Tag Archives: MaddWolf

Twofer ‘Toon Tuesday For Your Queue

You can put that obscenely expensive, insanely large HD TV to good use this week, as How to Train Your Dragon 2 releases for home entertainment. As visually arresting as its predecessor, Dragon reunites viewers with Hiccup and his beloved flying dragon Toothless as they take on dragon-napping pirates led by Drago Bloodfish. That is how you name a villain! Breathtaking visuals and a story rooted in family and frienship make this sequel well worth looking into.

An obvious double bill is the gorgeous, moving and thorougly entertaining original How to Train Your Dragon, but we hate to be so obvious. Instead we’re recommending another film about a boy, his unusual best friend and their adventures: The Iron Giant (1999). Director Brad Bird’s first feature roots itself in 1950s Cold War hysteria but tells a story brimming with immediacy. It’s also one of the more deeply touching animated adventures you will ever find.

Color Me Weirded Out

The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears

by Hope Madden

For a Belgian film, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears sure feels Italian.

Married writing/directing team Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani appear to be fans of Italian horror – the gaillo style of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, in particular.  Their more memorable films had a dreamlike quality, and often boasted vivid colors and superb cinematography. Almost invariably their storylines were mysteries wherein an unknown marauder in black leather gloves picked off beautiful women in particularly bloody fashion.

Or, for Cattet and Forzani: check, check, check and check.

Bava and especially Argento have often been criticized for the overt sexuality and misogyny of their work, but Cattet and Forzani are not among the critics. Indeed, their film takes all those elements Bava and Argento are known for, amps them up, then basically drops the idea of any coherent narrative. The result is a visually arresting fantasy of blood and sexuality.

A man returns from a business trip abroad to find that his wife is missing, but the chain was on the door, so how is that even possible? He promptly drinks himself into a stupor, harasses his neighbors, then begins collecting weird clues. There ends any sense of narrative structure.

From there expect a lot of heavy breathing, ornately decorated bedrooms, hidden passageways, and characters with suspicious backgrounds and nefarious motives. Plus a lot of nudity and plenty of blood.

Cattet and Forzani display an imaginative and commanding directorial style. The film’s serpentine structure suits the almost unconnected scenes, saturated with color and surreal imagery. They’ve created a truly dreamlike quality with a film rich with bizarre and provocative ideas. And had their film been a short, or even a sixty minute exercise, it would have been quite a product. Unfortunately, it runs for 102 minutes.

Long before the film is over the novelty may wear off, as well as the astonishment with the directorial mastery. It begins to feel like a bad dream that is no longer very scary, just tiresome in that it won’t end. Maybe a few additional themes or ideas would help, as the film circles back so often to the same cycles of images that it grows wearying. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears is a fine cinematic experiment, just not an entirely successful one.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

What a Long, Strange Trip

Interstellar

by Hope Madden

Christopher Nolan is nothing if not ambitious. He first wowed audiences with Memento, putting us in the shoes of our protagonist by telling his story backwards. Later he singlehandedly revolutionized the super hero film, then did it again, and then again. He also told the headiest tale imaginable about dreamshare technology, and pulled it off like some sort of magician. (He crafted a lovely tale about a magician somewhere in there, too.)

Well, Nolan is out to top all of that with an intergalactic drama that sees Matthew McConaughey heading into a wormhole to save the world.

In the unspecified future, the earth is seeing its last generation.  But Michael Caine (regular Nolan go-to) has concocted a plan to save humanity, and it involves sending McConaughey and a crew in search of a suitable replacement planet.

As perfunctorily SciFi as that all sounds, Nolan (scripting again with his brother Jonathan) can be trusted to spare no expense, establishing the earth’s plight realistically, outlining the likely-doomed mission with little hyperbole, and basically connecting his story to science so it never feels like Armageddon II.

Properly grounded, Nolan then sends us to the heavens.

The balls on this guy!

Wormholes, black holes, relativity, 5th dimensions, the time/space continuum – all of it handled with just enough layman’s terminology to make it palatable but not entirely understandable. It’s a trick he picked up with Inception, one of the cleverest SciFi adventures of modern cinema.

Like all galactic exercises worth their mettle, Interstellar borrows from and celebrates Kubrick, although Nolan’s film certainly never feels stale or derivative – more like the next logical step in SciFi.

The sounds and silence, the mind-bending imagery, the danger and loneliness – all of it impeccably, almost overwhelmingly captured.

It’s hard to watch the film without thinking of Alfonso Cuaron’s 2013 galactic masterpiece Gravity. One of that picture’s greatest strengths was its utter simplicity.

