have a few days if you want to watch this anyways if it still sounds good to you.

My Netflix rating: 2 out of 5

My IMDB rating: 5 out of 10

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Quick Review of Lockout (2012)- It’s Getting Locked Out from Netflix May 7

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Lockout (2012) leaves Netflix May 7, so you don’t have much time to watch it. Since you don’t have much time, I won’t spend so much time on this review. If you decide to watch it, you basically have about 24 hours to do so.

Starring Guy Pearce, he of regal desert adventures, tattoos of memories, and brief cameos as the guy who gets blown up in Oscar winning movies, and Maggie Grace, she of the one death of a major character on Lost that you really didn’t care about, and the 25 year old masquerading as Liam Neeson’s 18 year old daughter in Taken, this film instantly reminded me of another film that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It took all of ten minutes to figure it out though. This is basically the same premise as Escape from New York, without the skill of John Carpenter at the helm, or the charisma of Kurt Russell as Snake Pliskin in the lead.

Instead of Snake, we have Pearce as “Snow.” Instead of the inescapable island of Manhattan serving as the penal colony, you have the inescapable space station where prisoners are kept in “stasis” or deep sleep. Instead of the president’s plane being shot down over Manhattan and the president being the captive by the Manhattan prisoners, Maggie Grace plays the president’s daughter being held hostage by the prisoners when they escape their hatches. Instead of an experienced Carpenter at the helm, we have a director duo with no experience with a major film.

Although it wasn’t in anyway all that bad, it will not hold a place in my long term memory like Escape from New York did for my 8 year old self when I first saw that movie. I do recognize that if I had first seen Escape as a 39 year old, it probably wouldn’t have made the same impression on me or hold the same place in my heart. But on the same hand I really can’t imagine the movie or Pearce in the lead role having the same impact on an 8 year old today.

It is an adequately done film, which I know doesn’t sound like high praise, but if you’re just looking to pass time, without having to think too much, this will do the job without offending your inner film critic. The only thing that I thought was really a bad idea was making one of the prisoners who was given A LOT of dialogue have a thick Scottish accent. It gave me flashbacks of when I was first trying to understand Trainspotting.

My Netflix rating: 3 out of 5

My IMDB rating: 6 out of 10

Also, I am going to create a Youtube channel for the trailers of all the movies I review on Netflix, plus any trailers for Netflix exclusive content. You can find that Youtube channel here.

 

Some Like It Hot, but apparently not Netflix- Titles Leaving April 30

So the list maker in me really wants to make a top 100 titles on Netflix (see my lists on Listal), but the monthly purge of titles makes that difficult to do. Here are some candidates that are going to be gone April 30 or thereabouts, along with some other classics and noteworthy titles.

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Some Like It Hot (1959) is one of those rare comedies that holds up over 60 years later now. Written and directed by the great Billy Wilder, this could have possibly been a top 10 or 20.

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Into the Wild (2007) is an extremely effective portrayal of a young man who yearns to be completely free, but through that process learns what is really important in life. It is similar in theme to 127 Hours but probably holds up better than that movie does. As least I can say Emile Hirsch is less of a douche than James Franco.

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My wife hates West Side Story (1961) but it’s one of the few musicals that I can like. Maybe I laugh at it the way I laugh at Greasebut I do think Leonard Bernstein is a genius, which makes some of the musical numbers interesting to my musician’s ear. The story is good enough, and this has to be one of the most realistic depictions of street gangs ever (cough).

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Bull Durham (1988) may not have made my list of the top 100 Netflix streaming movies, but it would make the short list of best sports movies ever. Although I haven’t seen it, North Dallas Forty (1979), starring Nick Nolte, also is mentioned in the discussion of best sports movies. It also leaves Netflix April 30.

MeanGirlsSoundtrack

Mean Girls (2004) also wouldn’t make the top 100 probably, but it would be in the top 100 of the last decade for me, probably. It also might help explain to younger readers why Lindsay Lohan gets the attention she doesn’t deserve anymore.

Here are other noteworthy titles leaving, courtesy of What’s On Netflix Now?

Bad Boys (1983) 
Brian’s Song (1971)
Caligula (1979)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)
The Doom Generation (1995)
The Doors (1991)
Fierce People (2005) 
Harold and Maude (1971) – REVIEW
Harry and Tonto (1974)
Incendiary (2008)
The Invisible Man (1933)
The Lady Eve (1941)
Looking for Richard (1996)
Marathon Man (1976) – REVIEW
Marvin’s Room (1996)
Mean Girls (2004)
The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
The Mummy’s Hand (1940)
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1976)
The Manhattan Project (1986)
Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)

 

Only God Forgives Review

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What an edgy poster!

