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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Linking two famous hauntings, Amityville and Enfield (both almost certainly hoaxes, which, I suppose outs me as someone who accepts the possibility of “authentic” paranormal phenomena), director James Wan sends his un-dynamic duo (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) from Long Island to London, where they lend their assistance to a beleaguered family of five whose council house appears to be spooked by its former occupant.  There are a few frights, but not much beyond that, the failures attributable to a number of factors.  First, Wilson and Farmiga are boring, just dull as dishwater.  I get it.  They are religious.  But religious people need not be saltines.

Second, big houses with sprawling grounds are scary; crappy British public housing, not so much.

Third, Wan over-relies on the same gimmick – camera pans away, nothing there, then back, all is well, then back, okay, then . . .

Whammo!  Look who’s in the mirror.  It gets old.

Finally, the whole story is the fact that the creepy nun wants to get Farmiga, much like the demon wanted to get Father Merrin in The Exorcist.  Only, Merrin v. Satan was a mere subplot of what was an otherwise compelling, intricate and literate horror film, which The Conjuring 2 is decidedly not.

According to Rolling Stone magazine.

I’ve seen about 30 movies on the list.  Even though it only has 16 years to play with, be warned.  There are several absolute crap films listed, including–

Sinister, which is a godawful mess

Saw II, which I didn’t see, but I didn’t have to see Bride of Chucky either

Goodnight Mommy, which was much too arty and sterile; more unpleasant than frightening

American Psycho, which is no more “horror” than Weekend at Bernie’s

The Purge: Anarchy, again, not horror and not good.

Piranha 3D, which is a spoof, and even has Jerry O’Connell’s junk being bitten off by the fish

The Strangers, basically, a polished, overlong snuff film

Crimson Peak, which was fine, but My Lord, 19th??

The Descent, because when you wanna’ have a girls weekend, who doesn’t go spelunking?

Here are some replacements and solid suggestions as Halloween approaches–

Insidious

Oculus

Mama

Trick ‘r Treat

The Woman in Black

The Innkeepers

Cropsey

World War Z

What Lies Beneath

The Monster

Plus several horror films that were excellent and which I never reviewed:

The Last Exorcism

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Fright Night

 

 

 

An uplifting and engaging documentary about a Welsh barmaid and her two dozen working class pub clientele who decide they are going to kick in 10 pounds a month to back a racehorse. And by “back”, I mean, purchase the mare (who had a racing history of “last”, “eighth” and “pulled up”), purchase the semen, inseminate the mare, raise the foal, and then hand it over to one of the more premier training stables – Sandhill – the owners of which are naturally skeptical but happy for the monthly fee. The horse, Dream Alliance, is, of course, loaded with charm, and he leads a racing life ready-made for a Hollywood film, which I cannot believe is not in production as we speak.

This is a very nice, sweet, beautifully filmed documentary. It hits the class clash a little hard, and it could have included a little bit more about how racing in Great Britain works (for example, the damn horses don’t have a gate – they just take off in a gaggle – and there are hurdles on the straightaways!), but these are minor nits.

 

So hellbent on being tough and gritty, it doesn’t realize how ridiculous it presents.  Dirty cops, ex-vets, drug addicts, hard asses, double dealers, all on the mean streets of Atlanta.  When these men commiserate, well, shit gets real, and words like “family” and “brother” and “trust” are bandied about.  because, “Out here, there is no good and there is no bad. To survive out here, you’ve got to out monster the monster. Can you do that?”

Yeesh.

Add a hilarious Kate Winslet as a Russian mobster  with hair from Married to the Mob, a lazy crazy Woody Harrelson phoning in his standard quirky drunk cop with a nose for the perps, a cheezy industrial score, a bunch of young actors testing out their hard stares (Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus), and a boring end that I suppose was meant to be anti-climactic, and you get this poser of a crime flick.