Nolan is not one for simplicity, and that need to complicate has a negative impact on his effort. Earthbound entanglements lose their draw in the face of the travelers’ peril, and Nolan and his terrestrial cast can’t compel attention or interest.

At home and in space, characters sometimes make unlikely yet convenient choices to further the story, which is a disappointment in a film otherwise so well crafted.

It’s also quite long and it feels long, but whatever its faults, you can credit Nolan for creating a genuine epic, and an experience filled with terrified wonder.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

Halloween Countdown, Day 30

American Psycho (2000)

A giddy hatchet to the head of the abiding culture of the Eighties, American Psycho represents the sleekest, most confident black comedy – perhaps ever. Director Mary Harron trimmed Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, giving it unerring focus. More importantly, the film soars due to Christian Bale’s utterly astonishing performance as narcissist, psychopath, and Huey Lewis fan Patrick Bateman.

There’s an elegant exaggeration to the satire afoot. Bateman is a slick, sleek Wall Street toady, pompous one minute because of his smart business cards and quick entrance into posh NYC eateries, cowed the next when a colleague whips out better cards and shorter wait times. For all his quest for status and perfection, he is a cog indistinguishable from everyone who surrounds him. The more glamour and flash on the outside, the more pronounced the abyss on the inside. What else can he do but turn to bloody, merciless slaughter? It’s a cry for help, really.

Harron’s send up of the soulless Reagan era is breathtakingly handled, from the set decoration to the soundtrack, but the film works as well as a horror picture as it does a comedy. Whether it’s Chloe Sevigny’s tenderness as Bateman’s smitten secretary or Cara Seymour’s world wearied vulnerability, the cast draws a real sense of empathy and dread that complicate the levity. We do not want to see these people harmed, and as hammy as it seems, you may almost call out to them: Look behind you!

As solid as this cast is, and top to bottom it is perfect, every performance is eclipsed by the lunatic genius of Bale’s work. Volatile, soulless, misogynistic and insane and yet somehow he also draws some empathy. It is wild, brilliant work that marked a talent preparing for big things.

Released with an NC-17 rating, the film floundered immediately but has grown a worthy cult status over the years. It’s not for the squeamish or the literal minded, but for those open to an impeccably crafted horror comedy and a little wholesome Eighties tunes, it is a gem.

Look! Up in the Air!

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

by Hope Madden

You’ve heard the buzz. It’s loud and merited. The sharp and beguiling Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) sees a brilliant director and a magnificent cast at the height of their creative powers.

Playful and dark, the film follows a washed up Hollywood actor best known for a superhero franchise (an Oscar bound Michael Keaton, who certainly resembles that description). Struggling to regain relevance, he writes, directs and stars in a Broadway play. Meta from the word go, Birdman’s incisive exploration of the entertainment industry and the compulsion to perform couldn’t be more spot-on or more imaginative.

Director/co-writer Alejandro González Inárritu and his fluid, stalking camera ask a great deal from this ensemble as together they dissect fame – its proof and its power – in the digital age. From first to last, they are up to the task and then some.

They clearly relish a script that has such an insider’s perspective, skewering the self-absorption, insecurity and need for attention that fill the business. The performers embody these weaknesses and still create a tenderness for their characters. The comedy isn’t mean, though it is dark and edgy.

Edward Norton is hilarious in a bit of a self-parody as the true talent who pushes boundaries and strives for honesty – on the stage, anyway. He’s hardly alone. The entire ensemble – Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan and Amy Ryan – impresses.

Each has his or her own story, conflict, world, and Inárritu allows that to enrich the world he creates, but it’s all in support of Keaton in the finest turn of his often underappreciated catalog of performances.

He never falls back on the ticks and gimmicks that mark most of his comedic turns – quirks that made efforts like Beetlejuice so enjoyable. This performance is volcanic and restrained, pitiful and triumphant. His desperation is palpable and his madness is glorious. That Keaton can hit these disparate levels sometimes simultaneously inspires awe. Keaton has long been a unique talent, and while this role seems almost awkwardly custom made for the former Batman, the performance still could not have been less expected.

Inárritu, master of beautiful tragedy (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful), may be in impish humor with this effort, but Birdman is as dark and poetic as anything he’s created. Impeccably written, hauntingly filmed and superbly performed, Birdman is the first real contender Boyhood has faced for the best film of 2014.

Verdict-4-5-Stars

Halloween Countdown, Day 10

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1989)

Like Snowtown Murders, released more than two decades later, Henry is an unforgivingly realistic portrayal of evil. Michael Rooker is brilliant as serial killer Henry (based on real life murderer Henry Lee Lucas). We follow him through his humdrum days of stalking and then dispatching his prey, until he finds his own unwholesome kind of family in the form of buddy Otis and his sister Becky.

