Fighting a cold and watching movies can make for a perfect pairing. That was the case this weekend, as I bunkered down under some blankets with cold meds and a boatload of movies. Featured this weekend: two critical darlings of the last five years, a David Lynch oddity (even by David Lynch standards), a healthy dose of urban legend horror, some samurai, and a trippy British indie thriller. This is the movie weekend that was.
A month ago, I had never seen any of Steve McQueen’s films. Now, I’ve seen two- Hunger and 12 Years a Slave. And I am completely convinced that he’s one of the very best directors working today. His single takes are an absolute gut-punch. He’s a wizard when it comes to giving his scenes and characters added emotional weight. McQueen doesn’t sugarcoat anything, to the point that his films are downright brutal on audiences. All of that is on full display in both Hunger and 12 Years a Slave. Adding to the effect of Hunger is Michael Fassbender’s performance as the leader of a 1981 hunger strike in protest of British prison conditions. Fassbender is brilliant here. And while I’ve always had a healthy respect for Fassbender’s acting chops, this film forces you to look at him in a different light.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
What, exactly, is the proper way to discuss David Lynch’s sci-fi oddity from the mid-80s? Should the first item be the hilarious Freudian symbolism of a young man who must master a giant worm before he can ascend to power and reach full maturity? Maybe it’s the cast, loaded to the gills with Patrick Stewart, Max von Sydow, Brad Dourif, Sting, Dean Stockwell, Everett McGill, and very young- VERY young- versions of Virginia Madsen and Alicia Witt. Perhaps the best place to start is with the fact that there’s an entire planet full of evil gingers in David Lynch’s Duniverse. Lynch himself seems like a great discussion point, primarily because he was an odd fit to direct a movie like this. His strength lies in blasting the ordinary with a veneer of the surreal. And he does find a way to put his imprint on the film, with his silent film-style superimposition and dissolves. But in a sci-fi universe such as Dune, the heavy lifting is done for him. He executes the goofy sci-fi dialogue and scenes just fine, but his style seemed out of place in a movie like this. There’s also a timing issue. This film, with its ambitious special effects, is a prime candidate for a remake (and apparently, it has been remade by SyFy). The special effects available in 1984 don’t really do the story justice. It ends up an oddity- a film that understands fun, even if it’s a little off-kilter.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)
Moms like to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh had a really great score.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Candyman 3: The Candymannening or Whatever (1999)
Ok, the mini-review for the second Candyman movie (Farewell to the Flesh) was a lark, a tiny little wise-ass comment. To explain why I watched two Candyman sequels requires at least some background and thought. The truth is that I only recently saw the original Candyman (approximately 2 years ago) and I loved it. If you asked me to put together my 20 favorite horror movies, I’d think long and hard about including the original. The urban legend at its center is a lot of fun and taps deep into the reason we all love horror movies. But until this weekend, I hadn’t seen the sequels. The second one wasn’t THAT bad. They did a great job of expanding a little upon the myth. And like I said, the score was really great. It’s just that the execution was so sloppy. The production values were poor and the writing/script were quite a bit on-the-nose. It was a valiant effort in a film that ultimately failed.
As for the third film (actual title- Candyman 3: Day of the Dead), it really is as bad you think it might be. There’s not much story there, and the timeline is completely incongruent with the second film. It’d be one thing if the third film was an attempt at a re-boot several years down the line, but this came out just four short years after #2. That they cast the ex-girlfriend of some guy from Motley Crue in the lead should tell you everything you need to know about how seriously the studio took this movie. It was a total waste of time and effort by all involved because it lacked even an ounce of respect for its audience.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
What’s fascinating about Dallas Buyers Club, a 2013 Best Picture nominee, is that the story is really rather straightforward. Given the emotional subject matter, there was ample opportunity for director Jean-Marc Vallée to create an overly saccharine piece. But that’s not the direction of the film by any stretch, other than one particular scene that I found overbaked (the butterfly scene corresponding to a certain character’s fate, if you’ve seen it). Everything you’ve heard about the performances of Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey is true. Both actors are forces in this film. And the story sheds light on something that, frankly, I had never heard about- the drug trade of illegal pharmaceuticals amongst the AIDS/HIV community before the FDA had caught up. Overall, it’s very good film, worthy of its nomination.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
It had been a long time since I last saw a samurai film, and there are still a healthy chunk of classics that I need to see. Enter Kill!, Kihachi Okamoto’s pseudo-spoof of classic samurai films. Allegedly, there are references to many classic samurai films in Kill!. In the interest of full disclosure, I only picked up on a few. However, the humor is definitely there. It comes off as a samurai film on steroids, with characters behaving in outlandish and exaggerated ways. It’s almost as much comedy as it is a samurai film. And in many ways, it’s reminiscent of Tarantino. That’s not to say that Tarantino was influenced by Okamoto and/or Kill!. I honestly have no clue. But they both play out in similar ways, and it’s apparent right from the opening credits. I wish I could find a clip, but the sequence is infused with a sort of western/surf inspired score with a Japanese flair.
Rating: 4 out of 5
A Field in England (2013)
When putting together the February movie calendar for movies.com (found here!) last week, one of the VOD selections listed was A Field in England. I knew next to nothing about it. Then I looked it up and found out that it’s about English Civil War soldiers ingesting mushrooms in a field and encountering an evil alchemist. And then I looked at the cast, and discovered that it stars Michael Smiley and Reece Shearsmith. By that point, I knew I’d see it as soon as I could. I picked it up on iTunes and was not disappointed in the least. It’s a fascinating blend of stark, Bergmanesque black and white cinematography; an English period piece; some light horror; a definite thriller; more comedy than I expected; and some of the trippiest sequences I’ve seen on film. Those sequences are freaky enough that the film actually issues a warning, pre-film, about strobes and such just in case you’re prone to seizures. It’s a tremendous mix from director Ben Wheatley. If you’ve seen and enjoyed Wheatley’s other work (Kill List, Sightseers, the Unearthed segment of ABCs of Death), then you really can’t go wrong. And Wheatley is now officially one of my favorite young horror(y) directors. The trailer is below.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5