Monday, January 7, 2013

Charles Cassady, Jr Looks Back at 2012

A writer for one of our sister movie websites, in summing up 2012, declared no movie year in his memory disappointed him like this one did. So that means...the dude must be 2 or 3 years old. A veritable Mozart of online movie-reviews! But, as I am the Antonio Salieri of online movie reviews (Harry Knowles is rich while I go on public assistance?! God is laughing at me. GOD IS LAUGHING AT ME!!!) I would still urge him to cultivate a marketable skill for when he grows up.

Myself, my memories cover decades of disenchantment with cinema, and I am currently wrapped up in adult job woes (never mind my income levels are still entry-level teenager) and home-mortgage stuff. The motion-picture racket has largely receded from my daily concerns. So I can't really say I gave priority of staying on top of showbiz kitsch over the last twelve months. Still, in the name of the Cleveland Movie Blog and a longstanding morbid curiosity, I kept my eyes open enough to note a few distinctions in summation:

We got more and more of those "found footage" movies, usually (but not always) horror, the genre in which BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is the model everyone imitates (though I felt the genre hit a stylistic high note with CLOVERFIELD). Titles included PROJECT X, CHRONICLE, AMBER ALERT, the no-end-in-sight PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series, and even things which weren't literally found-footage but were made with the same grainy, rough-edged aesthete, like CHERNOBYL DIARIES. While the narrative gambit sure was fun and inventive back in the early days of mockumentary style (check out Belgium's ferocious gut-punch that is MAN BITES DOG, before some PG-13 color Americanized remake comes out), the bloom is definitely off the fashion.


Yet the found-footage trend will continue. It takes no great insight to figure out that these types of films roll out on such a proud-to-be-raw, cheapjack basis, with ill-lit, shaky Dogme95 digital cinematography, and almost always no-name actors, that they generally can't help but make money. Like porn. Especially the not-screened-for-critics horror dreck, stuff that always gets the black-clad devotees grimly buying tickets and marching in likes zombies. Early in 2012, the found-footage exorcism tale THE DEVIL INSIDE got an F-rating from online audience surveys, rare for a wide release. Nobody liked it - but it also reaped tremendous profit; sequels are just about inevitable.

No, corporate culture dictates these found-footages won't stop coming out anytime soon. And once studios train the Chinese to make them and downsize away the American/Canadian "talent," there will be even more. Bain Capital might even help produce.

Another trend I noticed in 2012: dedicating movies to the late Steve Jobs. One of them was JOHN CARTER, an instantly notorious Disney dud. I don't foresee much of a future in this craze.

That JOHN CARTER, derived from a long out-of-fashion series of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, failed mightily, of course, derives motion pictures of a superhero franchise. I have watched sadly over the years as cinema became little more than a medium for visualizing comic books, the reviewers this summer (their median age being 12 or 13, I would guess) having to come up with superlatives to praise THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and the latest Hulk. Ugh. And Disney mitigated the tremendous JOHN CARTER loss with its acquisition of Marvel properties. So may I suggest a modest solution: Marvel, for a few weeks in the 1970s, put out a blatant “John Carter” ripoff in comics form, entitled, if I’m not mistaken, “Gulliver Jones, Warrior of Mars.” See, now with Marvel doing no wrong, it would be relatively simple for the Disney Imagineers to slightly re-dub and re-edit JOHN CARTER and change the lead character’s name to “Gulliver Jones.” Insert a quickie Stan Lee gag cameo and presto, instant Marvel Comics movie! Suddenly the re-released GULLIVER JONES, BASED ON THE NOVEL JOHN CARTER BY SAPPHIRE, or whatever they call it, is a worldwide billion-dollar hit, an Oscar contender and a tent-pole for theme-park rides and crummy videogames. I can’t believe I’m actually making this suggestion. I can’t believe I know about “Gulliver Jones.” Movie suck! [Editor's Note: Actually, the Gulliver Jones novel “Lieutenant Gulliver Jones: His Vacation” that the Marvel Comics series was based on preceded Edgar Rice Burrough's “A Princess Of Mars”, the book JOHN CARTER was based on, by about 12 years. Many believe it was an influence on Burroughs, so John Carter may actually be a rip-off of Gulliver Jones. Either way, Marvel published comics based on both characters. Both flopped about as badly as the JOHN CARTER movie.]

That a gunman doing cosplay as the Joker would murder audience members at a screening of the latest Batman epic was the sort of thing that a fake tabloid psychic should have put down as a "prediction" way ahead of the premiere, just to be an entertaining gag headline. But I don't think newspapers have the money to hire and cultivate good-quality fake tabloid psychics anymore. Back in the late, great Jeanne Dixon's glory days, she would have nailed that one.

