Friday, October 25, 2013

Tender is the bite

It was Saturday night, and so the bearded gentleman strolled down the sidewalk wearing his shtreimel for Shabbat. He passed me and two young men in their leather jackets and rocker shirts (which only made them look more harmless), and after the man with the large fur hat was out of hearing range, one of them leaned to the other and said "I feel like I'm in Russia" and they both laughed. We weren't in Russia, we were in Los Angeles, standing outside the New Beverly Cinema for the 6th annual All Night Horror Show. It had been a rough drive to the New Bev for me, as the streets were littered with many a dead Dodgers fan, having taken their lives in despair after the disastrous conclusion of the previous evening. On my street alone I counted 4 dead cholos.

But I was cheered up at the box office by the pleasant voice of owner Michael Torgan as he thanked me by name while handing me my ticket. Brian Quinn of the Grindhouse Film Festival greeted us at the entrance while giving us our wristbands that would allow us to come in and out of the New Bev as we pleased. I said hi to fellow movie geek Cathie Horlick (having given her advance warning this time) as well as Messrs. Eric Ess and Dave Wilson, rejecting their niceness with extreme prejudice.

Mr. Quinn then came up on stage to intro the show; he told us about how the 35mm prints for the 6 scheduled films (movies that hadn't been screened in Los Angeles for quite some time) were acquired from places like the Academy Film Archive, Universal Pictures, and various universities. He told us about the men who would be manning the snack bar, and the two projectionists who would split the 12-hour duty into two 6 hour shifts. We clapped for all of it, all of them. He then asked us to be cool with our outside food & drink (snuck-in booze included) by cleaning up after ourselves and to try to keep the odors (both food and personal) to a minimum. As always, the films would be preceded by trailer reels and shorts, and one of the movies would be a "secret" one that we wouldn't know about until it started.

For years, many a New Bev regular (including Mr. Ess) had requested the 1986 vampire flick Vamp, and tonight it was finally going to play the All Night Horror Show. It was the first film of the evening, and I'd never seen it before. Vamp opens with two college students pledging a fraternity, mostly for the living accommodations provided by the frat house, rather than being part of a group of binge-drinking date-rapists who will look back on college as being the high point of their lives. Chris Makepeace from the fondly remembered youth classic My Bodyguard and Robert Rusler from the touching homosexual drama A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge play our main characters Keith (straightlaced type; a little bit country) and A.J. (has the gift of gab; a little bit rock and roll).

In exchange for membership into the frat, he and Keith will provide a stripper for their upcoming party, which is of course the kind of thing one says regardless of whether or not they can make that happen. They need a car to drive to the city in order to get a stripper, so they hook up with a fellow student named Duncan (played by Gedde Watanabe) who's blessed with a fat bank account, using it to pay people to do his assignments for him, like he's Thornton Melon or something. But unlike Mr. Melon, this cat doesn't have much going on socially -- don't I know the fucking feeling -- and so in his desperation he allows Keith and A.J. to borrow his automobile in exchange for a week's friendship. He's not a dick or douchey, he's just a nerd (back when it wasn't cool to be uncool), and so I felt bad for the man, especially with Keith and A.J. not even trying to pretend to enjoy having his company. Kind of a dick move from our "heroes", if you ask me.

They decide to go to The City (played by Los Angeles) and for some reason, they figure the After Dark Club in Downtown The City is the place to go, despite the newspaper ad consisting of a frightening picture of Grace Jones' frightening face. Jones plays Katrina, the star attraction at this club, and she is introduced wearing a very Grace Jones-type of outfit, doing a very Grace Jones type of dance routine. It really is quite a sight to see, and the silent open-mouthed reaction from the patrons following her performance left me thinking that those were the real reactions of the actors and extras who just witnessed whatever the fuck Jones just did on stage.

A.J. becomes a slave to the rhythm, deciding that she is the one to hire for his college fraternity fuck-around. He's off to her dressing room following his dick muse, unaware that Katrina is like a hawk steeling for the prey, or to be more specific, a vampire looking over a potential victim. Yup, turns out Katrina is Queen of the Vampires and this strip bar is the original Titty Twister. So now Keith, A.J., Duncan, and Michelle Pfeiffer's adorable kid sister have to deal with bloodsuckers, familiars, an albino Billy Drago, chicks with fucked up teeth, and the guy who gave Jerry Seinfeld his space pen.

This movie was written and directed by Richard Wenk, a name I recognize as the screenwriter of what will most likely be Richard Donner's final directorial outing, the Bruce Willis/Mos Def flick 16 Blocks. I liked that movie, and I liked this one, despite the print going in and out of focus for most of it. I overheard Quinn talking to someone about it during the film, but I guess nothing could be done about it because it came and went all throughout the running time.

My friend said Vamp eminded him of From Dusk Till Dawn, because of the whole strip-bar/vampire haven thing, and yes there's a definite strong similarity, but hey -- Vamp got there first and it has a much lighter & less violent tone to the proceedings. It's a little less mean and a little more fun. Also, From Dusk Till Dawn doesn't have Chris Makepeace in a letterman jacket, looking like a poor Hollywood Blvd. street impersonator of Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 2.

If From Dusk Till Dawn felt like Desperate Hours Goes To Hell, then Vamp is kinda like the bloodsucker version of After Hours; the film doesn't keep all the craziness to the strip club, it also widens out to the nearly deserted part of town the club is located at, populated by people who for all of their unsettling weirdness might as well be creatures of the night, every one of them. It's got a great 80s look as well, with Steven Soderbergh's former cinematographer Elliot Davis lighting everything with neon pink and green. It's also very 80s in that Grace Jones is the main selling point.



The second film of the evening was Dracula's Daughter from 1936; this follow-up to 1931's Dracula starts out with a couple of your usual old school Brit beat cops with their bushy mustaches and harrumphing manner of speaking, watching over the recently deceased Count Dracula and weak-ass familiar Renfield, because this flick is like Halloween II in that it starts off pretty much after the first one ended. Anyway, along comes some chick in a burka and the cops freak out for a bit before realizing that it's 1936 and terrorists weren't doing the bomb vest thing yet.

Instead the lady behind the terrorist veil turns out to be Countess Dracula (I forgot her real name), a handsome woman if there ever was one, and she just wants to confirm that her deadbeat dad is indeed merged with the infinite. Once she's satisfied with that knowledge, she's ready to go full Miley and break the chains associated with her father's achy-breaky ways. She is done with the nightlife and the bloodsucking and just wants to live, dammit, live. Unfortunately, her creepy asshole manservant Sandor succeeds in putting a damper on her dreams, convincing her that she was born to vamp and forever will she vamp and that's just the way of the world.

What we have here is a classic Hater, this Sandor. Lady Dracula over here is trying to turn over a new leaf, yet this asshole chooses to hate rather than congratulate her attempts. I think a good part of it comes from him hating the idea that he's going to lose her to some regular chap; Sandor probably spends his non-serving moments jerking off his frustrations in the broom closet, rather than growing the fucking balls necessary to just go up and express his love (or lust) for her. You never know unless you try, right? But considering how creepy he looks, I think he sees the writing on the wall, he knows his chances for consummation are practically nil, and besides, this is England; they have a whole class system and the Countess probably doesn't see him as anything more than a servant.

