Friday, January 4, 2013

Listomania: Thomas' 2012 End of Year Brain Drain

Damn, what a year! Personally it was a complete trainwreck for me with events that I hope I will never, ever have to repeat again in my lifetime and would not wish on anyone. On the plus side, the economy seems to be picking up and best of all, independent film seems to slowly be returning to its roots, spawning movies driven by creativity and passion, rather than cynical compendiums of cliches and empty promises. Don't get me wrong, they're still out there en masse, but with films like UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012), which by all rights, should have been released theatrically, and THALE (2012) raising the bar for DTV and SOV movies, I see great things on the horizon.

Total Movies Watched:
303 (that is 62 missed opportunities!), of course that doesn't factor in Scandinavian crime novels read. Although I can't even use books as an excuse with Mary McKee throwing around crazy-ass shit like THE DEATH OF THE FUHRER!

Total Theatrical Movies:
3 (two more than last year!)

PROMETHEUS (2012): Completely overblown, badly written, embarrassingly acted mess that pretends to toy with the audience over whether it is or is not a prequel to ALIEN (1979), when in fact, it has no clue. The apologists claim that it's visually stunning, and that is absolutely true, but this is Ridley Scott. That's what he does. Even when dealing in marginal product (say, 1987s SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME), the visuals are always arresting. Arresting visuals doth not an awesome movie make, quoth The Bard. It does make for a nice Imax 3D viewing experience, but then again, it sure would have been nice to have something closer to a complete package. The most interesting thing about it post-release is that it apparently was to be a much more ummmm, "down to earth" project with a reinvented chest-burster and human-to-alien transformations, which would have not only been cooler to see, but would have made a lot more sense in the context of the story. Too bad all concerned seemed to get high on their own fumes and decided to aim for more pretentious goals.

THE AVENGERS (2012): Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the film. I saw it in Imax 3D and had a good time, but... really? Was it that amazing? Peeps be goin' batshit on this flick, fo' realz! The bar was definitely raised in the CGI department, but greatest movie ever? I dunno about that. It was fun, but the aliens looked like they were stolen out of a Michael Bay film and the only thing that was ever cool about Hawkeye was his whiskers, and they decided to drop those since presumably Jeremy Renner can't grow them. On the other hand, I really wish Whedon had directed THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN or the new SUPERMAN flick which looks stunningly pretentious. I gotta hand it to Joss, he turned in a good time, and honestly I truly do appreciate him giving us a close-up of Scarlett Johansson's marvelous tush in 3D on a 30 foot high screen.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981): It's RAIDERS! It's in our modern, scaled-down version of IMAX! Restored print? Nope! But we do get a new font for the titles. Then again, does it really need to be remastered and all hi-def? Nope. It's still a great movie that would never be made the same way today. Matter of fact, we can see what it would be like if it was made today. It's called INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Yeah, I had to go there, didn't I?

The First Film of 2012:
FROM NOON TIL THREE (1976): Oh my lawrd, Charlie, what the hell are you doing? I guess there's a reason this Charles Bronson western has been hard to come by for so many years. Man, this is rough stuff. A group of bankrobbers find themselves short a horse, so odd man out Graham (yes, Bronson's character is a Graham) must stay at a remote mansion inhabited by a young widow (Jill Ireland, of course), named Amanda. The gang is going to return for him at 3pm, so from noon-til-three the two become romantically entangled in what is supposed to be a charming, amusing way (it's not). The whole thing takes a bizarre turn when the gang is caught, Graham is presumed dead and Amanda becomes world famous for her highly embellished dramatization of her love for a bank robber. I'd really like to give it props for going completely off the rails in a direction I never saw coming (she doesn't recognize him, but recognizes his penis - whaaa?), but the fact is that this is just a painfully bad movie that was only greenlit because of the star-power behind it. If you've worked your way through everything else or you've ever wanted to see Charlie in a tux doing some ballroom dancing... err, this is for you.

The Last Film of 2012:

35-16 FATHER CHRISTMAS CODE (1989): Fun, dark and somewhat edgy French film that I think may have been aimed at the family crowd. I say, "I think" because there is so much in this movie that would absolutely horrify wimpy American parents (who flipped out over something as innocuous as PARANORMAN), that at times I wonder what the target demographic actually was. Of course, these are the French we're talking about, so they probably felt it would be good for their kids to embrace the darker side of Christmas. Good for them. Chris Columbus and John Huges blatantly ripped this flick off for HOME ALONE (1990). Of course they scrubbed and sanitized every single square inch of this concept until it glistened in the Christmas sun and was completely safe for American consumption. It's no surprise that it has never seen the light of day in the US. Review forthcoming.

