It's a veritable smorgasbord of selections this week at the local brick and mortar. As Halloween quickly approaches – at least in the eyes of shopping malls, department stores and TV networks – and the season of fear fires up, the scary movie reissues are still riding roughshod over the product produced within the last year. If you look hard, however, you'll find one of the summer's more perplexing productions – a comedy which lifts many of its more meaningful elements from Frank Capra instead of the lead actor's typical Three Stooges style. Even more confusing, this past blockbuster season saw an American master with a set of razor sharp satires and intelligent experiments to his name deliver a light little homespun confection that many found so sweet that it was almost dramatically disheartening. Still, with the pagan demonology dense and the old slasher cinema reinstating its importance to the genre, a fan can literally gorge themselves on anthologies, limited editions and collector's sets of long beloved cinematic splatter. So grab your already gutted wallet and wander into a favored retailer for the selections available on 10 October, such as:
Starting off high concept and only rarely venturing into the low brow, Click represents a kind of career stepping-stone for the superstar Sandler. Getting to the point, age wise, when his goofy fratboy foolishness stops looking hilarious and begins feeling pathetic, this family farce tried mightily to move in directions the comic never before considered. Some found its third act lapse into Frank Capra-esque schmaltz awkward and poorly realized, while others argued that it worked well within the complicated narrative the actor was attempting. Indeed, Click is more than just a remote control gimmick – it's every man's middle aged crisis come to life, complete with the ability to live through it all in just a few fast forwarding moments. Sure, the ending is a tad pat, and most of the ancillary cast is wasted in ways that only add to the overall uneven feel of the film, but with Kate Beckinsale actually providing the heart that's missing from most of the story, we are more than willing to forgive, forget and enjoy.
Though it contains such sloppy sequel missteps as The Exorcist II: The Heretic and both Renny Harlin and Paul Schrader's unnecessary prequels, there are still three good reasons to consider picking up this sell-through priced package - the original film, its equally compelling DVD redux, and the underrated third installment helmed by author William Peter Blatty himself. As an exercise in horror, The Exorcist stands as one of those true genre rarities – a narrative that plays successfully in both the realistic and supernatural realms. As an everyday tale of a mother's fear over losing her daughter to the unknown forces of maturity, the drama is dense and detailed. As a religious based diatribe on how evil lurks deep within the heart of even the most innocent child, it's a true terror knockout. No other director before or since had William Freidkin's talent for taking the fantastic and framing it within the ordinary. Blatty's return to the more normalized nature of wickedness was welcome, but for sheer shock value, stick with the original – and the included digital re-edit featuring the infamous 'spider walk' scene.
Just a week after revisiting the confirmed classic The Little Mermaid, Disney drags out this uneven effort from 1981 – when the studio was sinking in a 2-D animation quagmire – and tries to give it the masterpiece polish of its other films. Thankfully, no amount of added content can correct the problems inherent in this syrupy, saccharine story. Without giving away much, let's just say that these natural enemies who become pals in childhood are forced to face each other later on when the naiveté of youth no longer allows them the ability to be free of judgment or instinctual response. Though the novelty of seeing – or in this case, hearing – Kurt Russell return to his House of Mouse roots might be draw enough for some, the badly rendered animation and depressing core concepts might lead a few wee ones to whine about the lack of wholesome fun usually associated with a work from Uncle Walt. Many still view this feature as a fine effort from a mostly new guard of young Disney staffers, yet it seems stiff and dull compared to the masterful films that were a mere five years or so away.
Considered by critics to be Jean-Luc Godard's last great film – or biggest blasphemous abomination, depending on whom you survey – this reworking of the birth of Jesus and his equally holy mother is definitely different. With the mad scientist of the French New Wave firmly in control of his cinema subverting mannerisms – odd cuts, sequences of stilted surreality, parallel plotting – and a post-modern appeal that updates the Bible to the back streets of Paris, what should be significantly sacrilegious manages to capture the concepts of faith and belief better than any preachers sermon or authentic 'Gospel' recreation. Many will be surprised at how funny and uniquely human it all is while others will marvel at how the master of motion picture deconstruction actually makes his massive experimentalism work. Once baby Jesus is born and starts acting like a miniature messiah however, all bets are off. Still, for the purely hypnotic visual trance that Godard can apparently fashion in his sleep, this is one of his most arresting and engaging efforts.