But rather than move to the United States, where fucking and/or marrying the help merely makes you the former governor of California or the star of Mrs. Doubtfire instead of some pesky offender of the social paradigm, Sandor and the Countess remain in England, where she fails at her attempts to not Drac out. Some poor high society man in his top hat and coat is among the first to fall victim, not understanding that he will indeed get sucked off by her, just not in the way he was hoping for. Speaking of upper class Brits and blow jobs, I'm now flashing back to that Hugh Grant scandal once upon a time. That would've been funny if the hooker he hooked up with turned out to be a Vamp and later the cops found his dumb ass completely drained of blood, and I say that as someone who is quite fond of About a Boy.

Despite her occasional bloody nightcap, Ms. Dracula doesn't allow Sandor's bullshit to color her thoughts totally; she hires some asshole psychiatrist to help her fight her urges. I guess this psychiatrist is like the hero of the movie, even though he doesn't really do much and he's not very likable either. The only thing I liked about the psychiatrist is that he couldn't tie a bow to save his life, that, and his special lady friend is always fucking with him. If she's not purposely messing up his tie, she's making prank calls to him while he's trying to conduct business.

Anyway, back to the Countess -- she's still trying, our gal. The psychiatrist advises her to confront her problem head-on, which she soon does by inviting a poor fresh-faced girl named Lily off the street to her estate so she can "paint" her. But we know what the fuck is up; this girl is the Brit equivalent to the small town country girl lost in the big city, her dreams of stardom or reeling in a big fish dashed, leaving her alone on a bridge, thinking the unthinkable. But that was then. Now she's warm and comfortable, her formerly empty belly now full of crustless sandwich and wine, and I'm sure she figures if this nice lady with the big ring asks her to do more than merely model, well then hey, it sure beats the alternate. And because she's a girl, she can always call it "experimenting". Us guys, on the other hand, we put one dick in our mouths in college and we're marked as Friends Of Dorothy for all time.

Like most sequels, Dracula's Daughter doesn't match the strength of the original. But it's still a pretty good horror flick; the lady who plays the title role is good and conflicted, I totally dig that old-fashioned horror atmosphere of yesteryear, and you can never go wrong with a little lesbian undertone either. It's also over and done with pretty quickly; by the time the film reached its climax, I was surprised and figured there had to be more. (And it was then that I realized how it felt for the other women in my life who were unfortunate enough to sleep with me.) It was also interesting to watch such an old genre film featuring female characters displaying signs of strength, only to be kept down or mocked by the filthy pigheaded men in their lives -- which I guess makes Dracula's Daughter the prototypical Lifetime movie.



We watched a Three Stooges short called Who Done It? followed by the third film of the night, 1980's Death Ship, about an evil deserted freighter prowling the sea in search of people to fuck with. Next up on the chopping block: a cruise ship containing Richard Crenna, Nick Mancuso, and best of all, George Kennedy as the captain of the Life Ship, and he's such a fuckin' sourpuss incapable of having anything remotely approaching joy or happiness or pleasure. It's his last day on the job before handing over the reins to Crenna, so at first I thought he was upset about retiring, but no, his is an aggressive discontent because he spent his life shipping passengers in and around vacation spots, rather than exploring the oceans and getting into adventures or something.

Early on in the movie, there's a big dance happening on the cruise ship and he's sitting at a table with Crenna and his family, making it very clear that he doesn't want to be there. He can't fake a smile or anything. Crenna's kid with the overactive bladder notices that Kennedy isn't eating his slice of cake, so he asks him if he could have it -- even throwing in a "please?" -- and this fuckin' barrel of laughs proceeds to push the plate away from the kid and says "isn't it your bedtime?" You never see him eat the cake either, the cocksucker. I mean, I can't stand kids either but even I know not to treat them like shit, especially if you're somewhere you don't want to be.

It's like this one time I was at a birthday party for my friends' kid -- trust me, there were a million other places I'd rather be on that beautiful Saturday afternoon. My friend's wife suddenly brought up to her fellow mommies how I can make a mean bowl of popcorn (based on the movie nights I used to have with them, pre-child) and like a schmuck I volunteer to make one for them. Motherfucker. First I gotta waste my Saturday on this shit, now I gotta further waste it working this lady's goddamn kitchen? This is what happens when you let women run their mouths. So, I went into the kitchen, and this little boy from one of the other mothers walks in and says he wants to see me make the popcorn.

Now, I could've been like George Kennedy's character and put on the asshole act by telling him to fuck off, but instead I decided to make lemons out of lemonade, by way of popcorn. I told this kid that not only could he watch, he could help me make it and learn how to make the best goddamn popcorn around. Because this is how legacies are created, people. One day I'll be gone, but this kid will be making awesome popcorn for his parents, his friends, his significant others, and one of them is bound to ask "Where did you learn to make such good popcorn?" and he'll say "Remember my dad's friend, the one they found hanging dead from his closet with his pants around his ankles, while his tv was playing the music video to Marky Mark's 'Good Vibrations' on a loop?"

Anyway, that bad Death Ship just about licks its chops at the disagreeable aura of Mr. Kennedy, so off it goes, getting closer and closer until it rams the cruise ship and ruins everybody's fun time. It is such a scary powerful ship, this Death Ship, it not only has the power to make everything around it look like daytime while making everything around the cruise ship look like nighttime, upon collision it also causes the cruise ship turn into mismatched stock footage from other movies. I thought it was a nice touch from the filmmakers to never show the actual sinking of the cruise ship. It's far more effective to leave all that expensive spectacle to the imagination of the audience.

The survivors end up on some giant piece of wood, and while adrift at sea they find Kennedy passed out in the water. In one of the most harrowing scenes of the film, the survivors have to lift his big ass out of the water on onto their makeshift raft. Out of nowhere, the Death Ship shows up behind them and these poor bastards think that their luck has changed for the better, not knowing the terrible scary fates awaiting them. Scarier than that, they have to spend a good 30 minutes or so carrying an unconscious George Kennedy around, leaving me to imagine that maybe poor GK was unable to handle what a piece of shit he signed on for and drank himself into a stupor on the set of this movie, leaving the filmmakers to rewrite 1/3 of the film in an effort to salvage it. That would also explain the long shots of him passed out on a bed, or passed out on the captain's chair. Had Kennedy turned this film down, I bet you Joe Don Baker would've rocked this role something fierce.

Death Ship is basically a haunted house movie that takes place on a ship, only the malicious spirits here are evil Germans who turn Kennedy's character into a Nazi Jack Torrance. Much like a Breath-Asure capsule, the Death Ship works our man from the inside out; his behavior slowly becoming suspect until it all comes out front and center with the poor guy swaggering through the freighter in a snug German naval uniform. Up until that point, the movie alternates between goofy and dull; long scenes of characters exploring the huge vessel intercut with other characters doing stupid things, like eating 40-year-old hard candy or getting naked and showering under the ancient faucets because that's what you want to do in a spooky dirty rusty freighter with evil German writing everywhere.

