Archive for the Garrett Cook Articles Category

SHARKNADO (2013)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, CGI, Garrett Cook Articles, Sea Creatures, Sharks, SyFy Channel Movies, TV-Movies, Visions of Hell with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2013 by knifefighter

SHARKNADO
Movie Review by Garrett Cook

PHvf6lEANnmQyD_3_mThe lifeblood of any narrative is conflict. Without conflict, you have a bunch of people standing around staring into space, waiting. When they start waiting, conflict occurs. The conflict being, uninteresting as it is, that what needs to happen hasn’t happened yet. Good conflicts make good stories. The more you throw at your hero and the hero has to get out of, the better and more exciting their situation. But what do you do when competing with the Hollywood event picture and Sundance Channel juvenile delinquency/Palm D’0r-grubbing adversity porn, who have cherry picked the worst things to happen to everyone? WAGES OF FEAR (1953) . SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982). FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (1987). THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004). Those are big, juicy conflicts.

SyFy’s solution? Revive the giant bug/giant shark/giant alligator/giant problem movie. Sharktopi, Dinocrocs and Supergators have a way of knocking the wind out of a crying Meryl Streep for an hour and a half or so, and, if you’re looking to unwind after work, they’re generally more fun. They are by no means good by any conventional standard, but at least they have that going on.

Recent SyFy spectacle SHARKNADO took this principle and really ran with it. A hurricane off the coast of LA picks up 20,000 sharks. JAWS (1975)? One huge shark. OPEN WATER (2003)? A few sharks. These situations presented gigantic problems for the heroes who had to make it out of them alive. But 20,000 sharks? That’s a real problem. Not just for the heroes, but for you, the reader/potential SHARKNADO viewer. 20,000 sharks are dangerous enough to kill 90210’s Ian Ziering…oh, 20,000 times and enough of a spectacle that they leave you, potential SHARKNADO viewer, in danger of making what might be a terrible decision.

Is it a terrible decision? That’s what you’ve probably clicked on this article to find out. You want to know if it’s worth trading 100 minutes of your time for the experience of Ian Ziering and Tara Reid having to deal with sharks falling from the sky. Some of you, having seen the premise of the film restated will now stop sitting on the fence and decide to go watch SHARKNADO. Good. SHARKNADO was unequivocably made for you, thesis statement/pitch line enthusiast. But you might need actual info. Person who keeps reading to gather more data, SHARKNADO might be a little more challenging for you.

SHARKNADO begins with a corrupt sea captain, who you will never see again, brokering a deal with a shady Asian man to sell him 20,000 sharks. Does this deal precipitate the sharknado (no very dry pun intended)? No. Maybe. The shady Asian man and the captain are killed, the Asian man by the captain, the captain by the very sharks he sought to sell. Which actually makes you wonder if Anthony Ferrante and Thunder Levin (the director and writer of the film, respectively) stopped to make a sanctimonious finger wag at the practice of eating shark fin soup. Because right after we see mankind treating sharks badly, the sharks get caught up in a hurricane and start to be blown around, as if God himself were an angry shark.

This scene leaves you wondering whether SHARKNADO believes that the sharks are justified in their attacks because of our consumption of shark fin soup, whether the director has some sort of divine justice in mind, and whether this movie was made by poets or naifs. It is hard to tell. This is not the only time this occurs and of course, it’s a common phenomenon in really awful movies, like SHARKNADO, which is a movie that sucks.

This intro transitions into scenes introducing our hero, surfing bartender Fin (groan), played by 90210 non-favorite Ian Ziering (the blonde guy who looked like he’d been held back seven grades). He bartends, and he surfs. His Australian friend Baz (played by Jaason Simmons, whose name’s extra A stands for Awesome, because he is, in spite of this material) surfs with him but does not do much bartending. Possibly none. Adorable waitress Nova (the wooden, but sublimely hot, Cassie Scerbo) pours drinks for non-hot but adorable drunk, George (played by John Heard, from HOME ALONE (1990), C.H.U.D. (1984) and serious films from the early 80s), and life looks good, save for Fin’s estrangement from ex wife April (Tara Reid). I say good riddance, but as Flaubert writes, “the heart wants what it wants”. Fin and Baz go surfing, Baz is bitten by a shark and Fin sees signs that there is a hardcore hurricane on the way and he should get his daughter and son to high ground. He returns to the bar, calls up April, who says not to bother and that her slimy new boyfriend takes care of the family now. Fin decides maybe he’d better go save his daughter.

His intuition proves right when he sees that the hurricane is getting stronger, picking up sharks and dropping them on people. Which is a tremendous problem. It’s a big, juicy conflict that does not involve cancer, drug addiction, Nazis or Kryptonians. At least give it that much. George, the loveable drunk, is killed, Nova reveals that she is skilled with a shotgun and Fin and Baz kill many sharks. It’s a pretty intense scene, the sharks are pretty well rendered and it establishes a sense of urgency. It also begins to wag its finger at the harshness and lack of consideration that LA can have.

