Wait a moment – isn’t it October? The pseudo-official start of fall? The time when the leaves are changing and Halloween-inspired horror movies are king? Well, by the looks of the local brick and mortar, the standard ploy of flooding the marketplace with as much macabre as possible seems to have stalled, at least for the moment. Sure, there are a number of no-name terror titles making their way to shelves all across the country, but the usual glut of gore and gratuity has definitely tapered off. As a matter of fact, the only fear feature worth noting this week is the otherwise awful Omen remake that significantly stunk up the Cineplex this past summer. So pure film fans, rejoice. It looks like, in a deliberate move to counter-program the kind of DVDs available for sale, more interesting examples of non-genre filmmaking are replacing the routine fear factors. It’s enough to make you believe it’s December, or sometime in mid-March. On that note, let’s look at the product waiting for your hard earned dollars this 17, October:
Billy Wilder Speaks!*
He is responsible for many of the masterpieces that make up Hollywood’s greatest hits – films with titles like Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd., Sabrina, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. Now, thanks to a two day interview with German journalist Volker Schlondorff, we have this telling testimonial by the filmmaker himself, describing in detail the reasons behind his decision to direct (to protect his screenplays) and how each of his many amazing efforts came about. Sure, the nuggets of information may seem slight and sort of bite size, but we rarely get to hear the masters weighing in on their oeuvre, and for those unfamiliar with Wilder’s work, this career-spanning sit-down, complete with a constant stream of clips, is an excellent primer on one of Tinsel Town’s true titans. This DVD release also contains its own digital treasure trove – almost all of Wilder’s film trailers are included.
We here at SE&L don’t like Jennifer Aniston. It has nothing to do with her talent – a statement which presumes she has some – or her long running stint on that undeniably popular sitcom Friends. No, our anti-Aniston sentiments derive directly from her film catalog. A view of her IMDb resume highlights a creative canon so superficial that it threatens to be blown away by the slightest cyber-breeze. Here, she is paired with that professional pin-up for arrested adolescence, Vince Vaughn, in a tragedy that was billed as the perfect summer RomCom. Helmed by inventive director Peyton Reed, responsible for the randy retro Down with Love and cheerleader challenge hit Bring It On, what was sold as the ditzy dissolution of a perky if unhappy relationship was really a mean spirited wannabe War of the Roses. It didn’t help matters that Ms. Aniston was suffering from a bad case of post-Pitt love life syndrome. It made her hook up with Vaughn – and the movie itself – seem all the more desperate.
Clean, Shaven: The Criterion Collection*
One of the great lost films of the last twenty years, Lodge Kerrigan’s searing and insightful look at one man’s battle with schizophrenia deserves to find an audience outside the few who’ve seen it at festivals or on long out of print VHS/DVDs. Thankfully, those prophetic preservationists at Criterion have agreed to give this experimental effort the full blown special edition treatment. Kerrigan’s approach to this subject matter is indeed unique, attempting to actually visualize the way in which the world looks and sounds to a person struggling with such a debilitating mental affliction. Unflinching in its personal and social views, highly disturbing, and stoked by an astonishing performance by Peter Greene (perhaps best known as that hillbilly rapist Zed in Pulp Fiction) this haunting, harrowing drama is not your typical Hollywood take on insanity. There’s no Best Actor bravado here, just truth in all its painful paradigms.
The Omen (2006)
Piles of dreary cinematic dung don’t come any larger than this completely misguided remake of the 1976 classic. Released at the height of the public’s fascination with all things diabolical, Richard Donner’s original is a pitch perfect exercise in tone and storytelling. Yet when you consider that this is a note for note duplication of the Gregory Peck/Lee Remick thriller, it makes you wonder about the source material itself. Luckily, the real reasons for this updated debacle are easily identified. Aside from making Damien a pesky, proactive demon – not a simple little kid with a hidden Satanic streak at his core – journeyman director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) miscasts this movie miserably. Both Liv Schreiber and Julia Stiles are far too young for their power couple roles, and when the sulfur starts hitting the fan, both appear to be looking for the nearest adult for help. Sadly, that turns out to be a scenery scarfing Mia Farrow…and let’s face, she gave birth to Beelzebub’s baby back in the ‘60s. This nominal effort is not worth any true horror fan’s time.
Over the Hedge
Need further proof that computer animation has more or less run its course after only a decade and a half as a vital cinematic art form? Take a gander at this demographically correct quasi-comedy and decide for yourself. Guilty of each and every cinematic pitfall that currently plagues the genre (stunt voice casting, overly simplistic storyline, far too many puerile pop culture references), this sometime clever take on suburban sprawl and the many facets of friendship just can’t overcome its highly commercialized gloss. Unlike Pixar films that always seem to find the proper note between precocious and perfection, Hedge (based on a far cleverer comic strip by Michael Fry and T Lewis) appears designed deliberately to force Moms and Dads to dig deep into their pockets for endless items of tie-in merchandising (and those ads featuring our characters cavorting in Wal-Mart can’t be helping the wallets much). While not as bad as Open Season or The Wild, this CGI candy is decidedly sour.
Only ‘70s superstud Warren Beatty could be this overly ambitious and get away with it. Taking the true story of American journalist John Reed, Western witness to the Russian Revolution in 1917 and tying it to an epic underscoring of political change and challenge in the equally erratic United States, this ersatz celebration of free-thinking and racialism was lauded upon its initial release. Believe it or not, Beatty even beat out Steven Spielberg (for a little something called Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Louis Malle (for his superb Atlantic City) for the Academy Award for Best Director. Today, what felt sweeping and romantic comes across as a little naïve and somewhat soft, and even with the stellar acting of Jack Nicholson, Maureen Stapleton (snagging an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) and Diane Keaton, Beatty is still required to carry the entire project. Thanks to the numerous hats he was wearing, it appears he may have bitten off a little more than he could artistically or pragmatically chew.
They All Laughed*
After the disastrous ‘70s streak that included Daisy Miller, At Long Last Love and Nickelodeon (Saint Jack was a quiet surprise) filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich was looking for something to re-ignite his creative spark. He thought he found it in 1979 Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten. Hired as part of this light and breezy comic caper, the director and Dorothy soon became fast friends. Fate, however, would deal both a fatal blow when a jealous Paul Snider, Stratton’s sleazy manager and spouse, killed the 20 year old just after filming wrapped. This cursed the film commercially, and no studio would touch it. After a limited initial release, it sank into oblivion, leaving Bogdanovich grief stricken and exiled from Hollywood for the next four years (he would return with the well-received Mask in 1985). Thanks to DVD, this well-meaning movie now has a second chance to connect with audiences.
And Now for Something Completely Different:
In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 17 October:
After Basket Case, his love letter to 42nd Street and the glorious grindhouse cinema that fueled the exploitation genre, and Brain Damage, a cutting edge commentary on drug use and culture, long time cult craftsman Frank Henenlotter was looking for another sure-fire schlock concept. After seeing James Lorinz hilarious turn as a sarcastic mafia doorman in Street Trash, the director got the idea to fashion a Frankenstein style film around his cynical, snide persona. The result was this half-comedy, half-horror farce that farts in the face of Mary Shelly’s modern Prometheus. Granted, the movie grows grating when Lorinz’s “creation” - the decent looking but acting challenged Patty Mullen - starts shuffling around and eating up endless amounts of screen time, but Henenlotter’s sense of humor always shines through. While not on par with the other movies mentioned, this is still required viewing for anyone smitten with this director’s creepy crackpot camp.