Jack Hill (of Spider Baby and Switchblade Sisters fame) is credited as one of the writers, and supposedly he wanted to direct this flick until it fell out of his hands and the duties went to a respected BBC & stage director to fuck up. With the exception of all the unintentional comedy, nothing really works until the last third of the film when the filmmakers pull out all the stops and start incorporating footage of Nazi rallies and Hitler into the shittiness of the proceedings, which I think says more about the inherent horror in anything involving the Third Reich than it does about the quality of the filmmaking. But hey, if you want to see a naked chick scream bloody murder while stage blood pours all over her titties, then knock yourself out, man.



Somewhere during the night -- I want to say it was after the third film -- Quinn threw a raffle for prizes like posters, DVD's, and coolest of all, VHS dubs of horror flicks from the late great Johnny Ramone's personal collection. I won nothing, which is fine because Clu Gulager won; knowing indeed what the fuck is up, he requested one of the Ramone tapes. Quinn pointed out that Mr. Ramone would label both the side of the cassette and the side of the box, which I found amusing because I used to do that shit all the time with my VHS tapes, as well as putting down the year of release, the actors, the running time and whether or not it was a letterboxed print. These kids today, with their downloads and instant streaming and disrespect for my lawn, they don't know about that shit.

The fourth "secret" film of the night was revealed to be Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes from 1977. I'd never seen this film before -- actually, I'd never seen any of the films shown that night, until they were shown that night -- so it was cool to finally watch it on a 35mm print with an audience. Quinn had told us about how there were about (I think) 3 existing prints of this movie, and they were all in pretty worn-out quality, but I didn't think it looked that bad. Besides, a grindhouse quality print for a movie like this can only up the enjoyment level.

So you have this family taking a very 70s road trip (camper, station wagon, CB radio) and they end up getting lost somewhere in the Nevada desert, as road-trippers tend to do in these kinds of flicks. The father is stubborn and the mother can't read a map for shit, so thanks to that combination they end up in a bad part of the desert -- off road, smack dab in Air Force flyover territory -- and it's only a matter of time before freaky shit starts to happen, which it does when a family of savages living up in them titular hills come down to do their thing. They're like a weird freaky crossbreed of hillbillies, mutants, and Eegah; they live off whatever they can scrounge off the land, like the occasional wayward family.

Because it's a 70s flick, shit takes a while to go down, but that's OK because we can take in the whole seventies ambience. We can take in the hair styles, the mustaches, the clothing, the lack of cell phones and laptops, Dee Wallace before E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, the cool station wagon, that awesome camper, and an old ex-cop with his old school casual racist language. But when things finally get going, it gets pretty harsh and uncomfortable. Because Wes Craven was following up The Last House on the Left, with this, he seemed determined to prove to everyone that he still knew how to get down with making things violent and rapey.

Now I can handle the violence -- hell, I welcome the violence. It's in my soul, the violence. I'd punch every motherfucker in the throat if I could, all day everyday. Even you, friend -- I'd punch you in the throat if I could. But I won't because I always look deep within myself and find that tiny spark of Good that I have left and use it to shower my fellow humans with Love instead. That is why I say God Bless the Cinema for giving me cathartic experiences like Taken where Liam Neeson throat-punches his way back into his kidnapped daughter's heart.

Movies getting rapey, on the other hand, well that's something else. I can not abide and endure that shit, and will only accept it in the most grudgingly manner possible. The best I can say in Craven's defense is that it's not done in some asshole Michael Winner "tee-hee we can see her boobies!" kind of way, the way your average garden variety rape scene in a genre film of the 70s and 80s would get down. Craven wants you to understand how fucked up these assholes are, to show you the depths of their savagery -- this and only this. It's also part of the game plan on an audience manipulation level -- the end result being all of us cheering when the bastards get theirs.

But because Craven is one of these dudes who takes himself a little too seriously, I bet you he's also trying to show you some kind of duality of Man thing when it comes time for our helpless/hapless family to get some Payback, letting their bloodlust get the best of them as they create elaborate death traps and get down with a little Stabby Stab Stab. Whatever. If that's how you want to see it, that's cool. Me, I think just think it's awesome to see people get owned -- especially when the owning is done by the family German Shepherd named Beast.

Dogs are awesome and Beast is among the awesomest. I wasn't with him at first; his backstory is that back in the day he killed some poor defenseless poodle in Miami. I don't like poodles either, but obviously that dog was somebody's baby, and unless that poodle raped a member of Beast's family, there's no good reason to kill it. But if I can forgive Danny Trejo for traumatizing the many people he robbed at gunpoint back in his lawless days, then I should be able to forgive Beast for taking care of business when it comes to a bunch of stinky rapey desert trash.



Quinn told us that there would be one final trailer reel, followed by the last two films of the program playing back-to-back with no breaks, so my buddy and I went outside for one more breath of fresh air and nicotine before going back in. Lady and gentleman, if you took a script by Edward D. Wood Jr., gave it to John S. Rad to direct, and then had Godfrey Ho come in to supervise the editing, then maybe, just maybe, you might have something approaching the relentless insanity that is the 1985 anthology movie Night Train to Terror. This was easily my favorite film of the night, but I wouldn't argue with you if you said it was the worst.

So God and Satan are chilling out in a private car on a doomed train that is scheduled to crash in the morning, killing everyone onboard who isn't God, Satan, or the underlings who are moonlighting as the porter and conductor of this Death Train. Satan is tickled pink by the imminent high body count, while God can only shake his head at this fool. But this ain't no social call, it's time to get down to business: to go over the case files of three recently departed souls, deciding what the eternal endgame is going to be for these motherfuckers. This is the wraparound story, the glue that holds together this wicked hodgepodge of Absolute Cinema that is unloaded onto the viewer without so much as a warning. You think you know what you're getting into, and that will be your undoing, dear viewer.

By "absolute", I'm referring to something I once read in a Lucio Fulci interview; he was talking about his film The Beyond, and how he had intended to make an absolute film that was simply a succession of images without any rhyme, reason, plot, or logic. Sorry Mr. Fulci -- your film is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid compared to the rampant randomness that is Night Train to Terror. And yet, for all that this movie gets entertainingly wrong, this is the first movie that I felt came closest to approximating the feeling of a nightmare, right down to the part where I'm struggling to remember it immediately after. Even great horror films haven't been able to do that for me; this film proves that it doesn't even have to be good to pull it off.

The first story stars John Phillip Law as some dude who drives himself and his new bride off a bridge, thanks to the use of anamorphically squeezed stock footage of a foreign putt-putt car. He wakes up in a sanitarium. A psychologist briefly introduces herself, then tells him dinner will be ready soon. Next he's out slipping mickeys into women's drinks at bars and restaurants -- he even fucks with the blood of Christ at a church! Then Richard Moll shows up as some kind of psycho orderly at the sanitarium who takes pleasure in his job of torturing and mutilating women. Suddenly the narrator blurts out BODIES FOR MONEY, BODIES FOR MONEY. Then Richard Moll is putting severed heads into jars with their names on it. Everything happens so fast and furious here but ain't no way Dominic Toretto is gonna save you from this mess.