Only God Forgives (2013) reunites Ryan Gosling with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn. A movie poster like the one above highlights the “edgy” violence that peppers the film. The actual viewing experience might leave its audience feeling beat up. The striking visuals and moments of understated brilliance are weighed down by a slow pace, an anti-hero that may or may not be on Ambien in every scene, and an ending that will most likely leave you befuddled, or at least leave you on your own to decide what the meaning of it all is.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

The movie takes place in Thailand, where two expatriate brothers, one of which is Julian, played by Gosling, and the other of which is a pyschotic with an interest in under-aged girls. This combination results in the brother being found with  a dead underage prostitute in a hotel room. Rather than arresting him,  the police’s Lieutenant Chang, who, according to Wikipedia, acts as “The Angel of Vengeance,”  allows the father of the slain girl to do what he wants to Gosling’s brother in the hotel room. But the father takes things too far, and kills the brother. However, Chang does not care about Billy’s death; instead, Chang cuts off the father’s forearm for allowing his daughter to be a prostitute.

Although the film at this point is bathed in both red neon light and blood, we only see the aftermath of each attack. The visuals are gruesome yet beautiful. Bathing the film in red neon light is a bit on the nose, but it fit not only the subject matter but the seediness of the setting. You can feel the tawdriness of the city enveloping the main characters.

Gosling, who owns a Muy Thai boxing club (which we learn later is a front for a drug smuggling operation), soon learns about his brother’s murder, and seeks out the girl’s father. Just as you think this film will become a art-house Death Wish, we find Gosling actually listening to the explanation. I liked that we don’t actually hear that explanation; instead we see the father gesturing and talking, and we see Gosling’s reaction, if you can call it that. Gosling stares straight ahead, stoic and seemingly unmoved. He decides to do nothing to the father.

So as not to confuse Julian with someone of high moral ground, or “the good son,” or even someone who shuns violence,  we are shown various things that make us believe that Julian ultimately lacks moral convictions. He is not an anti-hero, he is a non-hero, a weak person who passively accepts things he can change. He is not above seeking out prostitutes himself: he pays a regular named Mai to put on a show for him while he remains at a distance, tied up to a chair. He seems to be almost asleep throughout the movie, with occasional explosions of rage or violence that only sometimes seem to have a reason behind them.  He can beat someone up at a club for no reason, drag him across the floor by his teeth. Yet when confronting Lt. Chang, who is ultimately responsible for his brother’s death, he is strangely impotent, and quite easily beaten in hand to hand combat.

Julian’s mother, Crystal, bursts onto the scene, and we get all that we need to know about why Julian and his brother’s mental and emotional problems by the way Crystal treats the receptionist at the front desk of the hotel. This scene is brilliant, but at times the role as written by Refn may have been a bit too much. Crystal is very willing to act where Julian has been passive, and she stirs up the pot by taking vengeance against her son’s killers. This moves the plot and action along, but perhaps too much of an incestuous vibe is played up for my taste. She compares the penis sizes of her sons when at a dinner with Julian, who is pretending that Mai is his girlfriend. She sees right through the ruse, delivering judgment upon Mai and Julian with scorn in a way that only a spiteful mother could. I’m not sure we need the incestuous overtones thrown in.

Regardless, up until this point, the look of the film, the performances, and the script measured up to the expectations I had for the film (I was not a huge fan of Drive, a film for the most part has erased itself from my memory). The way Refn used violence in the film was effective and even though graphic, understated. But there’s a scene where it started to go south a bit for me. Lt. Chang is nearly executed by gunmen in an outdoor restaurant. Chang tracks down the man who hired the gunmen, whose name is Byron, who himself was hired by Crystal to kill Chang. Lt. Chang drive skewers through Byron’s hands, legs, eye, and ear in a drawn out scene that would seem more at home in Reservoir Dogs than in this film. It seemed to want to shock the audience with how realistic it was. It felt very out of place in a film where we often feel like we are in a dream state, or like Julian, seemingly overdosing on Ambien.