Director John McNaughton’s picture offers a uniquely unemotional telling – no swelling strings to warn us danger is afoot and no hero to speak of to balance the ugliness. He confuses viewers because the characters you identify with are evil, and even when you think you might be seeing this to understand the origins of the ugliness, he pulls the rug out from under you again by creating an untrustworthy narrative voice. His film is so nonjudgmental, so flatly unemotional, that it’s honestly hard to watch.

What’s diabolically fascinating, though, is the workaday, white trash camaraderie of the psychopath relationship in this film, and the grey areas where one crazy killer feels the other has crossed some line of decency.

Rooker’s performance unsettles to the bone, flashing glimpses of an almost sympathetic beast now and again, but there’s never a question that he will do the worst things every time, more out of boredom than anything.

It’s a uniquely awful, absolutely compelling piece of filmmaking.

 

 

Countdown: Congrats, it’s Twins!

This weekend marks the Twinsburg, OH twin festival. We have a particular weakness for the idea of this festival, and for films about twins, likely because Hope is a twin and her sister is bat-shit insane. She’s a vicious, hard-hearted killer. Wherever she goes, carnage follows.

We’re lying. She’s a lovely person, as are George’s twin sisters (see the unfortunate haircut pic below).

twins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve noticed that a lot of onscreen twins are not so nice, though. Here are some of our favorites.

Dead Ringers (1988)

The film is about separation anxiety, with the effortlessly melancholy Jeremy Irons playing a set of gynecologist twins on a downward spiral. Director David Cronenberg doesn’t consider this a horror film at all. Truth is, because the twin brothers facing emotional and mental collapse are gynecologists, Cronenberg is wrong. Because of patient vulnerability, doctors who lose it are always scary, and Dead Ringers exploits that discomfort brilliantly. Irons brings such flair and, eventually, childlike charm to his performance you feel almost grateful. The film’s pace is slow and its horror subtle, but the uncomfortable moments are peculiarly, artfully Cronenberg.

Twin Falls Idaho (1999)

This is a lovely, haunting film clearly informed by Cronenberg’s twin flick, but the result is both slyer and more vulnerable. Written by, directed by and starring twin brothers Mark and Michael Polish, the film settles into a rundown motel where conjoined brothers seek their estranged mother, befriend a prostitute, attend a Halloween party, and separate to contend with the lonesome reality of individuality. It’s a hypnotic, weird but lovely ride.

The Other (1972)

Director Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird) is a master of slow reveal, feeding us information as we need it and pulling no punches in the meantime. It’s rural 1930s, and Ada (Uta Hagen), the sturdy German matriarch who’s been trying to run the farm since her son’s death last summer, is troubled. Sweet Niles seems terribly confused about his twin, Holland. Holland’s the rascal and Niles is always worried about his mischief getting them into trouble. So, Ada worries about Niles, Niles keeps himself busy around the farm, and bodies pile up like lumber. Mulligan twists to that same nostalgic, heartland approach he used so beautifully with Mockingbird to inform a stunningly crafted, understated film that sneaks up on you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMmMqWkudgA

Basket Case (1982)

When super wholesome teen Duane moves into a cheap and dangerous NY flophouse, it’s easy to become anxious for him. But that’s not laundry in his basket, and it’s the lowlifes, thugs, and derelicts in his building who are in real jeopardy. Belial is in the basket. He’s Duane’s formerly conjoined twin. What he really is, of course, is Duane’s id – his Hyde, his Hulk, his Danny DeVito. And together the brothers tear a bloody, vengeful rip in the fabric of family life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtmLKrxR6H0

Stuck On You (2003)

Not all twin films are dark, brooding or horrifying. Stuck on You, for instance, follows a pair of amazingly well adjusted conjoined twins – optimistic ladies’ man Walt (Greg Kinnear) and supportive wallflower Bob (Matt Damon) – who decide to move to LA to follow Walt’s dream of acting. Expect Farrelly brother silliness, a good heart, fun cameos, and excellent onscreen chemistry from the twins.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=At-LrR-vqUk

Fright Club, Round 2: Eden Lake

 

Join George and Hope this Friday night, 11:30, at Studio 35 Cinema and Drafthouse for Round 2 of Fright Club! We’re showing the underseen indie horror gem Eden Lake starring Michael Fassbender. It’s a unique and terrifying picture that deserves a big audience. Enjoy some of Studio 35’s great draft beers and hang out with some scary film fanatics – what could be better?

Studio 35 is located at 3055 Indianola Avenue. Tickets are $5. Drink specials abound.

Join us!