Arriving at his ex wife’s place of residence with her slimy L.A. boyfriend, Fin is reprimanded by her, her boyfriend and his sullen daughter, Claudia (Aubrey Peebles), who is sullen because she’s a teenager and it’s a liability. Due to a prodigious flood, the problem quickly swims up and bites the boyfriend in the ass for being an LA phony. It is hard to tell whether the writer and director believe that Hollywood is unsympathetic or think that America believes that Hollywood is unsympathetic. This question might seem moot, but is actually very important in determining whether SHARKNADO has shades of GLEN OR GLENDA (1953) bad- film-with-a-heart brilliance or whether it is actually pandering just as badly as one would have to assume it is.

Either way, Los Angeles is facing sharky judgment and Ian Ziering needs to find his son, who it turns out is in flight school. This initiates the film’s second act, which is weirder and more judgmental of Los Angeles culture and by extension, the film industry. In an abandoned flooded cityscape full of sharks, the movie takes on an air of “MULHOLLAND DRIVE meets BIRDEMIC” that might make this movie worth watching for curious film geeks and Bizarro fans. You see a bus driver who has come to town to be an actor and ends up being eaten for it, and hear a weird rant from a paranoid shopkeeper. There is something off kilter about these scenes in a way that transcends bad dialogue. Are these weird grains of sincerity shining through?

During these scenes, you get to experience the thing I really like about SHARKNADO, or just the idea of SHARKNADO. Tornados of sharks are spinning around Los Angeles eating people and a man has taken it upon himself to resolve this. The biggest, most senseless conflict imaginable and Ian Ziering will brave it to reach his son and save a city that the movie implies might not be worth saving. SHARKNADO parallels the experience of being a small budget filmmaker, a person dealing with a ubiquitous shitstorm using only courage and ingenuity and sometimes chainsaws. Saddled with a less than stellar premise, a talentless cast and a sub blockbuster budget, these filmmakers had to create something people would enjoy. Does Fin do a better job of it than the directors, writers and cast of SHARKNADO? Yeah. But that’s why we create heroes.

Somehow in quixotic combat with hopelessness, the hero wins the day, making this the most recklessly optimistic film ever made. “Will people watch a film called SHARKNADO with the least popular 90210 actor at the helm? YES!” “Can a man take on a Sharknado? YES!” “Can a coherent film be made about a Sharknado?” “YES!” These guys do Ed Wood proud. With the negativity, the cynicism and the constant barrage of bad news around us, a little optimism is a good thing. Sometimes too much optimism is a good thing. If enthusiasm is more important to you than success, you ought to watch SHARKNADO.

But you probably shouldn’t, anyway. SHARKNADO sucks.

© Copyright 2013 by Garrett Cook

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CRITERION AFTER DARK: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961)

Posted in 2013, 60s Movies, Art Movies, Classic Films, Criterion After Dark, Enigmatic Films, Family Secrets, Foreign Films, Garrett Cook Articles, Lovecraftian Horror, Madness with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2013 by knifefighter

CRITERION AFTER DARK
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY: ELDER GODS WHERE YOU LEAST EXPECT THEM
By Garrett Cook

throughaglassdarkly

It’s been forever since I’ve written one of these columns. People and cities and ideas and lives change and mine did in several big ways in the last year. I missed writing for Cinema Knife Fight, and now I’m gonna do it again. I thought maybe I would start by finding a weird, shocking, filthy, perverse Criterion film. Something that would blow your mind and take you to the very edge of perception. And I did. Did I ever.

Cronenberg? Bunuel? Malle? Nope. Asian horror? Nope. Some kind of Swedish erotic art film? A little warmer. Imagine if Tennessee Williams and H.P. Lovecraft collaborated on a family drama set on an isolated island, a place tinged with madness, with the stench of malevolent cosmology hanging in the air. And there’s sin and sexual dysfunction and a sinister play with a dark truth at its core. So let’s add a little Robert “The King in Yellow” Chambers to the mix. Moody black and white cosmic horror. Yeah, that’s the stuff. So, who pray tell is the twisted mind behind this?

The man whose work inspired Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) and who had a knight in plague-stricken medieval Europe confront the grim reaper himself. A true master of the horror genre. Who knows terror like…Ingmar Bergman? That can’t be right. But it is. Bergman is the genius behind THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960), which was later remade (reimagined?) as THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and pitted a knight in a chess game against death in THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957). His film THE MAGICIAN (1958) had all of the elements of one of Val Lewton’s classics of psychological horror: from a man terrorized by doubts in his psyche to a murder that may or may not have been in the province of the supernatural. THE MAGICIAN is, as well as being a period piece and an excellent story about the power of art, a masterpiece of quiet horror.

And so is THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961).

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY is one of those movies that defines in people’s mind what an art film is, or what a drama is. It looks on the surface to just be a story about a disintegrating family. The setup is not particularly horrific: a novelist takes his son, his daughter and her husband on vacation. His daughter is schizophrenic. She finds out his novel is about her and gets upset. Why is this of interest to a column on horror culture and filth in the Criterion Collection?

Because as I said, there are traces of cosmic horror and weird fiction here that are hard to ignore, but enjoyable to savor, as they seem to be in the wrong place. Near the beginning of the film, the son puts on a play starring the daughter, involving a knight’s strange relationship with a ghost. It’s cool that it calls back to the questing knight facing death in THE SEVENTH SEAL, but fans of vintage weird fiction might see another connection, another great “Death and the Maiden” play, embedded in a narrative: Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow centers around an ominous play where the heroine’s sad song freezes the heart of the viewer. This play hints at love and death interweaving on a cosmic level, and at there being something deeply wrong in this family and on this island. The King in Yellow terrorizes you with evil in the walls of a metanarrative, and THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY does the same. Something is wrong with this play. Something is wrong with reality. Something is loose in the theater.