Throughout the film, Julian has had visions of Chang, and it seems like we are destined for a great showdown when Chang and Julian finally confront each other in the boxing gym. But expectations and hopes are quickly dashed, as Chang easily defeats Julian in hand to hand combat, in the same way that a human swats away a fly. I thought the way this scene was handled was interesting and different, but it contributes to the unraveling of the film. I’m not sure what it really was supposed to mean or signify. Julian clearly is not a hero or a villain or even much of a presence or force in the film. That is clear. What isn’t clear is why this story was told in the first place. I don’t feel I was ever given a reason to care why Julian was such a non-entity. Perhaps if Chang had more of a personality himself, that might have provided some insight. But although a force to be reckoned, dealing out punishment to all those who come his way, Chang is too reserved and mysterious himself to be an effective counterpart to Julian. (Crystal is the most understandable and interesting character in the film, but the film isn’t really about her, except for the fact that that in a sense she created Julian’s personality by being such a forceful personality herself).

Although there are a great many things worthy to praise in this film, there wasn’t enough insight into Julian or Chang to feel one way or another about how it ended.  It really didn’t end in a traditional sense either, with another vision of Julian’s ending the film. Chang sings karaoke in a bar in front of other policemen as the credits roll. Although it seems unclear, I took this to mean he is the last man left standing, even though Julian’s last vision breaks from reality and the gritty setting of urban Thailand and ends in a field surrounded by trees.

Refn is extremely talented in an unconventional way. But he still has a long way to go before he can get me to care about what happens in his films as much as I can enjoy the technical skills on display. He knows how to write in a restrained way, by showing rather than telling. But he needs to show a bit more, give his characters some emotional weight, for his films to feel like they are more artsy exercises in pretentiousness.

 

The Blair Witch Moon Project: Apollo 18 Review

(This is not a movie poster, it’s a picture of me watching the movie)

What if, while you just happened to be traveling through outer space, found footage of a secret Apollo Mission? What if you were dropped on your head as a baby yet still somehow became an astronaut? What if you were using hand held video recorders, but somehow had the skills and awareness of a director to know where to place the camera where only a third person could have shot it from that angle?

What if you were a director, who got an idea for a movie when he came across a tiny bit of moon rock trivia, and expanded that into a feature length film, but did so in such a lazy fashion that nothing really makes sense?

You would make one of the worst movies ever made, that’s what!

Apollo 18 (2011) tells the nonsensical story of a secret Apollo mission to the moon. It opens with a brief, written history of the Apollo mission- the landing on the moon in 1969, Apollo 18, 19, and 20 were canceled due to budgetary reasons, in 1972 Apollo 17 is the last mission to the moon. Then we learn “In 2011, Eighty-four hours of classified footage is uploaded to http://www.lunartruth.com. This film is edited from that footage.”

Ok, fair enough. We are treated to the standard “meet the astronaut” footage, where we learn that astronauts have no personality. They lament that they are going to the moon, but have to tell people lies about where they will be. One tells his family he is on a joint training mission with the Chinese. In 1974. OK, whatever. Before the astronauts leave for space, the director does an effective job in making it seem like this is truly found footage, with the clothes and background looking right, as well as the quality of the film and the colors as well.

But soon this top-secret mission, which somehow secretly rocketed the Apollo 18 into space, (well, they gave an excuse that they were launching a satellite. OK, whatever) reaches its target of the moon, and simultaneously loses all sense of reality. First of all, the premise makes no sense, no matter the lame explanation that comes from Control later, that they would shoot over 84 hours of a SECRET mission. But we wouldn’t have a film without that, so on they go into space. One astronaut remains in orbit while the other two land on the moon in the lunar module. These two somehow either develop a third arm or give birth to a camera man because after some boring chit-chat and “goofing around,” we are treated to some camera angles and quick cuts that are not possible, no matter how this footage was “edited.” I don’t know much about the Apollo missions and how they were taped, but the images from Apollo 11 that were sent to earth were not from multiple angles. They were pretty much point and shoot, no “technique” involved. In addition to cinematic camera angles sneaking their way into the found footage, the look of the “film” being used seems to slowly work its way towards looking like it was shot by a camera from 2004, not 1974. The quality of some of the pictures look too good, and also, when the shit starts to hit the fan, there are effects thrown in that really don’t make any sense. For example, one astronaut finds himself in pitch black, and hears a freaky sound all around him. In the vacuum of space. He uses some kind of flash on the camera to see whatever he can, and we somehow hear the sound of that as well. The “strobe light” effect he creates by taking pictures (I guess?) really wouldn’t have been possible back then, even if the rest of it made sense scientifically. And plus, there is always a flashlight to provide consistent lighting when you need it. Again, I assume these astronauts had mental problems, or they were overly concerned about making the footage they were shooting look neat for the people who would find it later.