It doesn't seem like the most promising combination – the king of deadpan communal comedy, Garrison Keillor and the master of multi-character narratives, Robert Atlman, collaborating on a film version of the radio icon's famous show. But by all accounts, the 81 year old auteur has delivered another of his stunning studies of human frailty supported by Keillor's simple, homespun humor. Using a moc-doc sort of format (the film follows the fictional final show for Prairie's cast and creator) and interlocking stories that seem to slowly merge into a standard Altman interpersonal infinite, what could have been harsh and critical becomes soft and whimsical, especially in the hands of a true cinematic artist. Thanks to bravura turns by Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones and Keillor himself, this behind the scenes look at the individuals who come together to deliver a weekly radio repast is, perhaps, not one of Altman's confirmed masterworks, but it does prove far more potent than most of the mediocre movies that came out this year.
Many love the music and the cultural lifestyle, but few are probably aware of the connection between rap, hip hop, break dancing and graffiti. The art of tagging, or marking one's territory with paints and symbols as a warning to others, is as old as '50s greaser gangs. But thanks to the '70s malaise that drowned New York in a sea of underprivileged and lost youngsters, the notion of vandalizing the subway cars late at night, mostly with brightly colored and artistically designed derivations of one's name, became a symbol of status in a reality brazenly bereft of same. This concept of citywide acknowledgement and respect soon became a substitute for violence and brutality, with kids using their spray can skills instead of their fists to settle scores. As this amazing documentary (now reissued with a new film revisiting the scene) shows, once music caught up with the whole graffiti underground, it wasn't long before scratchin', dancin' and rappin' became the new tools of trade for those looking to escape their situation. Today it's all so commercialized and compromised. Want to see the reality of a revolution before it was corrupted by corporations? This is the place to start.
You think Michael Bay took a beating when he announced his remake of the seminal '70s scarefest, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? You should have heard the howls when original Chain Saw creator Tobe Hooper announced that he was about to direct a sequel to his power tool classic. And even worse, he intended it to be a social satire. The collective groans from the horror hopeful were almost as loud as Leatherface's favorite limb cutter. Surprise, surprise, Chain Saw II was a regular revolting hoot, a movie mixing Tom Savini's vivisection F/X with Dennis Hopper's mad Method acting turn as a vindictive relative of the original film's victims. There was even a crackerjack comic performance by Sawyer cook Jim Siedow. Though heavily edited to earn the necessary "R" rating mandated by Cannon heads Golan and Globus, this rip roaring Tejas two-step was still a nasty, novel take on the entire Saw mythos. Some find it sloppy and uneven. Others argue for its place right alongside its far more serious sister film. Thanks to a brand new special edition DVD release from MGM, now's the time to settle this bet between the divided devotees once and for all.
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 10 October:
John A. Russo, one of the collaborators/masterminds behind Night of the Living Dead (along with George Romero), has long tried to destroy his reputation by creating a series of incredibly bad b-movies (Voodoo Dawn, Midnight) and starting a surreal series featuring schlock actresses in various states of undress (many going under the Scream Queen moniker – Scream Queen Swimsuit Sensations, Scream Queen's Naked Christmas). So should we expect anything better from this sophomorically titled treat trading on the taboo topic of a nasty Noel? Even with the amazing Debbie Rochon in the lead, and a certifiable whack job dressing up like Kris Kringle to thrash his victims with a handy dandy claw, this still could be an example of bottom feeder bait and switch. You know – sounds good on paper and in summary, but barely works as a narrative once the celluloid starts to unfold? Anyway, SE&L will just side with the lovely Canadian cult actress at the center and avoid Russo all together. With his money mad hands all over the Dead DVD in which new footage was inserted to pad out the masterpiece's marketability, he deserves to be ignored.