Karin comes to a realization in Bergman's THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY.

Karin (Harriet Andersson) comes to a realization in Ingmar Bergman’s THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY.

Although her father feels Karin is incurable, Karin’s husband is trying to remain optimistic. He does not believe her condition will have to eat away her life. And it doesn’t seem to, until Karin finds her father’s manuscript. In her father’s manuscript, the heroine is an incurable schizophrenic, in her father’s manuscript, Karin his hopeless. When Karin reads this, she is naturally upset, but it seems to go beyond that and once again into the realm of weird fiction and magic. The fictional Karin is sick, so the real Karin becomes sick. The fictional Karin is too crazy to heal, so the real one must be as well. It works like a voodoo doll and warps the world like the sinister play in Chambers’ story. It has even, in some ways, turned into a grimoire like the Necronomicon from Lovecraft’s books.

Karin begins describing her hallucinations about people behind the walls watching her, judging her. She seems to have a strange sixth sense that she’s not just the protagonist of a novel, but that of a movie as well. She seems to see the framework and that there’s no difference between life and art and reality and fantasy. She faces the realization of the protagonist of Lovecraft’s story Pickman’s Model, who discovers that the hideous paintings of his friend Pickman were modeled after a photograph from life. So the movie returns to the Pickman’s Model/King in Yellow delusion, the stuff that Lucio Fulci’s A CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990) and John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994) deal with, along with Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF (made into a film by George Romero in 1993). The reality-warping power of madness shines in Karin’s dialogue, because Bergman has isolated the movie from the rest of reality. On this little island, all we have are people’s opinions on Karin’s madness, and Karin’s madness itself. Like Shakespeare’s power to conjure images, Karin’s makes things happen in your head, turning words into imagery, and therefore turning her words into reality.

Karin succumbs not just to insanity, but to her worst urges, performing an act of incest. Her behavior has gone from simply crazy to truly aberrant, committing on of the worst sins imaginable. This is a pretty sordid world Bergman has created, one without hope or moral high ground or a chance to gain rectitude, a world ruled over by a force that is less than benevolent. Without a single tentacle, we have the feelings Lovecraft sought to convey of smallness, depravity, insanity and isolation. And the feeling that Karin’s visions are right. There are people outside the screen watching and judging her and waiting for her to fall apart on both sides of these realities. And she is under the power of a man behind a camera who is frankly not going to be very nice to her.

As Karin finally cracks, she does so in fine Lovecraftian form, terrified by confronting the image of God. Creatures like Nyarlathotep and Cthulhu appear before the eyes of Lovecraft’s heroes to shatter their minds or prove that the minds of the hero have been shattered.

“God is a spider,” Karin says.

And while Bergman does not show the spider, we have now gotten the idea in our imagination that Karin has seen some dark god. Does it matter that she is crazy? Has this god driven her crazy? We can’t say definitively that Lovecraft’s protagonists have seen the Elder Gods, and we can’t say with any certainty that Karin doesn’t know something in this Swedish art-house gothic that shows no monster at all, THROUGH THE GLASS DARKLY has as much in common with Val Lewton’s deep psychological thrillers for RKO in the 40s, in fact sharing a lot of themes with CAT PEOPLE (1942), THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943),. and other films of their ilk. And all leave you with the same horrendous impression that something is out there and that mad and malformed as the human mind can get, there is a grain of truth to all of the hallucinations and all of the cosmic horror.

The discriminating viewer is not just one who finds meaning in the depraved and the weird and the horrific, but also one who finds the depraved, the weird and the horrific in the things that academics and squares and stuffed shirts say are meaningful and THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY has that stuff in spades. So, if you like Lovecraft, Hitchcock or Lewton—or just an uncomfortable chill and a lump in your throat—Ingmar Bergman might be the scare you need.

© Copyright 2013 by Garrett Cook

QUICK CUTS: WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE GANGSTER?

Posted in 1930s Movies, 1970s Movies, 1980s Movies, 2013, Asian Gangster Films, Classic Films, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Crime Films, Cult Movies, Fugitives, Gangsters!, Garrett Cook Articles, Jenny Orosel Columns, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Movie History, Nick Cato Reviews, Quick Cuts, Tough Guys!, Yakuza Films with tags , , , , , , , on January 18, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS: FAVORITE MOVIE GANGSTERS
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Garrett Cook, Jenny Orosel, and Colleen Wanglund

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome everyone to another edition of QUICK CUTS.

Last Friday, January 11, the slick looking gangster movie GANGSTER SQUAD opened in theaters, starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn. So, for today ‘s QUICK CUTS column, we asked our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters the all-important question:  Who’s your favorite movie gangster?

GARRETT COOK: My favorite is one of the first and the best: Edward G. Robinson as Rico in LITTLE CAESAR (1931), an angry but vulnerable man constantly overcompensating. He’s both ruthless and heartbreaking.

Edward G. Robinson in the role that made him a star - Rico in LITTLE CAESAR (1931).