Plot-wise, the entire caper rests on having an innocent cop shot in the darkest and dankest housing project so his dirty cop partner can call in a “999”, whereupon, at least in Atlanta, every cop in the city’s 3300 square miles drives like a bat out of hell to the scene, and thus, we have a diversion, so other dirty cops can steal a case for the Russians that just happens to be housed in the Atlanta office of the Department of Homeland Security.

Got that?

This idiocy is made even more noticeable because when the “999” is called in, indeed, every cop lights out for the scene, Woody Harrelson leads the charge and almost kills dozens of civilians in the process in what is meant to be a bravura car chase scene.  But it is not a chase scene.  It is a race to get to a destination, a race made dumber by the fact that Harrelson is screaming at his partner “Do you know who was shot?” (Affleck was on scene and he is Harrelson’s kin).  And for what?  When Harrelson gets to the locale, there are already dozens of cops on the scene drinking coffee and showing vacation pics to each other, and Affleck looks relaxed, like he just had a backrub from Atlanta’s newest Tactical Massage Unit.  And why didn’t Harrelson’s partner call any of the dozens of cops on scene to ask who was shot?

Also, why do these jamokes actually have to kill an innocent cop instead of shooting some rounds and getting on the radio and just saying “999”?  Then, when every cop bugs out for the location, the dirty cop can just say, “My bad.  I thought he was shot.”   Hell, have the cholo in the housing projects who was contracted by the dirty cops to shoot the innocent cop and instigate the “999” just bonk the innocent cop on the head, shoot a round in the air, and then the dirty cop can call on his radio, “Hey, 999”, as the cop is, technically, down.  Or just have a shootout and get on the radio and have the cops screaming, “we are getting shot up in here.”  Will all of the cops in Atlanta just keep playing Candy Crush because they didn’t hear “999” but instead , “Shots fired.  At me!!!!”

And what is with this stupid “999”, anyway?  Is “999” the equivalent of “Candyman” and if you say that word three times in a mirror, cops jump in their cars and go berserk like bees to the queen?

Besides, Homeland Security ended up having its own SWAT team, who, apparently, were taking a collective bath when the caper began.

And of all the cops to shoot, why choose Affleck, who has previously demonstrated he’s bad-ass in a gunfight?

Not only is Affleck bad-ass, he’s also the Sherlock Holmes of the A.T.L.  He cracks the case because he checks the wallet of the cholo contracted to shoot him and Ay Caramba!  It has the address and time of the shooting (8th and Washington, 4 pm).  What is it with Latino gang members and a) their inability to remember a few easy things and b) their predilection for semi-cursive?  Affleck then goes to the dead cholo’s  neighborhood and asks the first Latino kid he sees what’s what, and wouldn’t you know, that kid just gives it out like candy.

Director John Hillcoats’ The Proposition and Lawless were similarly moody and slow, but I don’t recall them being stupid.  That distinction must be laid at the feet of first time writer Matt Cook.

The story is now lore. In 1964, Kitty Genovese was attacked outside her Queens apartment. Her assailant stabbed her, ran, and then returned to rape her and finish the job. 37 witnesses turned away. They looked out the window and saw Kitty being stabbed. They heard her pitiful screams. Fearful, callous and/or a sign of the times in our urban hellholes, they drew their blinds and did nothing.

Turns out it’s all bullshit.  While it appears two people may have seen her and elected not to intervene, one did, screaming at her assailant to get away yet unaware that she had been injured.  A neighbor actually did go down to the street (Genovese died in her arms), many of the “witnesses” who are still alive state that they called the police or the extent of their “witnessing” was merely hearing a scream down on the street and then, not hearing more, thinking nothing more of it.

