Gremlins (1984, Joe Dante)

Okay, I don’t get it. How did Zach Galligan not succeed as an actor? He’s not astoundingly good or anything, but he’s incredibly likable. From his filmography, it looks like he just disappeared… Anyway, I watched Gremlins because I haven’t seen it in ten years and, I don’t know, I thought Blockbuster was sending me the special edition (they didn’t).

What’s incredible about Gremlins is that it’s a special effects spectacular, back when they knew how to make them. I watched this film and constantly wondered how they did the models, the moving faces, the puppetry (I assume it was puppetry). That feeling is incredible today, because I never feel it anymore. At best, it’s something like Hellboy–watching the ‘making of’ documentary and being surprised they didn’t just use CG.

But Gremlins isn’t just odd because it’s visually interesting, it’s also interesting–and amusing–because they made it to amuse the audience. There is no reality in the storytelling–the Gremlins know pop culture references within an hour of birth–and once you let it go, Gremlins is amusing. A lot of it doesn’t work. For example, the connection between “gremlins” in machines to the Gremlins of the title, that’s all forced. It’s not funny enough either, though I saw the second one before the first, and I think they got that one right.

Oh, and I love how all the characters seem to meet just before the film begins. Presumably, since it’s a small town, everyone would know how Phoebe Cates’ dad died. No one does. It just doesn’t work that there’d be these young stars stuck there with no other young people around… the small size of the town really limited that aspect of the film’s “reality.” It gets the quotation marks because I’m not sure they cared about reality too much. You can’t force a purely amusing film–Gremlins writer Chris Columbus has been trying to do that again for twenty years–so it’s an admirable feat.

I’m trying to think if there’s anything I forgot… Hoyt Axton is really good… I think that’s it….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Chris Columbus; director of photography, John Hora; edited by Tina Hirsch; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Michael Finnell; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Zach Galligan (Billy), Phoebe Cates (Kate), Hoyt Axton (Rand Peltzer), Frances Lee McCain (Lynn Peltzer), Polly Holliday (Mrs. Deagle), Keye Luke (Grandfather), John Louie (Chinese Boy), Dick Miller (Mr. Futterman), Jackie Joseph (Mrs. Futterman), Scott Brady (Sheriff Frank), Harry Carey Jr. (Mr. Anderson), Corey Feldman (Pete), Glynn Turman (Roy Hanson) and Judge Reinhold (Gerald).


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Antarctic Journal (2005, Yim Phil-sung)

I guess this film has gotten some bad reviews. Or just excessively mediocre ones. It’s not quite populist enough–it sets itself up as a supernatural thriller set in Antarctica, but it’s all really about internal human conflicts and some creepiness sure. I’m trying to think of a good way to describe it and I suppose the best way is… imagine one of John Carpenter’s “horror” movies from the 1980s (They Live and Prince of Darkness). Now imagine it’s decent. Antarctic Journal is not bad. At some points, it could have gone either way. Respectably uncanny or human conflict. It didn’t need to have both and using the uncanny to fuel the human conflict, well, it’s cheap. I don’t if that’s why the film wasn’t successful. I doubt it. Emotional cheapness is highly rewarded by film-going audiences.

As a “box office failure,” Antarctic Journal is a bit of filmmaking achievement. It’s beautiful–snowy New Zealand fills in for Antarctica–it’s well-directed, the plotting isn’t bad, but the characters never gel. We don’t care enough about the ones who die first (it’s Korean, so it’s not Ernie Hudson) and we don’t worry enough to fuel that internal human conflict I mentioned early. The characters just aren’t full enough. They serve the filming location. The acting is good, even when you expect them to go overboard, the characters keep it under check.

I was fully expecting to turn Antarctic Journal off. I was going to watch the other night’s episode of “The Office,” maybe “Boston Legal” too, if I had time. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped a Korean movie. (The place isn’t called The Stop Button for nothing). That says a hell of a lot about a film industry….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Yim Phil-sung; written by Yim and Bong Joon-ho; director of photography, Jeong Jeong-hun; edited by Kim Sun-min; music by Kawai Kenji; produced by Lim Heui-cheol; released by Showbox.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Choi Do-hyung), Yu Ji-tae (Kim Min-jae), Kim Kyeong-ik (Yang Geun-chan), Park Hee-soon (Lee Young-min), Yoon Jae-moon (Kim Sung-hoon), Choi Duek-mun (Seo Jae-kyung) and Kang Hye-jeong (Yoo-jin).


Sling Blade (1996, Billy Bob Thornton), the director’s cut

I’m going to assume Sling Blade was a labor of love for actor/writer/director Billy Bob Thornton (remember how much of a big deal he used to be?), just because it has all the trappings of a labor of love. I watched the newish director’s cut DVD, which runs twenty-two minutes longer than the theatrical version at 148 minutes, and–to be fair to the theatrical cut, which I’m sure was a labor of love too–the film should be about ninety-eight minutes.