Edward G. Robinson in the role that made him a star – Rico in LITTLE CAESAR (1931).

L.L. SOARES:  Good one, Garrett. I like LITTLE CAESAR a lot, too. A really underrated movie.

My two favorite movie gangsters were both played by James Cagney.

The first is Tom Powers from THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). Whether he’s pushing grapefruit halves in dame’s faces or starting a gang war, he’s still the gold standard everyone else should be compared to. And the movie still has one of the most haunting endings ever. Boy, they sure knew how to create spooky images back in the 1930s.

The notorious "grapefruit in the kisser" scene from PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). Another gangster classic.

The notorious “grapefruit in the kisser” scene from PUBLIC ENEMY (1931). Another gangster classic.

The other one is Cody Jarrett, the mother-obsessed psychopath gangster from 1949’s WHITE HEAT. “Made it, Ma. Top of the world!” Everyone remember that one. My choices showcase Cagney’s earliest gangster with a later one.

JENNY OROSEL:  I’ve never been a big gangster movie fan, but the one I do remember liking was BUGSY MALONE (1976). Sure, looking back, it was pretty horrible. But it had the most epic pie fight ever committed to film!

A scene from the pie fight in BUGSY MALONE (1976).

A scene from the pie fight in BUGSY MALONE (1976).

NICK CATO:  My fave gangster is Paulie in GOODFELLAS (1990), played by Paul Sorvino. As the head of his clan, he got to sit back, fry sausages, slice garlic, and sip the best wine while his men did all the dirty work. And no one made a better ” sangwich” than him. He was THE MAN.

Paul Sorvino as Paulie in GOODFELLAS (1990).

Paul Sorvino as Paulie in GOODFELLAS (1990).

L.L. SOARES: I’m a big fan of GOODFELLAS, too. One of the best gangster movies ever. But I prefer Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci (as Jenry Hill and Tommy DeVito, respectively). I’ve never been a big Paul Sorvino fan for some reason. DeNiro is really good in this one, too.

COLLEEN WANGLUND:  Okay here’s my answer:

So I figure the first names that would come to mind are from American gangster films. Well since I am the Geisha, my favorite gangsters all come from Asian films.

1. Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) from ICHI THE KILLER (2001) directed by Takashi Miike. Kakihara is seriously one of the sickest gangsters I’ve ever seen on film.

So crazy he's scary - Kikihara from ICHI THE KILLER (2001).

So crazy he’s scary – Kikihara from ICHI THE KILLER (2001).

2. Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune) from the film DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948) directed by Akira Kurosawa. He is somewhat sympathetic character but a hardened gangster just the same.

3. Lau Kin-ming (Andy Lau) from INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002) directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. Lau’s character manages to infiltrate the police department in Hong Kong for YEARS without ever getting caught. That’s pretty awesome.

L.L. SOARES:  Excellent choices! I forgot how great a long of Japanese and Hong Kong gangstgers are. I would also add Takeshi Kitano (also known as Beat Takeshi), who has played several Japanese gangsters over the years, in films he directed and films by others. My favorite gangster/Yakuza role of his was probably in his 1993 film, SONATINE.

"Beat" Takeshi in SONATINE (1993).

“Beat” Takeshi in SONATINE (1993).

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Wow, you’re really into the topic this time around!

L.L. SOARES: I sure am. I love classic gangster movies. They haven’t made a good one in awhile.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well, my favorite movie gangster would be Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER movies, specifically Parts 1 & 2.  Sure, his most famous scene is the “Fredo, you broke my heart” scene, but my favorite comes in Part 1,  where he’s confronted by his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) and she wants to know if he had his brother–in-law killed, and he says he won’t discuss the family business with her.  He then stops and says, “Just this once.  You can ask me just this once.”  So she asks him again, and he says, “No, I didn’t have him killed,” and of course, he’s lying through his teeth.  Great scene.

Not the most violent gangster on screen, but Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone is one of the coldest gangsters on screen.  Ice runs through his veins.

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER.

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER.

L.L. SOARES: Another excellent choice. Everyone in the first two GODFATHER films is pretty terrific, but you’re right, Pacino might be the best one of all. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention Pacino’s other iconic gangster role, as Tony Montana in 1983’s SCARFACE. Some people have complained Pacino is too over-the-top in the role, but I still say it’s another iconic role that most movie gangster movies these days will be compared to. Besides, I really love SCARFACE.

Al Pacino's other iconic gangster role - Tony Montana in SCARFACE (1983).

Al Pacino’s other iconic gangster role – Tony Montana in SCARFACE (1983).

MICHAEL ARRUDA: And that’s it for tonight’s QUICK CUTS.  Thanks for joining us everybody!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Garrett Cook, Jenny Orosel, Colleen Wanglund and Nick Cato

Criterion After Dark: GODZILLA (1954)

Posted in 1950s Movies, 2012, Classic Films, Criterion After Dark, DVD Review, Garrett Cook Articles, Godzilla, Japanese Cinema with tags , , , , on February 14, 2012 by knifefighter

CRITERION AFTER DARK: GODZILLA (AKA GOJIRA) (1954)
Review by Garrett Cook

Art snobs and Ebert acolytes were recently given what, for them, must have been a nasty shock. The company from which they bought their treasured Goddard Blu-rays had betrayed them. The chilled, sacred quiet of Bergman country had been broken by the sound of thundering pop culture stomping over their fantasy world of cinema segregation. Begging Jim Jarmusch to intervene with his newly constructed superbanality ray, they watched as their notions of cinematic purity came crumbling to the ground like so many Tokyo office buildings. Riding on the back of my childhood messiah, Godzilla, I laughed and laughed and laughed. And I know that a fair share of Criterion fans, horror buffs and geeks laughed with me.