The second story is supposed to be about some chick named Gretta -- I mean, that's the soul in question, right? But soon, we're focusing on some other guy who falls in love with her after watching Gretta bang dudes in a porno flick (a couple minutes ago she was selling popcorn at a carnival). He finds her, she impresses him with her masterful playing of the Alphabet Song on the piano, and they hook up. Problem is, Gretta already has a man, and he doesn't appreciate this new set of testicles third-wheeling into his relationship with her. So he drags them both into this underground club of losers that like to get together and play elaborate suicidal death games involving giant killer bugs, electrocution machines, and wrecking balls. Somewhere along the way, Gretta becomes a man. Then she goes back to being a girly-girl again.

The final story is about a surgeon named Claire, so naturally the film immediately focuses on a Holocaust survivor for a while, then switches it over to Cameron Mitchell playing Detective Cameron Mitchell, then brings back good ol' Richard Moll again, this time playing an author of a best-selling book titled God Is Dead. I like the way he preaches his atheism, this Moll; rather than get all Ricky Gervais smug about it, this dude is very solemn, like he's truly sorry to burst your bubble but it's for your own good that you understand the undeniable fact that God is about as real as this blogger's sex life. Somewhere along the way, some dude who looks like he should've been in all the disco movies shows up to fuck up everybody's shit something awful, which might have to do with him possibly being an emissary of Satan.

From what I've heard, these three stories started out as full-length features that were then cut down to the quick (with additional effects and gore footage) for Night Train to Terror. But it's also my understanding that even with the benefit of being allowed to breathe in their uncut forms, the stand-alone versions are wacky in their own way. All three stories/films were written by Oscar-winning(!) screenwriter Phillip Yordan, even though they feel more like they were transcribed from the sugar-fueled rantings of a demented 6-year-old allowed to watch all the R-rated movies he or she wants -- So then this happens and then this happens and then he explodes and then a giant monster comes out and goes RAWR and then they fight karate and then we see her boobies! In other words, you'd think 6-year-old me wrote this flick.

One last thing about this movie before I move on: the God & Satan scenes are intercut with footage of a painfully 80s group of youngsters who are dancing and lip-syncing their poor excited hearts out to the same cheesy song. They're supposed to be on the same train, even though nothing in the set design really convinced me of that. It looks more like a very sparse public access approximation of someone's house. Of all the dancers shown, the film spends the most time with the lead lip-syncer, who then goes on to demonstrate his breakdancing chops in slow motion for what felt like a little bit of forever. According to the end credits, he's related to the screenwriter. And for once, something in this film finally makes sense.
(NSFW trailer)


It's unfortunate that we didn't have a break following Night Train to Terror, because I think all of us in the audience would've appreciated the time required to regain our bearings while sharing a simultaneous WHAT THE FUCK DID WE JUST WATCH. Instead we had to catch our breath during the opening credits of the next film: 1983's The Final Terror, directed by Andrew Davis, who had a pretty good career going with films like The Fugitive, until he decided to work with that asshole Ashton Kutcher. Now he's tainted, and will carry with him the Mark of the Beast for all eternity. Hope it was worth it, Davis.

So a bunch of these young forest ranger types (or whatever the fuck they were) decide to go deep into the California redwoods with their ladies and have a good time fucking around, telling campfire stories, and making straight-up jack moves on some poor marijuana farmer's crop. What bastards. Too lazy to grow their own, so they have to fuck with someone's income. For that, they should be condemned to swift merciless death. Thankfully, the film shares my opinion because soon enough, swift merciless death arrives! And because they were a bunch of assholes to Joe Pantoliano earlier in the film, he's taken off with the bus they arrived in and so now they have to take the long way home while steering clear of whatever the hell is out there ready to pounce and slice a sucker up with its pretty wicked blade.

The movie starts off like it's going to be some Friday the 13th knockoff, and the poster certainly sells it that way, but it's really more like Just Before Dawn, which itself was more of a Deliverance-esque survival tale about how easy it is for Nature to turn Man into Bitch. I'm surprised Werner Herzog hasn't made one of these types of flicks yet, since he's always fond of finding danger in the beauty of the outdoors (and being such a wet blanket about it); if he can't find an original story, well then, hell, he had no problems remaking Bad Lieutenant, so why not do-over Southern Comfort? I mean, these assholes are gonna eventually remake everything I love anyway, so I'd rather they give it to someone awesome who's actually gonna try to do something cool with it.

I really liked the performances from the cast in this film, most of them familiar faces back when they weren't so familiar (and some who never became that familiar). Among them, you have Daryl Hannah and Rachel Ward in mint condition, you have homeboy Lewis Smith from Buckaroo Banzai and The Heavenly Kid, you have the aforementioned Joey Pants, and you have that sexy Romanian beast known as Mr. Adrian Zmed. They're all young, good-looking, and stupid, so it's fun to watch them go through bad shit. As far the best performance in the film, I think it's a tie between Pantoliano's high strung former mental patient and John Friedrich's alternately annoying and menacing character who fancies himself quite the badass. Both those motherfuckers made me uneasy.

Mark Metcalf is also in this and it's a pleasant surprise to see him playing a rare non-douchebag role; here, he's the levelheaded man in charge and he even gets a chance to have one of those sex scenes where the guy does all the moaning. So if you ever wanted to see the naked ass of Neidermeyer from Animal House or hear the angry teacher/father from the Twisted Sister videos have an orgasm, well my man, you best search this film out because the Maestro is busting a nut here like nobody's business.

Like I mentioned earlier, this isn't really a slasher movie, so don't expect much gore or a body count. It's not a very long movie but it does have a deliberate pace, making it an interesting choice as the last film of the evening. Maybe Quinn figured the audience needed to gently come down from the high of the previous film; it would be irresponsible to send us out back into the world all goofed up on Night Train. During the film, I could sense some people getting impatient and noticed others shifting around in their seats, but I suspect if they were to watch this movie in a far less tired state of mind, they might've enjoyed it more. Maybe, I don't know.

Me, I wasn't tired at all and I don't need my forest-based thrillers to be packed with murder-death-kill in every frame. I just need it to tell me a good story, and this flick had one to tell. I dug it quite a bit, actually. It had some very intense moments, and the ending was pretty cool too. I don't remember a single laugh in the film, intentional or unintentional, except for Zmed's introduction; he's reading what I thought was a nudie magazine but it turns out to be weed porn instead. Anyway, I couldn't find a trailer for this movie, so here's a clip from another Andrew Davis film; like The Final Terror, this features a psycho killer terrorizing a group of innocents:



And so the 6th annual All Night Horror Show ended. I'm six for six and hope to continue the unbroken streak. My favorite films of the night were Night Train to Terror, Dracula's Daughter, and The Final Terror. Vamp and The Hills Have Eyes were good. Death Ship can take a flying leap.