There was a children's movie called THE OOGIELOVES AND THE BIG BALLOON ADVENTURE, a sort of big-screen run at the Teletubbies-preschool market. It did so abysmally it set a sort of record for the lowest recorded attendance of anything in wide release in modern times. That set a bittersweet tone for me, as previously I think the movie that had the least audience in the most theaters was an all-CGI fantasy called DELGO. I sat in an empty theater to review DELGO on opening weekend for a now-extinct Cleveland newspaper, so regardless of all my other personal and professional failings, I always thought of myself as unique in that regard; I saw DELGO. I got PAID to see DELGO! I probably made more off DELGO than the exhibitors and creators of DELGO! But this Oogieloves thing, no, I missed out on that as well.

(And I have heard that the filmmaker still plan to clean up with Oogieloves sequels in the lucrative kid-vid market, that the movie release was just a token thing and the real bucks are in home-video, amidst the desperate/divorced parents who use such junk as day-care material or backseat DVD cinema to calm down the little autistics in the car. Meanwhile, if Orson Welles were still around, he probably still couldn't find a distributor for any of his stuff. Wonder if any later Oogieloves features will be done as found-footage?)

Of all the showbiz deaths in 2012, the one that struck a particularly surreal note for me was "Barnabas Collins" actor Jonathan Frid expiring right before the premiere of the lackluster DARK SHADOWS movie. Taking the everyone's-a-critic notion a bit too far.

Finally, it was guilty fun to follow the bizarre off-camera sex scandal involving Kristen Stewart and Rupert Snyder, the married director of SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. The moral of which is that, as much as movies starring Miss Stewart have worked diligently to render the sublime shudders of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, witches and other supernatural beings, there are only three monstrous Creatures of the Dark that one should always fear (and, in appropriate cultures, carry holy oil and crucifixes to defend against). They are called `actors,' `actresses' And `directors.' Well, okay, I should count `screenwriters'...but nobody ever pays attention to the screenwriters.

Surely the Cleveland movie scene itself did splendidly in 2012, with theatrical releases for a handful of big-budget Hollywood productions shot here and employing locals. Topmost among them, of course, was the ultimate live-action superhero team-up THE AVENGERS, a worldwide smash - and audiences didn't even seem to hold it against the film that dismal flyover-territory Cleveland hosted the action scenes (unlike SPIDER-MAN 3).

Well, yes, okay, props to the Cleveland Film Commission for bringing in millions in economic revenue and some Marvel prestige and all that. It would have been the local milestone of 2012. It would...But then, just in the closing weeks of the annum, Sports Illustrated named LeBron James "Sportsman of the Year."

Reminding us all of his exit from this town and the Decision-sized hole it left in our broken hearts. Of the downwards economic spiral we've been in since the Depression ("Which Depression in particular?" should be the proper Cleveland response). Of how the rest of society views us as a joke, regardless what happens. However many times Robert Downey Jr./Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man stand-in walks among us, when all is said and done...we are still Cleveland. And LeBron's skills helped him escape all that. In full view of the world. And he's doing great. And probably will continue to do great...unless he does something really, really stupid and self-destructive that brings his whole world crashing down.

Like dating actress Halle Berry. Don't do it, King James! Shake that last possible Cleveland connection; lady is bad news. Ask her baby daddy. Don't mean to get all up in your business, 23, I'm just saying...

Anyway, there were some good things I saw on screens, a handful that almost gave me hope for 2012. I know most are pretty obscure compared to the likes of BATTLESHIP or THE HOBBIT, but you might find it well worth your time to seek them out, in order of preference:

1: KATY PERRY: THE MOVIE: PART OF ME - Just kidding, false alarm, JUST KIDDING! I had a bad year, okay? Had to have the catharsis, okay? Lesser men would join the NRA, stock up on AK-47s and ammunition caches, and open fire on a schoolyard or a church congregation. Me, I merely put KATY PERRY: THE MOVIE: PART OF ME at the top of my list, in an act of aggressive nihilism. Far less harmful, right? Rhetorical question. In fact, I declared in the opening hours of 2012 what would most likely be my choice for the best feature for the next 12 months (and I've since seen it about five times to confirm). It is RESURRECT DEAD, Jon Foy's extraordinary documentary whodunit/whydunit/unclassifiable, that follows a team of obsessive young Philadelphians trying to solve the international mystery of who has been cementing cryptic and ominous tile messages in big-city pavements (including Cleveland's) since the 1980s. And never once being caught in the act. Give yourself a little gift for surviving the Mayan prophecy and catch RESURRECT DEAD, any way you can. See years of clues fall into place is as transfixing as any fiction thriller; you will never think of "Toynbee idea in movie 2001 resurrect dead on planet Jupiter" the same way again. Assuming you ever thought it in the first place. Someone actually did set the Toynbee Message to music, sort of. I forget who. Wasn't Katy Perry.