The induction of Ishiro Honda’s  GODZILLA (1954) into the Criterion Collection seems like a strange decision. Some might think it was to pander to the mainstream or to get genre fans to start buying Criterion DVDs. Others may see it as a decision similar to Criterion’s choice to induct Michael Bay’s ARMAGEDDON (1998), as a chance to show them the rampant absurdity and kitschiness of a silly, silly genre. And what sillier genre is there than the Japanese giant monster movie? This is a film genre that brought us a towering Frankenstein monster tossing rocks at a triceratops/puppy hybrid, sasquatches wrestling in the sea with a running commentary by Nick Adams, and a fire-breathing turtle fighting a talking shark submarine. Putting one of these films on the same shelf as  8 ½ (1963) or PIERROT LE FOU (1965) is going to make some cinephiles cringe. Particularly those who instinctually check Roger Ebert’s website to find out if movies are any good. Ebert has led me to some fine films, and, during his Amazon Associate Days, my favorite brand of oatmeal, but those who read his 1 and a half star tirade against the film will be incredulous about its Criterion status and its merits.

GODZILLA is my idea of an art film. Crisp black and white, strong message, transgressive politics, mutable reality and moments of deep visual poetry. When a lot of us think of Godzilla, we think Technicolor stomping and giant spider wrestling. We think flying through the air on a cloud of radioactive fire toward a sentient Lovecraftian slag heap from space. But this is not where Godzilla came from. Godzilla, (or as I prefer to call it, GOJIRA, its proper Japanese title) is a film about impossible choices, forbidden love, social responsibility and questions of divine forgiveness.

The film begins on a shining sea, bathed in shadows. The sailors on a fishing boat gather around and listen to a melancholy tune played on harmonica. There is a flash of light and the boat is aflame. And lives are over. And nobody knows why. The opening goes beyond being an expressionistic portrayal of a fishing boat destroyed by bomb tests (one of the catalysts for the film), but a suitable metaphor for any number of the victims of war. Even soldiers find their lives snuffed out in short order—lightning-quick explosions of mines or IEDs ending their existence in the blink of an eye. The terms are clear; this is not a movie about a man in a rubber suit. Though when you finally get a look at Godzilla, you can see how it could be.

Godzilla himself looks nothing like most viewers will remember him. The creature is truly menacing in black and white, facial features vague, texture and topography cancerous, a creature of spikes and bumps and deformities. It is not dinosaurian, draconic or friendly or cute; it’s an abomination, a demon whose motives cannot be fathomed and whose primitive mind will not accept reason or compassion. The more I look at this creature, the more amazed I am that it became the kid-friendly critter I grew up with. The transition is something like Karloff’s creature’s evolution into Herman Munster. He looks as much like an irradiated dinosaur pissed off at being awakened by atomic tests as he could. It seems unlikely that this creature could be stopped by anyone, especially the film’s reluctant and traumatized heroes.

The film’s protagonists all have relatable real world problems. Doctor Yamane, the paleontologist (Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura, who was sensational in 1952’s IKIRU) has to choose between knowledge and helping to keep his country safe. His greatest discovery is something unfathomably terrible and a threat to mankind itself and he goes through a great deal of anguish. His daughter Emiko (Momoko Kochi) is in love with sailor Ogata (Akira Takarada), but engaged to brooding one-eyed scientist Doctor Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), who has drifted away from her, consumed with guilt over the military applications of his invention. Even with the apocalyptic threat outside, the love triangle manages to hurt, the ethical conundrums of the scientists seem meaningful.

Hirata’s performance as Dr. Serizawa has always been one of the most appealing aspects of this movie for me. A sad, Byronic, but loveable character—a Victor Laszlo with the finer points of Rick Blaine—Serizawa  has the weapon that can destroy the monster but hates himself too much to use it and hates what the world could do with a weapon like this. His concern is a valid one. If the atomic bomb could wake up and mutate a monster like Godzilla, then what could his more powerful weapon do? He’s terrific. It’s the kind of acting one would think wasn’t necessary in a giant monster movie, but the kind of acting that really makes it work.

GOJIRA stands out for showing the human costs of this devastation. Not just in the anguish of Serizawa, but in the damage caused by the monster. You see mothers clinging to their children, telling them it’s all right because “they’ll be with daddy now,” you see victims in a hospital, mutated, burning and dying. You see the land scorched and the city ruined. In most giant monster movies, you watch the creature stomp around awhile until somebody comes up with a clever idea and kills it. GOJIRA isn’t like that. The creature ruins a city until a ruined man can find the courage to fight it. It’s great horror and it hurts like hell.