It was about a quarter past 7 when we stepped out of the New Beverly and into the chilly mist-filled morning. I took my friend over to IHOP on Wilshire. I had coffee and the Breakfast Sampler, with extra bacon and sausage instead of ham. I think that was a good selection. My friend had coffee and the International Crepe Passport. He could have had anything he wanted.

Now click here to read Cathie Horlick's ramblings on the evening. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Suddenly you crave IHOP

There are riots in the streets. That's what the news is telling me, anyway. I understand, though. I understand and share the same feelings of anger, sadness, and overall helplessness being expressed by everyone in both peaceful and non-peaceful protests over this injustice. I mean, really -- fuckin' Adam Sandler's movie beat out Pacific Rim at the box office? THIS IS BULLSHIT. *cue rimshot, followed by gunshot into blogger's fat mouth*

But things aren't so bad, he says to himself, because there's an Amy Adams film currently in theaters, and the American public did the right thing this time and supported her with their dollars (it also might have something to do with the movie being about Superman, but whatever). Yeah, it took me about a month to finally get around to catching Man of Steel, but I was busy chasing dreams and money and gaining traction on maybe a little of both.

I guess Superman Returns didn't do it for anyone, otherwise why would they be rebooting the reboot? Maybe it was because Warner Bros. couldn't handle Real-Life-Dom-Cobb Christopher Nolan wrapping up the money-making behemoth that was the Batman trilogy, and like some clingy desperate girlfriend or boyfriend unable to accept the plain & simple fact that It Is Over, they begged and pleaded Nolan for something -- ANYTHING -- to continue doing what he was doing. Can you imagine being Nolan and having the power to turn any slick asshole movie exec into fuckin' panicked MacGruber with just a simple "No" or "I don't think so"?

Nolan then stroked his imaginary beard and thought up the idea of overseeing the Superman reboot, provided they find someone else to type out the words and someone else to direct. The Brothers Warner and their sister Dot then visited movie jail and paroled Zack Snyder, telling him that if he wanted to screw around and make another masturbatory fever dream about hot chicks fighting zombie Nazi orcs and giant robots, he better first earn himself some new box office capitol and get with what the Noles is cooking up. So Snyder shows up for work and just to earn extra brownie points, he even apes Nolan's filmmaking style of combining steady widescreen visuals with handheld close-ups and natural looking source-style lighting.  At least that's how I imagine it all happening.

Now we have Man of Steel, and here's a quick rundown: Father freaks out about Krypton ending and rockets his son the fuck out of there just in time to get shanked by some asshole named Zod. Rocket Boy lands on Earth, sun gives him superpowers, he's raised on a farm by the Kents, he grows up, lives life, Zod arrives on Earth to take over/settle grudge, superhero shit follows. Also, there's a cute reporter named Lois Lane who wants the scoop because that's what reporters do for a living. If I can continue being a completely reductive asshat about it, it's kinda like if you took the first hour of Donner's Superman film and followed it up with the second hour of Superman II, minus Lex Luthor and his bullshittery, and mostly told during the first half in a fractured flashback type of form. 

Speaking of the Donner & Lester films, I went into this flick wanting to enjoy it as its own thing, and I didn't bring any baggage from the previous Supermans, other than "please be better than parts III and IV". But the more I think about this flick after the fact, the more I can't help but compare it to those first two joints. But more on that later.

This is how old I'm getting, seeing movies where guys who used to be the main draw are now the supporting players. Like, before the film, they showed a trailer for something called Paranoia starring one of the Hemsworth boys, and Harrison Ford & Gary Oldman in the secondary roles. I remember when Ford was a leading box-office sensation for what seemed -- fuck that, it didn't seem, it WAS -- my whole life and now he's reached that point in his career where he'll always be an A+ Hollywood Legend For Life but unless his work in the future involves revisiting such roles as Indiana Jones or Han Solo or Joe Frantic, his blockbuster days are kinda over.

That's just how it is for your famous types as they approach the twilight of the good times; they live out the remainder of their limelight by showing up in someone else's flick to give it a touch of stardom, or they disgrace themselves by getting caught screaming sexist/racist epithets on the phone to their trophy wives. In other words, you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain in Machete Kills.

In the case of the former, here are Exhibits B and C: You have the star of Gladiator and L.A. Confidential playing Superman's birth father, Jor-El, and you have the star of Field of Dreams and Dances with Wolves playing Superman's Earth daddy, Jonathan "Pa" Kent. As Papa Number One, Russell Crowe is decent in the role, doing that monotone-ish thing he does most of the time whenever he's not ordering his fellow Gladiators to form into single columns or trolling the fuck out of Parker Barnes. He has a lot more to do as Jor-El, compared to Marlon Brando in the O.G. Supes film. He runs, jumps, swims, rides a flying Avatar lizard -- and yet, Brando exuded a fuck ton more gravitas just by simply holding up some glowy-pointed crystal at a motherfucker. In this case, the fat fuckin' turtle beat the doughy hare.

It's the same case with Costner in the part of Daddy Nombre Deux; his Pa Kent has a lot more screen time compared to Glenn Ford in the '78 version, but goddamn Ford hit me much harder in his 2 or 3 scenes then K.C. does during his sporadic appearances in the first hour. I mean, even Costner's badass final moment where he gets swept up by a tornado didn't have as much of a punch as Ford suddenly grabbing his wrist and dropping dead. Maybe that's less a reflection on the film and more on my personal baggage; I have old parents and having one of them keel over due to a fondness for bacon is more likely than them getting the Twister treatment, is what I'm saying.

Speaking of Pa Kent's final moments, I thought it was interesting that in Man of Steel, it's shown that he died in 1997, which also happens to be the same year Costner's The Postman was released. So I don't know if that was a coincidence or some kind of fucked up joke to have Costner's character die the same year his directing career died (but then was resurrected -- or at least had one hell of a death spasm -- in 2003 with his really, really, really fuckin' good Open Range). And you know what, man? I liked The Postman. I'll sooner watch that then your beloved The Artist -- AND YES I JUST FUCKIN SAID THAT SHIT.

I gotta give it up to this flick for showing more of Clark Kent's formative years, confirming my suspicions that a guy with his abilities would have a pretty shitty time during the already pretty shitty period of life known as Grades K-12. Poor kid has these panic attacks because his x-ray vision and shit goes on and off unexpectedly like your average car alarm, causing him to run for the nearest alone place -- where of course he's followed by half the school wanting to peep out the freak in his freakiness.

That scene brought up a painful memory of the time I felt way-too-nauseated in the 4th grade and ran out of class to head for the bathroom, only to barely make it a few feet out the door and past the pavement, where I violently spewed out Pop Tarts and Lunchables onto the grass for what seemed like forever. I thought to myself "How can this get worse?" and then God answered back by cueing the school bell, and then everyone in the 4th grade came out of their classes and gathered around as I vomited in such a manner that even that pie-eater in Stand by Me would've been like WTF. I tempted that God once again by wondering yet again if it could get even worse again. And that's when I heard one of the kids yell "IT'S COMING OUT OF HIS NOSE!!!" followed by a collective EWWWWW from both children and adults. And they were right. It was indeed spewing out of my nose as well.

