Thursday, October 06, 2011

What I Watched In September

I only got in twenty movies last month? I guess I was busy out in the world doing stuff. I guess.

Anyway, I saw a number of good ones and only a couple of real duds. I made it out to the theater twice and each visit was worth the ticket price. The Guillermo del Toro produced and scripted remake of the 1970s TV horror chestnut DON’T BE AFRIAD OF THE DARK was very good. It is actually a textbook case of how to do a remake well: it uses almost every element from the original but puts a smart new spin on each thing. The smartest move was to recast the lead as a young girl feeling despondent over a recent move to a new place. The atmosphere is prefect, the additions to the story are well conceived and the entire film feels like it was made by people who wanted to craft a solid movie. DRIVE is that rarest of action movies: a smart one that doesn’t keep trying to tell you how smart it is. Owing a real debt to Walter Hill’s excellent 1970s (I sense a theme) film THE DRIVER but based on a novel the film is remarkable for what it doesn’t do more than what it does. So much is communicated by the meaningful silences between people that when words do finally come they carry that much more weight. The film has an excellent cast and each character feels real and alive with full deep relationships to the world we’re watching. This is a film that knows that the details tell us everything we need and gives them to us carefully. DRIVE is a great movie and one I’ll be watching again in the future.

I was disappointed by the full length version of a Toho SF film I’ve been hoping to see for years. THE H-MAN turns out to be far too long with a plot that drags out to the breaking point. When the science fiction elements kick at various points it is really creepy and exciting but the endless scenes of police officers working on a criminal case go on forever. I may have to check out the shorter American version to see if in this instance they made some good deletion choices.

I finally read Bram Stoker’s novel ‘Jewel of the Seven Stars’ after wanting to for years and although I liked the book I felt it had a pretty lame non-ending. The book has been adapted a couple of times and I had vague memories of the 1980 version called THE AWAKENING. I caught it in the early days of HBO and remember not being very thrilled by it as a young'un but now that I had the novel under my belt it was time to see it again. In a way it was like seeing it for the first time. I doubt most folks will have the reaction I did but I really enjoyed this adaptation. The film deviates pretty heavily in the details while retaining the broad story fairly well. The second half feels as if some scenes were left out to speed up the narrative but I enjoyed the slower pace that modern films seem to rarely attempt. Also, I loved the ending the film weaves out of hints in the book that gives the story a great sense of malignant wonder. The cast is very good across even if Charlton Heston isn’t how I pictured the character from the book. And while I’m on the subject, I’m sick of people talking about Heston as if he was always overacting all the time. I could edit together an over-the-top series of scenes for most leading actors that would make them look like maniacs. Focusing on the brief sequences in a few iconic movies to paint Heston as a scenery chewing freak is insulting. (I’ll climb down from the soapbox now.)

Thanks to TCM I got to check out a couple of silent movies I’ve been interest to see for a while. THE HANDS OF ORLOC tuned out to be far too long dragging out the story for at least thirty unneeded minutes. I much prefer the remake from 1935 with Peter Lorre called MAD LOVE. The Lon Chaney film MR. WU was a very entertaining drama of cultures clashing and the drive to take revenge on someone- even if the focus of the vengeance should be a larger target. Chaney is fantastic and the film moves along nicely.

ZARDOZ (1974)- 8 (rewatch) (mad, pretentious and enthralling)
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (2011)- 7 (good new version of the tale)
THE HANDS OF ORLAC (1924)- 5 (good silent film but a little too long)
MR. WU (1927)- 6 (Lon Chaney melodrama with a fine ending)
THE MECHANIC (2011)- 7 (solid remake doesn’t improve on the original but isn’t bad)
THE H-MAN (1958) – 5 (glacially paced Japanese combo of THE BLOB and a police procedural)
SUPER (2010)- 7 (harsh drama of an unhinged man pushed into a brief madness)
HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1996)- 2 (abysmal remake)
COUNT DRACULA (1973)- 6 (rewatch)
BLACK DEATH (2010)- 7 (good companion to THE WICKER MAN and WITCHFINDER GENERAL)
THE FOG (1980)- 9 (rewatch)
THE EXTERMINATOR (1981)- 7 (rewatch)
DRIVE (2011)- 8 (existential action movie)
VANISHING ON 7TH STREET (2010)- 6 (good but unremarkable Twilight Zone style story)
CRY OF THE BANSHEE (1970)- 5 (rewatch)
MOH: DEER WOMAN (2005)- 8 (rewatch)
POSSESSED (1931)- 6 (good pre-code drama with Joan Crawford & Clark Gable)
THE AWAKENING (1980)- 7 (slow but satisfying adaptation of ‘Jewel of the Seven Stars’)
THE DROWNING POOL (1975)- 8 (excellent detective story)

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