You want to see the movie in the cleanest, best format possible. You want to get the full effect of Akira Ifukube’s iconic music with great sound. You want it to look as good on your shelf as a movie of this caliber can look. Sony’s previous release of GOJIRA and its American counterpart, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (the bastardized version we first saw in the U.S., with added scenes featuring Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin~ your intrepid editor), had good commentaries, slick packaging and good special features. If you have it or you would like a cheaper alternative to Criterion’s version, you may not feel inclined to purchase The Criterion Edition. But, Criterion provides great features, a no doubt beautiful transfer and cover art by Bill Sienkewicz.  This is very much on my list for the next 50% off sale. If you don’t have this movie and you want to see it the best way you can, get The Criterion Edition. The DVD version is only $23.98 at the Criterion Store and the Blu-ray not much more. This is geek culture history, a film that crosses the line between sci fi and art film, really getting the treatment it deserves. Criterion has done a great thing.

© Copyright 2012 by Garrett Cook

The original Godzilla (1954) may not be as cuddly and kid-friendly as you remember.

Garrett Cook’s SIX BEST MOVIES OF 2011

Posted in 2011, Best Of Lists, Garrett Cook Articles, Nicolas Cage Movies, Superheroes with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2012 by knifefighter

My Top 6  Movies of 2011
By Garrett Cook

6. Drive Angry

As much as I can’t stand excessive CGI or Nicholas Cage, this movie was everything Hobo With a Shotgun claimed to be but fell short of. A pure adrenaline rush.

5. Chillerama

Transgressive fun. Giant sperm. An AIP beach movie gone horribly wrong and Hitler plagued by an insubordinate golem. What’s not to like?

4. Super 8

A little bit Stephen King, a little bit Stephen Spielberg. A surprisingly sincere and sweet movie.

3. Rubber

A movie that makes you root for a psychotic and psychokinetic tire and reexamine how you think of storytelling. An impressive Bizarro feat.

2. The Last Circus

An amazing piece of work. A union of Guillermo del Toro and Todd Browning’s aesthetics, with a dose of Jodorowsky. An eyepopping and moving struggle for love between two clowns in Fascist Spain. It’s streaming on Netflix and you should watch it.

1. Captain America

Finally, a comic movie that is not ashamed of being a comic book. Full of Marvel history and a balance of action and emotional content, which is a difficult one to pull off. Dieselpunk genius. My favorite Marvel movie hands down. Maybe my favorite superhero movie.

© Copyright 2011 by Garrett Cook

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011)

Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Detectives, Garrett Cook Articles, Michael Arruda Reviews, Mystery, Sherlock Holmes with tags , , , , , , on December 19, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011)
By Michael Arruda and Garrett Cook

 

(THE SCENE: A moving train, travelling through a picturesque European countryside circa the 1890s. On the train, in a private compartment, sits MICHAEL ARRUDA reading a book titled “Huckleberry Hound of the Baskervilles.” MA looks up at the camera, then at the book, and then back at the camera.)

MA: It’s a re-imagining.

(There is a knock on the door, and GARRETT COOK enters dressed as a woman.)

MA: Now I know why L.L. took this weekend off.

GARRETT COOK: Hey there. I made it.
MA: Right on time, too. You know, that costume looked horrible on Robert Downey Jr., and it’s not so hot on you either. You don’t have to wear that for the whole review, you know. (MA’s cell phone rings.) Yeah, I know cell phones didn’t exist in the 1890s. It’s an anachronism. Hello? Yeah, he made it. (to GC) It’s LL. He said since it’s your first Cinema Knife Fight, you should wear the dress.

GC: What? Give me the phone. Hey, L.L, I get the dress, but I don’t think they had thongs in the…

MA: He hung up. Let me start the review, and we’ll get this over with quickly, so you can change.

Garrett and I are here on this train today to review the new Sherlock Holmes movie, SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011), starring Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson.

I enjoyed the first film in this series, SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), as it was one of those movies I didn’t really expect much from, but was pleasantly surprised.

This time around, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) square off against their arch-enemy Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). Moriarty is hell-bent on getting the European powers-that-be to go to war with each other, and he’s doing this by arranging bombings and assassinations of key officials, always behind the scenes of course, and never leaving any evidence. It’s up to Sherlock Holmes to match his superior wits against those of the genius villain, Moriarty. Of course, in this series, Holmes is not only a super sleuth, but also a super fighter. Throw in a little James Bond, and this Holmes is as adept with his fists and guns as he is with his powers of deduction.

This Holmes is less apt to utter “Elementary, my dear Watson” than “Hand me that machine gun.” Still, I can’t deny that through it all, Holmes remains entertaining.

GC: Yes, well the movie does take Sherlock Holmes out of the tea parlor intrigues we’ve come to expect from our Victorian detectives. Thing is, a lot of those expectations come from PBS and our imaginations and misconceptions.

If you hear interviews with Robert Downey Jr., he constantly brings up that Holmes used to be a more dynamic character. Holmes was a martial artist, Holmes packed heat, and while Holmes was the archetypical Victorian detective in a lot of ways, he was still a forerunner to pulp heroes and superheroes as we know them.

When we watch Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett playing the character, we see Holmes as an urbane genius with mild eccentricities. But you’ve gotta remember this is the same guy that shot down the Hound of the Baskervilles and also the same guy, who in ”A Study in Scarlet” lectured Watson on why he really didn’t need to know that we live in a heliocentric universe.

MA: Good points.