But at least Clark Kent makes up for his spazzy moments by saving a bunch of these assholes after their school bus falls into a river. So some of these kids and townspeople are saying it's a miracle of God or something like that. Meanwhile, God apparently wasn't in a miracle mood when he let those kids in The Sweet Hereafter know all too well what it feels like to spend your last moments on Earth becoming drowned human popsicles. Some would justify it by saying that the extinguishing of all that young innocent life was His punishment to us for letting gays get married. (Meanwhile, He seemed to be OK with slavery and that whole Hitler thing. But when them homos get to making vows....)

Speaking of Hitler, the villain known as General Zod is kinda like him in that he's a genocidal cunt as well. He wants to make Earth more habitable for his fellow Kryptonians, and while someone with his intelligence and leadership ability could probably figure out a way for both humans and Kryps to live together, he's rather just let all the humans die out. I can't blame him. I mean, what would Kryptonians get out of living with humans, aside from non-stop requests from kids for piggy back rides to the sky, people bugging them to use X-ray vision on them so they won't have to go to the doctor, or being asked at barbecues to start up the grill with their heat vision. Worst of all, a Kryptonian will always be the first person a human will call when they need help moving, and it's not like the human will put any effort in lifting his or her side of the furniture.

Then somewhere along the way, people would start to resent the Kryps for taking all the x-ray jobs and the house movers jobs and whatever other jobs that humans would be passed over in favor of Kryptonians. That would suck for the Kryptonians but would be awesome for mi gente, because now all the anti-immigrant laserbeams of hate would veer away from them and move towards the Kryps.  About fuckin' time, I say.

Zod is played by Michael Shannon (not to be confused with Michael J. Shannon from Superman II ), and he's pretty good here, as should be expected when you cast a well-respected Academy Award-nominated actor. I especially dug how half the time he sounds like Dolph Lundgren. There is more to his character than the Zod portrayed by Terence Stamp in the Donner/Lester flicks; ultimately, he does what he thinks/feels is for the greater good, his fellow Kryps. The O.G. Zod, on the other hand, just wanted to rule because it's good to be the king, or something. And yet, I found Stamp's version of Zod a lot more fun to watch.

I feel that way about the film in general. While they might have gotten more into Superman's past, and given more complicated motivations for the villain, they also sucked a lot of the fun out of it and replaced it with a darker, more "real" feel to it. I mean, I get it -- that's what Nolan did with Batman and it worked really well in that case. But I don't think that same tone fits the Superman world at all. I'm not familiar with the comic books at all, so maybe that kind of thing worked better there (I'm assuming they've tried the grittier/darker approach on some of their runs), but I guess maybe I'm just burnt out on that sort of thing after the Nolan Batman trilogy.

It just doesn't feel like a Superman movie, and maybe the filmmakers knew it, which is why they called it Man of Steel instead of, I don't know, Another Superman or some shit. Even the flying is different; he doesn't so much take off from the ground as he explodes from it, getting into some weird explod-o-flight rather than the graceful gliding & landing Reeve did back in the day. The flying in this movie looks like a pain in the ass and probably takes a lot out of you, wearing you out and leaving you in no mood to put up with some chick asking you to guess what color her underwear is. Fuck that shit, find me a couch for me to rest my weary frame, woman.

But whatever, man. On the other hand, you have Superman Returns which did keep the spirit and tone of the Donner/Lester flicks but came out a dull experience. So at least this one never bored me, even at close to two-and-a-half hours. The pacing never lags, and the second half of the film is an extended battle with plenty of explosions and demolished buildings and what has to be thousands of human casualties, not to mention a brief interlude in space. Remember when Warner Bros. came thisclose to making a live-action Akira movie before canceling? Well, the last half-hour or so of Man of Steel is probably as close as we'll ever get to having one. All it's missing is Supes yelling out "TETSUUUUOOOOO!!!!!" and some dude turning into some giant mess of organs and junk.

The last Superman flick kinda pussied out of the whole "truth, justice, and the American way" deal and while this movie doesn't use the line (or if they did, I didn't hear it because I was chomping my nachos like a madman who eats nachos), it at least had Superman say something to the effect of "I was raised in Kansas, that's how fuckin' American I am, you black son-of-a-bitch", which I appreciated. And I would've appreciated it even more if the actor saying that line wasn't as British as socialized medicine. But no, they couldn't find someone in this motherfucker who looked Murrican enough to play an alien from another galaxy. They had to go across the pond for that. The fuck? That's as insane as casting an Australian to play a Canadian. I will not hear of this madness no longer. Anyway, this Cavill guy, he's fine in the role. He's also fiiiiine as a hot piece of man-ass, but that's besides the point. He's no Reeve, this one, but Reeve is currently merged with the infinite, so he'll do.

As for the reason I even watched this fuckin' thing: It takes almost an hour before Ms. Adams shows up as Lois Lane, tough-talker and hard-drinker. She also writes for the Daily Planet and calls men out on their dick measuring (figuratively speaking). Just as I'm sure she became a lot of baseball fans' dream girl in Trouble with the Curve as an attractive lady who knows a hell of a lot about baseball stats, here she'll probably give camera geeks a minor case of the swoons during the scene where she puts together her Nikon D3 like it was La Femme Nikita's sniper rifle or something. Actually, I take that back. Camera geeks, being the insufferable twats that they are, will probably scoff at this girl for having such an outdated camera -- the D3 is soooo 2008, a-hyuk, a-hyuk. 

When she first meets up with Superman, she's just been injured, so he uses his heat vision to cauterize her wound. She screams and he's holding her and I guess that's the film's way of saying that they just fucked without actually fucking, or something. Most of the time she's just going around asking people for stories about the guy, following the lead until Laurence Fishburne tells her to quit that shit before he gives her the Ike/boot treatment. OK, not really, he's just her boss and all he does is suspend her without pay.

She's good in the movie, but I think I'm gonna have to hold out until the sequel to really have an opinion of her as Lois Lane. I say that because she doesn't get as much to do, on account of the movie being more about Superman's past and dealings with that General Zod motherfucker. The nerve of the filmmakers to waste time on that bullshit when they should really be telling the story about this ace reporter. But with what little they give her, she doesn't get the chance to really Margot Kidder up the proceedings. She also doesn't get the chance to embarrass herself with some "Can You Read My Mind" bullshit, either, so I guess I should be grateful for that. But c'mon guys, up the Amy quotient when you make part II.

She does get to wield a space blaster, though, so that was kinda cool. But because she's The Adorable Amy Adams, she wields the weapon awkwardly.

And hey, it's better than Superman III and IV, which is all you can really ask for at this point.