Ah, but what a story. The first half of documentarian James Solomon’s riveting re-investigation – which utilizes interviews, old documentation, photos, footage and animation to put us on that street or in one of the overlooking apartments – destroys the myth. As relayed by one reporter who had his doubts, “it didn’t make any sense” but because it was being propagated by the powerful and highly influential The New York Times, doubts were shelved because “It would have ruined the story.” That story was under the care and feeding of then-editor Abe Rosenthal, who wrote a book about the murder and jealously protected the myth, even going to the extremes of haranguing reporters decades later when the Times re-investigated and came clean on its excesses. In an interview with Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame, who was then a radio reporter, his candor is both laudatory and depressing. Yes, he says cheerfully, the story was shot full of holes, but it is a great story and the Times was pushing it. What’s not to like? From there, the story embedded itself in the national psyche, a development Solomon firmly establishes.

This is an important film.  In an age where one would think, given the plethora of alternative sources of news and investigation, that such a meme could not take hold, it’s just the opposite. When the forces want to deliver you a narrative, be it for perceived social good or simple economic gain in the form of extended play, they can be overwhelming.  I remember reading the UVA  rape story in Rolling Stone and with a daughter at college, being incensed and affected.   I then re-read it, and it just seemed . . . thin. There was not one named source, yet, it was so utterly sensational as to be irresistible. Indeed, there was an entire phalanx of denunciations, movements, calls to action, tut-tutting about rape culture and privilege, etc . . .  And the entire story was a fanciful creation of a disturbed, pathetic woman. It does not stand alone.  Remember every false narrative offered in the MOVE bombing in 1980s Philadelphia, the Matthew Shepard murder, the “rape” by the Duke lacrosse team, the recent Ferguson shooting, and on and on.

The second half of the film centers more on the emotional impact of the murder on the Genovese family. It is her tortured brother Bill who is most affected, and he is our guide back into history, but the shrapnel emanating from her death did damage to every member of the family (both parents suffered early strokes and Kitty’s father died very young). On the hopeful side, as he deconstructs the fable, he revives his sister, replacing the myth with a living, breathing neighborhood barmaid who had roots in the neighborhood, including a female lover.

A must see, the film will instill in you a healthy reserve and skepticism of anything you hear in the heat of the moment.  Or, it should.

 

Jane Austen has been treated well and often by Hollywood, but – with the exception of the recently humorous but underwhelming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – she has been treated with a reverence which also brings with it a certain torpidity.  How often have we seen that same dour, tortured Mr. Darcy; the loyal, suffering Elinor Dashwood; or the quick-witted but headstrong Elizabeth Bennet?  Don’t get me wrong.  I love them all, but their portrayals tend to be so bleeding earnest, and of the same stripe, that it begins to feel very rote.

Whit Stillman has written and directed three modern Austenian pictures- Metropolitan (essentially, Mansfield Park), Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco.  When he gets his hands on an actual Austen short story, it is no surprise that Stillman shakes it all up with an original and witheringly funny adaptation.  Rather than dally with dialogue establishing the Austen archetype – handsome rogue, lovestruck hysterical wife, scheming social climber, etc . . . – he gives us the actors in poses, drawing upon the audiences’ presumed familiarity with Austen, so as to get the ball rolling more quickly.

And in the hands of the most vicious and hilarious of all Austen protagonists, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), what a ball it is.  An elegant bloodsucker, Lady Vernon flits from household to household, leaving each in tumult as she wheedles her way into the most advantageous social position she can find.  Her dexterity when she encounters obstacle is noteworthy and her aplomb when thwarted is near winning.  In Beckinsale’s hands, Austen’s wit crackles, and the repartee is fast and furious.  I won’t ruin any of the fun, save to offer my favorite line from the film:  “Americans really have shown themselves to be a nation of ingrates, only by having children can we begin to understand such dynamic.”

Austen’s work always delivers us a fop, a fool, or both, but Beckinsale is almost upstaged by Tom Bennett who plays the utterly unflappable, cheery, and utterly clueless James Martin, one of Lady Vernon’s many targets.  I laughed out loud in all of his scenes.

One of my top five for the year thus far.