The Biggest Surprise of 2012:
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012): This completely whacked, hallucinogen-fueled, bare-knuckle re-working of APOCALYPSE NOW blew my freakin' mind. Even the red-band trailer doesn't prepare you for the brutal, bloody left-field insanity that John Hyams blows in your face at 250 miles an hour.

The Biggest Disappointment of 2012: Tie!

THE HOLE (2009): Damn, Joe Dante, what happened? A family moves into a new house that has a deep, dark secret in the basement: A trap-door covered hole that is locked down and clearly not meant to be opened. Of course the kids just have to open it and as it turns out, the hole contains fear itself. Dante does a beautiful job setting up the story with some great touches, such as a nutty Bruce Dern as the former house owner who is now terrified of the dark. Sadly, as soon as the characters fears come to life they are neither scary or unique. I realize that this is supposed to be safe for ankle biters, but the drunken/abusive father segment is painfully cliched and delivers that lame '80s stereotype of guys with long hair being evil. Hey Joe? You used to have long hair, buddy. But digressions on coiffures not withstanding, the film starts on a very high note, and plummets quickly after the halfway mark. Even so, it's surprising that this never got released in the US.

SLEEPWALKER (2000): Easily the best videocamera thriller ever, well, at least for the first 80 minutes. This completely crushed me. I couldn't believe how brilliant this film was using a format that usually is the kiss of death. Then the twist end hit. You bastards.

Oldest Film Seen in 2012:
THE DRUMS OF FU MANCHU (1940): Lightning-fast paced, action packed and very politically incorrect serialization of Sax Rohmer's novel about the master criminal Fu Manchu. Here he is being pursued by Nayland Smith in Los Angeles (!). I've never seen so many giant, hulking Asians with European features. Tons of fun and seriously, Schwarzenegger and Stallone got nothin' on the body counts racked up here. More on Fu later in the month.

Most Movies Watched in One Month:
An almost Aaron Christensen-esque total of 46 in August. Runner up: 42 in October.

Least Movies Watched in One Month:
12 in November. Damn those night shifts!

Top 10 Favorite First Time Viewings in 2012:
This is simply a list of movies that I saw for the first time in 2012 that became instant favorites. There were so many that I had to pare down the list to just the top 10 most memorable.

The Johan Falk Trilogy - ZERO TOLERANCE (1999) / EXECUTIVE PROTECTION (2001) / THE THIRD WAVE (2003): Unquestionably the best police action thrillers of the past two decades. The story arc over three films won't even hit you until you are into the second film, when you will suddenly realize that you are knee-deep in a masterpiece.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008): An amazingly effective, disturbing and complex Swedish horror film that never hits a wrong note. Deserving of every accolade it's gotten and undeserving of the mindless, soulless Hollywood remake. If you were like me and procrastinated because of all the hype, don't put it off any longer.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012): Again, this should be everyone's must see list. Unless they are the kind of person that runs off to the theater for the latest Tom Cruise movie.

WELCOME TO THE GREAT ADVENTURE OF KENNY STARFIGHTER - KENNY BEGINS (2009): Great Swedish sci-fi comedy that runs a lot like a live-action Pixar film. Kenny ain't the brightest cloud in the nebula, but yearns to be a Galaxy Hero - mainly due to the fact that he doesn't want to get into the family business of hair dressing. While attempting to ticket a speeding Winnebago  Kenny's ship hits a black hole and crash lands on Earth and meets up with a couple of teens, one of whom has touched a crystal that has given him a perfectly healthy body and mind. That crystal, as it turns out, is the one thing that wheel chair-bound mega-brained Rutger Oversmart needs to rule the cosmos and he's a bit cranky that it has already been used. To fight off Kenny and steal the boy, Oversmart brings in his trio of assassins (sort of a spoof on the Three Storms), Earth, Wind and Fire (Wind has a fan for a head). Sure some of the jokes misfire pretty badly (Kenny in a dare-off with his brother drinks shampoo), but most of them are very clever and the production itself is fantastic, feeling like a satire of '80s PG-rated sci-fi flicks such as THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984). This was actually a tie for Favorite Comedy with RONAL THE BARBARIAN (2010).