In conclusion, if you want to feel funny about feeling funny about Diane Lane in old age makeup and grandma clothes, or if 9/11 wasn't enough mass destruction and death in a city for you, go see Man of Steel. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Rape jokes with my bros

I gave my ticket to the cute girl in the knitted beret and she smiled at me because that's what a good employee does, and of course I decided to use that as part of the scenario I created as soon as I walked into the Laemmle Playhouse 7 and spotted her: There's my girlfriend Wendy (the name I've given her), and she works at this theater and gets discounts and sure enough her no-good boyfriend (that would be me) is yet again taking advantage of it. "He's incorrigible!" she'll remark to herself. But as time passes, the glow of a steady relationship will fade and Wendy will grow increasingly annoyed and call me out on every thing I do, then I'll find everything she does bothersome as well, because that's what happens when you live with someone long enough. Eventually Wendy will tell me that she thinks we should go our separate ways and I will immediately agree, forgetting that before her I was filling up wastebaskets with piles of wadded-up loneliness.

Hi there. I'm me and you're you and I'm about to ramble about the latest picture from cinematic badass fucker of all mothers, Mister Terrence Motherfuckin' Malick. It's called To the Wonder and that's what I went to see at the Laemmle. Among the actors who survived the final cut: The chick from Hitman; Mean Girl Rachel McAdamsJavier Bardem's sexy Spanish ass; and former Goofus to Matt Damon's Gallant/current Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Ben Affleck (who I understand was quite exemplary in the motion picture Phantoms). If you're looking for Rachel Weisz, Michael Sheen, Barry Pepper, and Jessica Chastain, you can find them drowning their I Got Edited Out sorrows at the local bar -- except for Chastain, who is contentedly sipping a Diet Coke because at least she got to be in The Tree of Life, plus she's also the Designated Driver of the group. 

So when the movie begins, we're introduced to Affleck and Chick from Hitman's characters (unnamed until the end credits) and they're having a lovely time of being two attractive people frolicking the fuck out of France, in particular over at that place in Normandy with the freaky-ass bouncy mudflats that I can't remember the name of and I'm not gonna bother looking up the name, because then I'll just digress into looking up porn and won't finish my ramblings. Anyway, their frolicking probably doesn't look too odd to the locals, since I'm sure they're used to seeing tourists free-spiritedly take in the sights of this lovely country, prancing about with their arms outstretched like they're in a Terrence Malick film or something.

Speaking of frolicking -- a word I will use often in this post, in case you want to play a drinking game while reading this shit -- remember back in the day, when you first discovered John Woo and the use of doves in his films was kinda cool until he ran it into the ground with overuse and it became kind of a joke? I think Malick has reached that point with the way the characters in this film dance/skip/brisk-walk their way through the locations. It's like their all on something and they want to drink in the colors that are apparently emanating from all of nature. If my man was saving up Frolic Points during those 18+ years that he wasn't making movies, the motherfucker sure as hell used them all up by the end credits of To the Wonder. Had there been any tulips on the set of this movie, you bet your sweet ass these characters would be tiptoeing through them.

"Mama, why are you unhappy?" asks the daughter of Hitman Chick, not knowing that by being in the same room with her and talking, she has answered her own question. Yeah, there's a precocious 10-year-old (is there any other kind?) from a previous relationship third-wheeling our couple's dynamic, but despite that chatty burden, everything is going awesome for them so Affleck decides to bring them over to small town Oklahoma.

For a while, our French duo is digging the fuck out of the clean supermarkets and Sonic Drive-ins, forgetting that they came from one of the most awesome places to live. But I guess it's kind of a grass-is-greener deal Malick is pointing out; I mean, Paris has -- among other things -- a fucked up traffic system and a bunch of asshole Parisians living there, while the streets of Oklahoma are wide and structured and when/if you get yelled at by a road-rager, at least it'll be in a comical Southern accent. Also, don't forget that for a couple of foreigners, the simple delicious purity of a freshly baked baguette served with ham and butter from a local boulangerie is an everyday occurance that ain't shit compared to the newfound chemical fakey-goodness that is the Butterfinger Sonic Blast.

Actually, I take it back. I don't think the whole green-grass sentiment is where Malick is coming from. I don't know where the fuck Malick is coming from. What I do know is that as the film goes on, Hitman Chick grows more and more discontent with her new surroundings, as does her daughter. But not in a Familiarity Breeds Contempt thing, and not a Fish Out Of Water thing either, it's more about how much any place you're living in can suck a fat fucking cock when the guy whose fat cock your sucking all-of-a-sudden ain't as lovey-dovey as he was in the beginning. OK, I'm being crude there. Sorry. What I mean is that even the strongest relationship carries with it the risk of thrill-loss, and those unlucky to find that risk becoming a reality will find out the hard way that even the most enchanting place can feel so fucking lonely when the honeymoon is over. Don't I know the feeling. Come back to me, Wendy.

See, maybe in The Wonder, money isn't required and all one needs to get by is to constantly happily gallivant through his or her surroundings, but back in Oklahoma U.S.A., Affleck has to work for a living. His job involves walking around aimlessly, looking at tractors and oil drills and listening to toothless locals talk to him about dogs acting weird. I'm still not sure exactly what his job is, but if one of the required duties in this position includes not looking the least bit convincing as a working man who knows what he's doing, then it's safe to say that Affleck's character is employee of the decade. But job security isn't enough for Hitman Chick, who is in need of being caressed/held/frolicked with 24/7 and she's starting to grow restless.

Shit, girl, at least he's working, he's doing something with his time. Maybe you wouldn't feel so unloved and rootless if you had something to do with your time other than ecstatically flitting about hick suburbia like you're Nell Unshacked, picking up poor wayward hens and dancing with them and singing to them in French what I can only assume translates to: YOU CANNOT ESCAPE MY FREE-SPIRITED NATURE, CHICKEN.

And it's not like the neighbors are weirded out by your behavior, probably chalking it up to you being a foreigner. They invite you and your brat daughter to join them in their backyard mommy-and-me fuckarounds, but you don't seem too excited about joining that particular soccer mom circle. Well what the fuck, lady? You happy being unhappy alone at home? Find something to do. Get yourself a fuckin' job, something part-time like a door greeter at the Super Walmart. Something. Anything. Get busy living or get busy dying, lady. That's what I say. Get a job or get a blog, that's also what I say.

I'm being unfair. Even if Affleck's character was a shiftless layabout, he'd still be doing the distant thing with her. It happens. Sometimes you spend your life looking for something, like some hot French/Ukrainian chick from Hitman, and then you get it, your contentment emanates from you like Bruce Leroy with the Glow, until you find yourself not giving so much of a shit anymore because as human beings we're all fucked up creatures and boo hoo and blabbity blah blah blah to the fuck blah blah.

Anyway. Affleck and the two French broads, they have an interesting way of interacting with each other; they only speak French to him and Affleck says close to nothing in return. Or maybe he does talk to them, maybe he was a chatterbox in the first cut, but Malick and his editors made sure to snip that shit out and leave behind only the opposite party's reaction. See, like most of T-Mal's films, this is more of a visual trip through storytelling-land, and in To the Wonder, anything resembling expository dialogue between the characters is mostly taken out (or used in the flowery poetic narration) and it's up to the audience to piece together what's going on.