I kept thinking of a phrase while watching the film: “poorly executed.” Sling Blade has a lot of poorly executed scenes and sequences. There’s one particularly offending montage that I won’t go into, just in case anyone isn’t familiar with the conclusion. But the film has some beautiful, beautiful moments. Moments where tears came to my eyes (but didn’t escape, I’d be a lot more positive if they’d gotten away). Thornton creates these beautiful relationships–not just his character and the kid, but his character and everyone (except Dwight Yoakam’s character). It’s just when he fills in the moments with a lot of useless talk… a lot of labor of love moments.

Now, I was going to wait to talk about Dwight Yoakam, but I’m afraid I’ll forget the adjective for his acting if I do. Dwight Yoakam is atrocious. For the most part, Sling Blade looks like a “normal” motion picture. Miramax did not pay for it–it is from before Miramax paid for all their films–but it’s shot on 35 millimeter and the print doesn’t change film stocks or any other tell-tale signs… Except Yoakam. I presume Thornton and Yoakam were friends, because there’s no other reason someone would saddle down his or her film with such a crappy performance. Yoakam probably gets off six lines that aren’t cringe-inducing. Atrocious. That’s the right word….

Unfortunately, it’s also the right word to describe the musical score. A score doesn’t necessarily have to weigh down or improve a film, except Thornton relies on the score a few times for his terrible montages. Thornton holds shots too… there’s movement in them, but the shots hold for a long time, maybe even a minute. Hitchcock rarely went over twenty seconds. These lengthy, useless montages, with the terrible music–especially the end, after the character relationships have just produced this beautiful feeling in the viewer–are unspeakable. It’s a travesty.

I haven’t seen Sling Blade since 1996, when it came out in the theater, and I dutifully went and saw my “indie” movie. I read the screenplay previously and the screenplay, I remember, was better. The film doesn’t work, emotionally, for the same reason the Sixth Sense doesn’t work. The story is about this family and the filmmaker forces the story to be about an external force. It’s a loose comparison, but in the end of both, we’re cheated of the emotional impact, left instead with a gimmick–a nice little bow. With a nice pair of editing scissors, though, someone could Sling Blade into something really impressive.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton; director of photography, Barry Markowitz; edited by Hughes Winborne; music by Daniel Lanois; production designer, Clark Hunter; produced by Brandon Rosser and David L. Bushell; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Billy Bob Thornton (Karl Childers), Dwight Yoakam (Doyle Hargraves), J.T. Walsh (Charles Bushman), John Ritter (Vaughan Cunningham), Lucas Black (Frank Wheatley), Natalie Canerday (Linda Wheatley), James Hampton (Jerry Woolridge) and Robert Duvall (Karl’s Father).


My Name is Nobody (1973, Tonino Valerii)

What a peculiar Western. Sergio Leone produced it and directed some of it, so there are a few familiar trappings, particularly Ennio Morricone’s score. Oddly, it’s probably his worst. But the film also stars Henry Fonda and it’s a sort of a follow-up to Once Upon a Time in the Western, except Nobody manages to be incredibly preachy. It’s about the changing West and goes so far as to hammer that point in quite a few times.

But that hammering isn’t what makes it odd… While Fonda is the main character, the lead is really Nobody, played by Terence Hill–who’s got blonder hair and bluer eyes than Clint Eastwood ever did. Hill is affable (I was going to say likable, but affable is better) and it’s obvious he’s having a good time and Nobody is a comedy to some degree, but there’s so much wrong with it. In some ways, it’s a nice close to Fonda’s Western career–particular My Darling Clementine–since he’s playing a lawman again. But that’s not enough to carry it and the plotting is plodding. It’s a Leone Western without gunfights. There’s one sequence in which the editing ranges from beautiful to unspeakably bad (if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about)….

The film’s not bad, however, and at times, it’s a lot of fun to watch, it just pisses you off. There are goofy little scenes meant to be goofy and long, intricate red herrings. There’s no payoff to Nobody. Once it establishes itself, it becomes predictable–then there are the murmurs that it might not be quite so predictable, but then it veers right back on the original course.

Leone just made too many Westerns. He really should have quit after Once Upon a Time in the West.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tonino Valerii; screenplay by Ernesto Gastaldi, based on a story by Gastaldi and Fulvio Morsella, from an idea by Sergio Leone; director of photography, Giuseppe Ruzzolini; edited by Nino Baragli; music by Ennio Morricone; production designer, Gianni Polidori; produced by Morsella; released by Titanus Distribuzione.

Starring Terence Hill (Nobody), Henry Fonda (Jack Beauregard), Jean Martin (Sullivan), R.G. Armstrong (Honest John), Karl Braun (Jim), Leo Gordon (Red), Steve Kanaly (False barber), Geoffrey Lewis (Leader of the Wild Bunch), Neil Summers (Squirrel), Piero Lulli (Sheriff), Mario Brega (Pedro), Marc Mazza (Don John) and Benito Stefanelli (Porteley).


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