ANGEL OF DESTRUCTION (1994): Quite possibly the finest example of '90s DTV trash action epicness from the master of the craft, Cirio H. Santiago. Ok, how do I even synopsize this? A trashy pop-star that is sort of like a SF strip club show meets Madonna on a budget is being stalked by psycho militia dude. A badass female cop (Charlie Spradling) attempts to guard her body, but only ends up getting killed, so her sister (Maria Ford in fine form) is now hell bent on some violent revenge. Hoooooly crap! Wall to wall sleaze and violent action plus some of the most hilarious bits of bad movie awesomeness this side of... well, another Cirio H. Santiago movie. Includes an instantly classic scene in which Ford kicks serious ass all over a house being over-run by killers wearing nothing but a thong. Ford that is, not the killers. A masterpiece of trash cinema.

THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS (2011): Just in case anyone missed me gushing about the unparalleled awesomeness of this indy production from Andrew Leman and Sean Branney last year, I'm going to mention it again, since technically I didn't see it until early January. One of the best, if not the best, H.P. Lovecraft adaptation.

KAMEN RIDER - THE NEXT (2007): Everything you could ever possibly want from a tokusatsu flick, much less a Kamen Rider movie. None of this crappy TV show video toaster FX and cheap action. This is the real deal. Big action, choreographed fights, massive explosions, twisted monsters, bloody horror, evil curses, crazy motorcycle stunts and even... nekkid boobs! Yes, that's right, one of Kamen Rider's nemeses actually has a topless scene (while still wearing her helmet). Am I a total nerd if I think that is totally hot? Sure there's some dopey tween romance thrown in, but that's about 1% of the total package. Review forthcoming.

THALE (2012): Maybe not as stunning as WHISPERER, but a captivating little film that deserves a lot of praise for overcoming the limitations of the digital video format.

FLODDER (1986): Quintessential '80s Dutch comedy from the venerable Dick Maas about the haves vs. the have-nots that fits right in place next to American classics such as CADDYSHACK (1980). The Flodder's, a low-class family of slobs, is used as a social experiment (one that we've had in America since this film came out). If you take them out of the slums and move them into an upscale neighborhood, perhaps they will become cultured, contributing members of society. Of course the Flodder's rain total havoc and chaos down on the posh new neighborhood, skewering social prejudices with both keen wit and crass shock value. It doesn't sound like much, but it is done with such a deft hand, a genuinely hilarious script and great production values, that it like CADDYSHACK transcends it's humble concept. Plus, we get one of the most massive-scale destruction/fire sets I have ever seen on film. I can't even imagine how long it must have taken to set up an entire subdivision so that it could be destroyed and set on fire all at once. Oh, and keep your beverages safely on a coaster when Danish Playboy Playmate Tatjana Simic is on screen or severe bobbleage may occur. Just sayin'.

2 Reactions:

  1. Hey dude,

    Sorry it's taken me halfway through January to get back over here to comment on your end-of-year stats. First off, 303 films is awesome. Surprised-but-not-really that you didn't get to the cinema more with all of those, but it's clear that Hollywood ain't doling out the proper fare to keep your attention.

    Totally agreed on your underwhelmment for AVENGERS and PROMETHEUS. The former was a lot of fun, but I would have expected THE BIGGEST MOVIE IN THE WORLD to have had a little more lasting power than "wasn't it awesome when Hulk smashed Loki?" The latter was undone by a big ol' lack of the smarts, great looking though it might have been.

    You've definitely piqued my formerly nonexistant interest in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. So bummed you didn't enjoy THE HOLE more than you did. I agree it wasn't perfect, but it was a hella lot more fun that a lot of kids horror and more suspenseful than a lot of grown-up scary stuff these days.

    By contrast, I'm really glad LET THE RIGHT ONE IN lived up to the hype. I still love that flick. (I think the Hammer remake is actually pretty decent as well.)

    WHISPERER IN THE DARKNESS. Duly noted. Hope to check it out soon.

    Last but not least: Thanks for all the gratuitous nudity at the end of the post. That's the way to start my year off right.

  2. By the way, was that Tom Cruise comment for me?


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