2: DREAMS OF A LIFE - UK filmmaker Carol Morley's haunting blend of re-enactment and witness interviews literally puts flesh on the bones of a tragedy from 2006, when London authorities found a female skeleton in a small flat above a shopping complex. The 38-year-old Joyce Vincent had lain dead three years - sprawled before a TV that was still on. Morley interviews ex-boyfriends and erstwhile workmates in enviable jobs, who remember Joyce Vincent as a vivacious scenester and Whitney Houston lookalike. Alternating between the RASHOMON-style testimonials and staged bits starring an actress as the cipher-heroine, we wonder who was Joyce? Murder victim? Suicide? Lost soul who, after an extraordinary life, fell through the cracks? Who are you, by the way? And what's to stop any one of us from being forgotten bones, found years later in front of a screen? (If so, and it's a PC screen, at least have the good taste to have the Cleveland Movie Blog homepage up there)

3: MAHLER ON THE COUCH - Constructing a what-if plot on the historical tidbit that classical composer Gustav Mahler consulted the pioneering therapist Sigmund Freud on how to manage his brazenly unfaithful young wife Alma, the German father-and-son directing of Percy and Felix Adlon made a brainy and funny period romp. It's got a fast-paced style quite unlike the standard waxworks historical piece, and there are walk-ons by many of the glittering intellectuals of fin-du-siecle Vienna. It practically begs comparison with Woody Allen's sleeper hit MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, without the guilty anxiety that more praise will just edge Mia Farrow this much closer to carrying out the next big assault-weapons massacre on US soil.

4: KNUCKLE - Ian Palmer's mesmerizing documentary followes ten years in a bitter feud between two Irish Traveller families, in which a longstanding clannish dispute erupts in regular bare-knuckle boxing duels among the men. Despite the seemingly unending cycle of violence and retribution (the victories never resolve anything; guess the ROCKY series lied to us all) and Palmer wondering if his own presence with his camera aggravates the brutality, there seems to be something here about how, in the ill-regarded subculture of the Travellers, hatred can be vented one-on-one, caveman-style, as a safety valve. Without weapons of mass destruction, or slaughtering Afghan villages or blasting Connecticut first-graders. No wonder probably fewer Americans know about this movie than they do about the Oogieloves.

5: THE HUNTER - Clint Eastwood would have done better for himself by sitting out the Republican convention and instead attaching to a picture like this. While directed by Daniel Nettheim, THE HUNTER has the fatalistic Eastwood style (and big guns) written all over it, a moody drama about a steely corporate-mercenary (Willem Dafoe) undergoing a long-overdue crisis of conscience in the Tasmanian bush when he's paid to bag the last rumored survivor of a carnivorous marsupial species (a real-life cryptozoology legend, the Tasmanian tiger). Thick with an atmosphere of extinction-level greed that future generations will associate with these times, it's less an existential drama than a non-existence one. 

6: THE SOUND OF NOISE - Delightful mock-noir Swedish absurdism about a music-hating police inspector (named Amadeus) whose city is terrorized by a conspiracy of sonic-outlaw artists, the "Six Drummers," who go to outlandish lengths to stage illegal and potentially dangerous performance-happenings. Imagine a slick, cat-and-mouse thriller in which music elements - conservatories and concert halls, metronomes, drumsticks - have replaced the usual mean streets, CSI clues and capers. Part "Stomp," part Blue Man Group, part "Wallenberg," and it has a great beat and you can dance to it (though a closing credit advises amateurs not to try the Six Drummers routines at home). Watch this before Hollywood gets the notion to do a superfluous remake in English starring Daniel Craig.

7: KHORDOVKOVSKY - German documentarian Cyril Tuschi's dossier on fallen Russian "oligarch" Mikhail Khordovkovsky has the intrigue of a John Le Carre thriller, only it's true (and has stunning CGI chiaroscuro animation). Khordovkovsky, seemingly a true believer in Russian-socialist national identity and cooperation, became one of the new breed of mega-capitalists after the collapse of the USSR. As CEO of the gas company Yukos the handsome Khordovkovsky was, briefly, the world's richest man ($8 billion) under 40. But, according to his ex-KGB-general-turned-bodyguard, success came with powerful enemies, and the protag has languished in a Siberian prison since 2003 for alleged tax evasion. Or is there something more to this story? Exemplary journalistic expose and storytelling meets high art and drama, even if this story is unfinished.