GC: Sherlock Holmes is not just a great detective, but one of the deadliest men on the autism spectrum. And Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes does everything to remind you of this. One of my favorite things from the first SHERLOCK HOLMES movie was that, each time we see Holmes engage in a fight, we get to watch him reason out and imagine the consequences of each action he takes. Which adds a lot to the (all too frequent) fight scenes.

MA: I liked this better in the first movie. It started to get old in this sequel.

GC: That’s because SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS takes both the eccentricity and the combat readiness of the detective a little too far. When Watson first meets up with Holmes, he finds that he has turned his office into a jungle of sorts and is trying to perfect a form of “urban camouflage,” and soon he’s wearing a dress and shooting people. Like this.

(GC pulls a gun out of the bodice of the dress and fires off a shot. A scruffy Victorian thug manifests out of nowhere, clutches his chest and dies. MA applauds.)

MA: Nicely done. You fit in here very well.

GC: Having seen me do that, you have no reason to think I’m a skilled film critic or at least no more reason than you would have before reading this piece.

MA: That’s okay. We shoot people around here all the time. Actually, we do much worse. (with his foot, MA slyly pushes a machete underneath his seat, concealing it.)

GC: Watching Holmes wear a dress and shoot scruffy Victorian thugs, you have little reason to think he’s a great detective, which is one of my biggest complaints about A GAME OF SHADOWS. You don’t get to watch Holmes doing detective work all that often. While it’s refreshing that you get to see Holmes as a man of action, the only times you get to see Holmes as a great detective are during his confrontations with Moriarty.

MA: I definitely agree with you here. It would have been nice to see Holmes do some old-fashioned detective work.

Getting back to the story, the bottom line is the plot doesn’t really matter. It’s just an excuse for the audience to see Holmes in action. The only other plot point of note is that the case leads Holmes to a fortune teller gypsy woman, Madam Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace, who was Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO films), whose brother has gone missing and is somehow mixed up with Moriarty, and so she wants to find him to save him, and Holmes wants to find him to learn more about Moriarty’s plot. Rapace is excellent in the role, and her scenes with Downey Jr. are energetic and entertaining.

The conclusion to this story is never in doubt. We all know who’s going to come out on top, and so there’s not much suspense in this one, even as it builds to its explosive climax.

I could take or leave SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS, depending on my mood. I’ve seen much worse sequels (I thought this was a better sequel, for instance, than Downey Jr.’s IRON MAN 2 (2010)), but it didn’t rise above my expectations by any means.

(A pair of thugs suddenly appear outside the window and attempt to break into the compartment. MA hits one over the head with a club, while GC removes a bra from inside his dress and strangles the second thug with it. They kick both thugs off the moving train.)

MA: Nice job.

GC: Thanks.

MA (pointing to bra): I can’t say that we’ve ever used a bra as weapon before in this column. How about that? A first!

GC: I try.

MA: Getting back to the movie—there is non-stop action, one action sequence after another, and you barely have time to breathe. While on paper this sounds like a lot of fun, I always find movies like this get boring after a while, and this movie is no exception.

I wish things had slowed down long enough to give Downey and Jude Law a chance to act, because I certainly would have enjoyed seeing them do more. Now, they do a lot of fighting, chasing, and shooting, but their best scenes are actually when they’re talking. Imagine that!

By far, my favorite part of this Sherlock Holmes movie, and the first one, is the camaraderie and chemistry shared by Downey and Jude Law. They really work well together, and they make for a very entertaining and enjoyable Holmes and Watson. And I like Robert Downey Jr. a lot as Sherlock Holmes. After two movies, I’m almost ready to say I like him better as Holmes than as Tony Stark. Almost.

Noomi Rapace brings a lot of energy to her role as Madam Simza Heron. I thought her scenes with Downey really sizzled. Jared Harris also made for a fine Professor Moriarty. He was an effective evil genius.

GC: I thought Jared Harris as Moriarty was the best part of the movie. The confrontations between Holmes and Moriarty are fantastic.

If you’ve seen Guy Ritchie movies, one thing you expect is a great monologue from an intimidating criminal mastermind. I can’t tell you how many times I heard friends of mine quote crime boss Brick Top’s “Nemesis” speech when they first saw SNATCH (2002). The Napoleon of Crime delivers on this.

Jared Harris makes this movie, and his chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. is explosive, down to the final battle of wills and intellects.

MA: And Stephen Fry was also memorable in a supporting role as Sherlock Holmes’s brother, Mycroft Holmes. He generated a few welcome laughs in the movie. SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS certainly has a strong cast.

It also has a catchy music score, again written by Hans Zimmer. Zimmer has a very impressive resume of film scores going back to the 1980s. His recent credits include both the Christopher Nolan BATMAN movies and the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series.

As Garrett noted, Guy Ritchie, who directed the first HOLMES movie, is back at the helm for this one. There are lots of satisfying action scenes and some picturesque European locations (even if they are CGI creations) and the pacing is good, as there’s one action sequence after another, but in terms of story, this one never really grabbed me.

(A man appears from behind MA’s seat and grabs him by the back of the neck, strangling him.

GC: That’s because unfortunately, Guy Ritchie makes all of the mistakes you’ve seen him make before, with the exception of marrying Madonna ten years too late into her career and letting her convince him to remake a Lina Wertmuller film.