The actions of the astronauts make no sense either. The astronauts soon find out that their supposed mission of putting tracking devices on the moon as part of a warning system against missile attacks from the USSR (first of all, what? to that idea anyways, even the “fake” mission makes no sense) is not why they are really there. They find a Soviet capsule that also must have been from a secret mission. But the cosmonaut is dead, the capsule thrashed, and worst of all, the cosmonaut’s shoes had worn out soles. So what do you do when you are having a private conversation about what the mission is really about? You tape it, of course. And of course you do that from a weird camera angle that could only have meant that you spent more time figuring out the best place to put your camera beforehand than you took having the conversation. Also, if the other astronaut has a bunch of spider creatures crawling inside of his suit and is screaming, is it your instinct to pick up a camera and film it? Or figure out a way to get the fuck off of the moon? If you are an astronaut in this film, it’s the former.

So obviously this film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, either when thinking the script, or staying consistent with the concept that this film was culled from “found” footage, or staying consistent with what we know of science (astronauts apparently experience Earth’s gravity on the Moon because they run normally without bouncing at all). I could have been more forgiving of this film, and just considered it a bad film, rather than one of the worst ever, if they gave a plausible excuse for how this footage was “found.” It’s not the Blair Witch project, where someone walking through the woods might stumble across the footage. People who defend this film in forums have their excuses as to how this could be, but they don’t hold up, and frankly these people are very defensive because they know what a piece of shit this film is and they feel stupid for liking it. No, they would have not have launched another mission to recover film from a lunar module which must surely be hurtling through space (I am guessing that he collided with the lunar orbiter). No, this was not transmitted back to Earth because the camera they use uses film, and they said in the movie that most of the footage was found on film. How would they have recovered film among the debris of the crashed modules, even if that debris is orbiting the moon? No, ravenmaniac07 on the IMDB message boards, I am not an idiot for not coming up with a bunch of excuses for the director of this dingleberry of a movie for not convincing me that the found footage premise of this film made any sense. I wouldn’t have liked this movie if it were honest and admitted it was just another film with a third-person omniscient point of view. But the fact that it wanted to use the horribly played out found footage genre without doing even half of what was necessary to make it plausible, means it deserves my wrath, and not my excuses.

So basically, moon rocks are actually aliens. There. That’s the movie. Don’t watch it. Instead, read this portion of the Apollo 18 movie’s wikipedia entry. I’m sure this provided the idea to the director, but the real story of what happened to the moon rocks would make for a more interesting film. But then again most infomercials would make better movies than this.

“The film concludes with a statement that the Nixon Administration gave away hundreds of moon rocks to foreign dignitaries around the world, and that many of these moon rocks have been lost or stolen. This is factually true; both the Nixon and Ford Administrations gave away 135 Apollo 11 Moon Rocks and 135 Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rocks. The Moon Rock Project, a joint effort of over 1,000 graduate students started at the University of Phoenix in 2002, has helped track down, recover or locate many moon rocks and found that 160 are unaccounted for, lost or destroyed.[18] In 1998 a sting operation, called Operation Lunar Eclipse, made up of personnel from NASA‘s Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Customs recovered the Honduras Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rock, valued at $5 million. In October 2011, NASA agents raided a Denny’s restaurant and arrested a 74-year-old woman for attempting to sell a moon rock from Neil Armstrong for $1.7 million on the black market.[19]

My IMDB rating: 1 out of 10

My Netflix rating: 1 out of 5

April Fool’s- Titles Leaving Netflix April 1

Well, I’ve already warned you about 24. I wanted my next post to be either a review (finally) of The Act of Killingor I was going to give my list of the top 50 or 100 movies available on Netflix. As far as the latter option goes, after searching around on the Interwebs, that list is getting a lot shorter come April 1st, when Netflix goes through its monthly purge of streaming titles, some which are quite good. I’ll highlight a few that might have made my top 100 list, plus other noteworthy titles. I’ll list whatever others I know about at the end of the post.

Tragedy has already fallen upon us, however. The great Gerard Butler’s immortal performance in Machine Gun Preacher is lost forever to the streaming universe, as soon will be the comedy classic A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (I hope your sarcasm detectors are working).