8: SHUT UP LITTLE MAN! - Yes, my dad turned it off because he didn't like the cussing. But as a longtime cult-audio listener I savored the rollicking/shocking documentary that unspooled the twisted saga of the "Raymond & Peter" tapes. These are some 14 hours of two aging, San Francisco alcoholics violently and profanely arguing - their roommate-rage secretly recorded by two young apartment neighbors in the 1980s who successfully distributed the found-audio through the mail, "virally" a decade before the Web. As the drunken duo languished and died, largely ignorant of their underground fame, there appeared Raymond & Peter music mixes, comic books, stage plays, copyright lawsuits and abortive movie projects. Only this Australian depiction actually tries (and succeeds) in restoring some dignity, of a kind, to the late Raymond Huffman and Peter Haskett.

9: TAKE THIS WALTZ - Adultery intrudes upon and erodes the loving marriage of an ultra-quirky young Toronto couple, and though nice people get hurt, there are no simple villains or greeting-card moralizing in Canadian actress-turned-writer/director Sarah Polley's challenging and beautifully shot dramedy. As the title might suggest, Leonard Cohen music is heard, quite a bit, but not just slathered power ballads over the images for MTV-Pavlovian audience reaction like Hollywood usually does. Maybe something like this is what went down with that General Petraeus guy (or Kristen Stewart and Rupert Snyder, or Katy Perry and Russell Brand), and we should stop being judgmental. By the way, you smug, ultra-quirky gays going to Maine or Maryland to get gay-married, your happily-ever-afters aren't guaranteed either.

10: Alternative If-Romney-Had-Won-And-We-All-Have-To-Suck-Up-To-The-Corporate-Establishment-Even-More tie: FIRE WITH FIRE - Steve, my boss at the night gig, said that this Bruce Willis actioner really was good and underrated. I never saw it. But I value my wages, so Steve's word is law with me. FIRE WITH FIRE rules! And Steve is a sex god...I suppose. I mean, just like seeing FIRE WITH FIRE, I am no witness, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if he were a sex god, that's all. My job is safe, right Steve?...tie with BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD: Wow, was I eager to view this. Then I got the Fox Blu-Ray disc, and there's nothing but a blank screen and a message that my Blu-Ray player may not be advanced enough to show the movie. WTF? I invest in a Sharp Archos Blu-Ray (albeit a secondhand one) to be on the technological cutting-edge and it's already out of date? Or maybe that's the genius of this movie - it's so good that people of low income aren't allowed access, like those $150 Broadway or Playhouse Square shows. I might have bought a ticket at a theater, and there would be a similar disclaimer onscreen. "BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is wayyyy above you Clevelanders' pathetic standing in the lower-middle-class-and-below earning bracket. So just sit there in the dark and imagine a great movie. Perhaps if the economy turns around or a Wall Street tycoon or Shanghai billionaire or Republican lobbyist buys your kidney, you might someday get to watch BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD for real. Meanwhile, use your imagination." I've got to say, harsh as it is, an approach like that might not have disappointment me like BRAVE did.

So that's my list. I'll say this for KATY PERRY: THE MOVIE: PART OF ME: I beheld worse. And Paramount's DVD of it has a trailer for FUN SIZE, a Nickelodeon kiddie comedy that was filmed and set in Cleveland and was, according to Bob Ignizio, enjoyable. Pity, I never got to see that either

4 comments:

  1. Bob Ignizio busted me on my pathetic ignorance of the origins of "Gulliver Jones, Warrior of Mars." My editor clearly knows much more about the Marvel Universe than I do. Not sure whether that's a good thing, though... Seriously, Bob, did you know all that off the top of your head, or did you have to Wikipedia it? Next thing, you'll tell me there was an old book series that gave Stan Lee the idea for Conan the Barbarian.

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  2. Sadly I did know that, but more from my Edgar Rice Burroughs fandom than my comic book fandom, although I suffer from both.

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  3. By the way, no 'Karate Robo Zaborgar'? Thought for sure that one would wind up on your list.

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  4. Yes, I suppose tenth or 11th place could have comfortably gone to KARATE ROBO ZABORGAR, or KUMARE, or WHERE SOLDIERS COME FROM or many other features nobody has heard of, but I just decided it had to end sometime.

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