Affleck unfortunately looks out of his element here -- and I'm saying that as a guy who never hated on homeboy (except for that episode of Project Greenlight where he was munching on popcorn while watching an early cut of Feast and then left behind his trash and a bunch of spilled popcorn on the couch, never bothering to pick up after himself -- what a piece of shit). Here, he looks lost and lame. He looks like Ben Affleck. I came away from this flick thinking that Affleck probably had a shitload of dialogue but because his acting sucked and/or his French sounded like ass, Malick thought it was better to cut all that shit out and make him more of the strong, silent type -- and he can get away with it too, since he pretty much rewrites the shit out of these joints in the editing room anyway. I wonder if Adrian Brody sucked in The Thin Red Line, and that's why the final cut turned his talkative character into the fuckin' Bellboy

Rachel McAdams shows up as a farm girl who recently lost someone in her life, or at least that's what I think I pieced together with the fragmented/elliptical storytelling here, because Malick doesn't give a shit about you understanding what exactly is going on, he's more interested in that you feel these motherfuckers in your soul. Oh, look at McAdams, looking so pretty and lonely, dealing with errant buffalo and asshole horses in need of serious whispering, without so much as a single farmhand to help her out (yet she manages to have enough free time to look her best!). And here comes her old school chum Affleck, recently tired of the French tang and moving on up to some good ol' heartland pussy.

Mean Girl looks like the quintessential Malick Girl in this flick, photographing very well in the natural settings under the natural light (kudos to mi hermano, the great cinematographer of raza, se├▒or Emmanuel "El Chivo" Lubezki). Affleck's inadequacy must've rubbed off on her though, because her performance in this picture is an odd duck of a different color. She's like the personification of the narration in one of these films, speaking in a whispery breath like the entire world is a library or something. It doesn't matter where or when or why, the whole time she comes off like she's auditioning for The Village Part II. Maybe she took the horse whispering part literally, I don't know. Whatever the case, I actually came away feeling the most for her character, despite the performance.

Meanwhile, Javier Bardem isn't getting none from anyone, because he's a priest who doesn't bang boys. Just because he never got married and/or probably never got his dick wet doesn't mean he can't understand how an awesome relationship can grow strained. Hitman Chick goes to his church and occasionally opens up to him, and it's too damn bad she has no idea that he can kinda relate to the feeling that the man you love is getting all distant on your ass, only in his case, God is his boyfriend. He spends most of his days looking like the most morose motherfucker around and I feel sorry for those who attend his services, given the listless job he does with his sermons. Even for a Catholic priest, this guy's sermons are a chore. When he's not at church, he's prowling the streets with bible in hand, ready to give you the Jesus business -- and by "Jesus business", I mean, he walks around town looking as lost and forlorn as Ben Affleck's character at work.

Even the maintenance man at the church is politely giving him shit about it, trying to inspire the Holy Ghost in the dude. That janitor is pretty hilarious in his minute or so of screen time; it sounds like some unscripted shit that they just let the cameras roll on (come to think of it, this entire film felt like some unscripted shit that they just let the cameras roll on), but if it turns out that his bit was scripted, I wouldn't be surprised given that Malick is capable of writing some pretty awesome dialogue when he's not busy pontificating about This Great Evil, Where's It Come From. I remember watching a behind-the-scenes clip a while back for this film, and it looks like quite a bit of the cast consists of regular everyday citizens.

Kinda jarring to see how different the real people look in the nice neighborhoods from the ones in the more rundown areas, and I don't just mean in a racial way, either; they range from fresh-faced and well-fed to prematurely weathered skin and no teeth. Turns out these non-actors give more convincing performances than the real actors -- or maybe that was Malick's intention, to really distinguish those with genuine energy and life from those who are merely pretending. Oh, the excuses you'll look for when you really like a particular filmmaker, eh?

Especially when that filmmaker is goddamn Terrence Motherfuckin' Malick. In case you haven't picked up on it yet, I'm quite fond of this man's work. I've come away from every one of his past films with a feeling that was never less than Love. So it kinda pains me to say that I only liked To the Wonder. That's kind of a douchebag thing to say, "only liked". I guess the kinder way to put it would be to say "liked but didn't love".

Usually his films get to me in such a way that I walk away from them with this awe-inspiring sense of FUCK YEAH film ecstasy, but this one had me leaving with more of a "that's it?" deal. I think a big part of it has to do with me ultimately not giving a shit about Affleck and Hitman Chick, who are like, the main people we're supposed to be into here. On occasion I found myself growing impatient with their drama; I get enough of watching relationships go bad when I visit my married friends. I was far more involved with McAdams and Bardem's characters, and yet the film doesn't spend nearly enough time with them. He focused on the wrong people, if you ask me. Did you ask me? No you didn't, you're not even here. So let me just write this fuckin' buuuuulllll-sheeeeeeet.

If you're a Malick fan, you should check it out but I'm not going to guarantee that you'll like it. Don't put that shit on me, son. I know this film is also available on iTunes and On Demand, but if you're gonna see it, don't cheat yourself of some visual splendor -- go for the big screen. It really is only for completists though; if you thought The Tree of Life was some impenetrable artsy film-school bullshit, then you're going to think this film is like Super Tree of Life Alpha X: Champion Edition. Halfway through the film, the older gentleman sitting behind me turned to his lady and said "This is the worst movie ever". I wonder if he and his date went into this figuring that any film starring Argo Fuck Yourself, the girl from The Notebook, and that bad Anton Chigurh has to be packed with Good Times. You've been warned: the poster may say "To the Wonder" but the sign says Stay Away Fools 'Cause Artsy Existentialism Rules At The Maaa-aaa-lick Shack.

Hopefully upon second viewing, it'll grow on me and my opinion will change to where this movie can stand tall with the big boys that are Terrence Malick's other films. But for now, To the Wonder will have to settle for looking up at them and tugging at their lapels, then being told to settle down by The Tree of Life while having its adorable hair tousled by Days of Heaven. It'll look at The New World and be promptly ignored; even though The New World is only a few years older, it'll treat Wonder like a baby and want nothing to do with him. Then Wonder will go outside, where the cool uncle that is Badlands will let him have a sip from his Shiner Bock and show him his revolver, and then they'll both look over across the yard and notice The Thin Red Line sitting by himself, flask in hand, looking completely fuckin' worn out because war does things to a man.

This film came out only two years after his last joint. Goddamn. For a man who normally takes anywhere from 5 to 18 years between projects, this is like some Tyler Perry speed he's working at. He's on a tear, this bear; my man's currently working on two more films and I don't know if it's because of a sudden surge of inspiration, a realization that he's a lot closer to the end than he is to the beginning, or maybe Woody Allen called him a faggot. Whatever the case, I'm happy to know that there are more films coming out in the near future. If To the Wonder is any indication, Malick's faster-paced output will result in lesser films. But if To the Wonder is any indication, "lesser" Malick will still be worth my time.

At least he didn't call his worst film "The Master", like P.T. Anderson did with his. Sick joke, if you ask me.