 

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Pi (1998) is still Darren Aronofsky’s best work. (I liked Requiem for a Dream a lot, but thinking about it now, I can only remember its lack of subtlety: the sight of Jared Leto’s heroin junkie sticking a needle in an infected track mark, or the double-sided dildo shot of Jennifer Connelly’s rock-bottom heroin junkie). Pi looks low budget, but it works for this film in which ideas are the special effects. It’s like a feverish dream, and in its own way a horror film. While it’s very cerebral, it’s not as hard to follow as your Algebra class was.

 

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Sunset Boulevard (1950) has always been a film that I felt was overrated. I adore Billy Wilder, but I’m sure that Some Like It Hot, Double Indemnity, Witness for the Prosecution and The Apartment would rank far above this movie in my top 100 list. Sunset Boulevard is regarded by many as Wilder’s best. It’s hard to argue against the film, but it’s been so often imitated that it’s hard for me to enjoy it as much as his others. But had Netflix allowed me more time, I was going to give this every chance to make the list, as I haven’t seen it in about 15 years.

 

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The African Queen is the only other John Huston film on streaming. It’s the obvious choice for a top 100 film, because hey, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in the same film! But to me it’s not a great film, and may not even be in my top 10 John Huston films. The Dead (1987) is the other John Huston film. It was his last film, and it’s based on my favorite short story, which was written of course by James Joyce. So the source material is great, but if you know the story, it doesn’t seem enough to make a feature film. Making a great short story into a bad film is easy to do (see The Box, based on Richard Matheson’s excellent “Button, Button”). But Huston drew on his 40 years of experience to create a film that stayed true to the heart of Joyce’s tale, while expanding the universe Joyce created (much like Spike Jonze did with Where the Wild Things Are)The African Queen is not leaving the service, so be sure to check out The Dead while it still lives.

 

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Peter Weir is another director that is woefully underrepresented on Netflix streaming. The Truman Show (1998) really deserved an ad campaign that didn’t give away what would have been a really great surprise. I hope that there are some younger viewers out there who will give this a try before it leaves Netflix, and can experience the film without knowing what to expect prior to watching it. It still is an enjoyable film in any case.

 

OTHER FILMS OF NOTE

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From Alejandro González Iñárritu the master of interweaving storylines that come together somehow in the end to floor the viewer comes the most depressing Sean Penn movie ever (which is saying a lot), 21 Grams (2003).

 

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I was going to review Play it Again, Sam (1972) as part of a Woody Allen post, which would have also featured Woody Allen: A Documentary, Manhattan, and Antz. But then Woody became the focus of distasteful accusations, and I questioned the timing of such a post. I did get to watch this film however. Woody Allen’s film can be broken down into 3 categories: a handful of his films are classics or near classics; the large majority of his films are mediocre and frankly forgettable (most of his work in the last 20 years); and then slightly more than a handful are just awful. Play It Again, Sam fits into category 2, but it is actually only written by Allen. It was directed by Herbert Ross, of Steel Magnolias fame. The script follows the usual Allen arc- Allen plays a neurotic divorcee who is friends with a married couple. Will he fall in love and have an affair (of sorts) with the wife (played by Diane Keaton)? Of course he will. Humphrey Bogart appears either as an apparition, a ghost, or a figment of Allen’s imagination at odd times, and it is the only aspect of this film that is distinctive from other Allen films. Well, there is the unfunny rape jokes that really seem dated, but besides that, you will remember Bogart as this film’s defining characteristic. Unfortunately, Bogart appears at random and not too frequently, seeming more like an afterthought than a driving force for the film. The Bogart-Casablanca tie-in does provide the film with a nice ending however.

My IMDB rating: 6 out of 10                                          My Netflix Rating: 3 out of 5

 

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The Hunt for Red October (1990) unleashed a torrent of Clancy films for the next decade. Most of these were quite good for what they were, and a far better experience than trudging through the tedium of a Clancy novel. Alec Baldwin looks really young in this film. John McTiernan also directed other classic 80’s films, such as Die Hard and Predator.

 

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Kicking and Screaming (1995) would be easy to overlook. I did. It is a Noah Baumbach movie, who directed some excellent films. Seeing how this one predates his breakout film The Squid and the Whale by ten years, I wouldn’t count on this being a sure thing for Baumbach fans.

 

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Old Boy (2003) is sure to make Maury Povich viewers go “Damn! No he d’i’n’t!” Actually, it made me say that, so what does that say about me. Love it or hate it, you’ll probably say “Damnnnnnn!” yourself at the end.

 

Other films going bye-bye:

American Gigolo (1980)
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Baby Boom (1987)
Bandits (2001)
Blue Hawaii (1961)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Catch-22 (1970)
Dark Blue (2003)
Dead Again (1991)
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Farewell to the King (1989)
The Good Thief (2003)
The Impostors (1998)
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)
Mommie Dearest (1981)
My Tutor (1983)
Nell (1994)
Racing with the Moon (1984)
Rare Exports (2010)
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
The Rules of Attraction (2002)
Staying Alive (1983)
The Thing Called Love (1993)
Who’s Minding the Store (1963)
X (2011)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

YOLO! You Only Live Once (1937)

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Fritz Lang obviously didn’t anticipate James Bond when naming this film. Inspired by Journeys in Classic Film, I decided to look for a much older film than what I’ve been watching. I used to watch TCM quite a lot, and if you can get past certain things, older films still have a lot to offer. Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once (1937) was already in my queue. Anticipating the YOLO youth culture motto/hashtag/annoying-phrase-to-say-after-doing something-idiotic by almost 75 years, Fritz Lang nonetheless is better known for directing the silent sci-fi classic Metropolis (1927) (a restored version is available on Netflix streaming). My personal favorite of his, however, is M (1931), a film that is still ahead of our time in how it deals with its subject matter. If I were to make my top 100 films list, it would be somewhere in the top half.

Although a pretty good film, You Only Live Once wouldn’t make it that list. The Netflix synopsis for this film calls it a “melodrama,” which in 1937 was also known as a “drama,” as this film was no more melodramatic than most films of that day. The film opens with a painfully dated scene, where the secretary (errr, executive assistant these days) to a public defender, Joan Graham (played by Sylvia Sidney), listens to an ethnic shopkeeper complain about how nothing is being done about the apples being taken from his fruitstand. Comedy is definitely not Lang’s strength, and we aren’t subjected to too much of this hilarity, as the melodrama gets going pretty quickly. Joan is in love with a three-time convict, Eddie Taylor (played by Henry Fonda), who is warned by the police chief that a fourth conviction will result in a life sentence. The D.A. has done Eddie (and Joan) a favor by landing him a job at Ajax Movers. Eddie faces discrimination and unfair treatment from the jerk of a boss, who treats him like dirt because of his past crimes. He ultimately fires Eddie over basically a minor incident. I’m glad to see that our society has changed, and that employers nowadays look beyond a person’s past…oh, wait, nevermind.

We wonder about Eddie’s next moves after losing his job, and we then see a bank robbery unfold before our eyes. This scene is the only one in the film that Lang definitely brought his own sensibilities to. The rest of the film could have been done by a lot of the directors of this time, but this bank robbery has an edge to it that creeps you out in the way that does. The menacing eyes, leering thru a tiny opening in the back of a car; hands grabbing gas masks; a crowd panicking as tear gas is thrown into the street. If you look up this film on Wikipedia, you will find that over 15 minutes were cut from the film due to its then “unprecedented realistic violence.” It’s a true shame that this happened, as you witness true greatness in the little that actually survived that cut here in the robbery scene. In some ways it reminded me of the bank robbery scene in The Dark Knight, not necessarily for content, but in how it felt.

SPOILER ALERT: well, not quite yet, but coming soon. So of course Eddie somehow gets blamed for this bank robbery, and faces a life time conviction. Various things happen that if i describe them all, of course would defeat the purpose of viewing the movie. But I do have to mention how weird and dated the very end feels. Eddie and Joan are running from the law, and anticipating the corniness of Shining Throughare just inches from the Canadian border and safety. We know that Joan is already dead, and we gather from, as an IMDB reviewer says, the “syrupy” voice of the priest that Eddie shot during his escape speaking to Eddie from Heaven, that Eddie also dies. It’s not really an ending that works, but the theme of the film, that a justice system that is unfair, hostile, and corrupt is just a reflection of the society that created it, rings true.

Both Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney for the most part avoid the overacting and excessive emoting common to this era of film making, but I would expect none of that from a Fritz Lang film in any case. You’ll notice the weird camera angles that Lang is known for throughout the movie. Also look out for Margaret Hamilton, two years before her career defining role as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

My IMDB rating for You Only Live Once: 7 out of 10

My Netflix rating: 3 out of 5