(MA gesticulates to GC that he needs help. GC removes a hairpin from his hair and sticks the thug in the eye with it. The thug releases MA and flees, screaming.

GC: Ever use a hairpin in this column before?

MA (catching his breath): Nope.

GC: Two firsts.

I brought up the overabundance of uninformative action scenes, but there’s also the problem that the film’s female characters are almost completely undeveloped. Holmes’s love interest, chirpy femme fatale Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is seen all too briefly, and worse yet, she’s not particularly interesting as a character during her time in the movie.

MA: I agree. She’s not in this movie enough, and I was disappointed she wasn’t in it more.

GC: Noomi Rapace’s character Simza the gypsy is motivated by her desire to find her misguided anarchist brother, but we don’t get to see her character grow and develop. We’ve had an entire film to get to know Holmes, Watson and their relationship, but Simza is a recent addition to the cast. With a bit less action, this could have been possible.

MA: Yep, definitely. There was way too much action in this one, and not enough character development.

Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney wrote the screenplay, and I’m sure they wrote what was expected of them, but that’s not saying a whole lot. The story didn’t take me to places I didn’t expect, nor did it truly captivate me. It played out, like so many other movies nowadays, like a video game. Let’s watch Sherlock Holmes fight this group of bad guys. Okay, now let’s watch Holmes get on this train and take on that group of baddies. And so on. For me, this gets stale after a while, even with a top-notch performer like Robert Downey Jr. on the screen.

That being said, it’s still hard not to like SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS, because it looks good, it’s got terrific acting, lots of action, and is permeated by a general sense of fun. However, it never rises above the average in terms of story, plot development, and characterization, and as such, as easy as it is on the eyes, for the mind and heart, it’s mundane.

Watching SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS is like being at a shopping mall during the holidays. It’s all richly decorated and looks great, and there’s certainly a lot going on, but it’s loud and noisy and not that satisfying. After a while, you really just want to go home.

I give SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS two and a half knives.

 Garrett?

GC: I agree with most of what you said, Michael, but I liked it slightly more than you. I found it to be a fast-paced, clever blockbuster, well-acted with strong set pieces, one of which in particular proves that Ritchie and crew do actually care what fans of the detective care about their work, so I give SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS three knives.

All the leads are magnetic and fun to watch. The lesser characters are also fun, and more importantly, this is the right time for the American public to be exposed to Holmes’s adventures. If, even for two hours in the dark, American filmgoers change the way they look at smart people and the military industrial complex, it’s a good thing. In times of rampant misinformation and factphobia, if American filmgoers are exposed to analytical thinking and people who are heroes because they think analytically, it’s a good thing.

MA: Uh-oh. Don’t go getting all philosophical on me now.

GC: How about it’s a timely, exciting holiday blockbuster?

MA: That’s better. So, that’s it. You found SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS to be really exciting and fun, and I found it a bit too shallow and action-oriented, but nonetheless entertaining.

Okay, we’re done. Garrett, thanks for filling in for L.L.

GC: No problem. Happy to do it. Thanks for asking me. I can’t believe he told me to keep this dress on, though. (Exits).

MA (to camera): I can’t believe it either, especially since—he didn’t call. LL’s not the only one with a dark side in this partnership, heh, heh.

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and Garrett Cook

Michael Arruda gives SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS ~ two and a half knives!

Garrett Cook gives SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS ~three knives.

(“Cinema Knife Fight” title coined by L.L. Soares)

Criterion After Dark: HAUSU (1977)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Asian Horror, Classic Films, Criterion After Dark, Garrett Cook Articles, Ghosts!, Haunted Houses, Japanese Cinema, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , on October 26, 2011 by knifefighter

Criterion After Dark: HAUSU (1977)
DVD Review by Garrett Cook

The Haunted House story is one of the oldest, most archetypal horror narratives. We’ve always felt certain places are weird, or frightening, or that history has not yet cleaned up the ground on which we’re treading. This narrative has been used to great effect many times, in Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” in Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” in Robert Marasco’s “Burnt Offerings,” in Stephen King’s “The Shining,” and in too many other horror novels for me to list. The Haunted House is a cliché environment that nonetheless encourages writers and filmmakers alike to innovate. Interesting how an old, hokey, primal story has given birth to so much creativity and can always find new ways to generate fright and shock.

And although there have been more than enough duds in the genre, such as the atrocious NINE LIVES (2002) starring Paris Hilton and the rather dull TV mini-series, ROSE RED (2002), I personally am always excited when I get a chance to see a new, unique Haunted House story. Hearkens back to the first shudder-inducing time I saw POLTERGEIST (1982), or the first time when I stared in wide-eyed awe as Robert Wise reminded me just how beautiful a horror film can be when I first saw THE HAUNTING (1963) on TV. You too should be excited. Because the haunted house movie I’m going to discuss here is a fresh take among fresh takes, a film that holds the distinction of not only being an innovation in Haunted House narratives, but one of the weirdest damn cult movies in history.

Nobuhiko Ohbyashi’s HAUSU starts with the Haunted House narrative. Seven plucky teenage girls go on a trip to the country to visit one girl’s aunt. The house is not what it seems to be. The aunt is not what she seems to be. And maybe the girl is not what she seems to be. Not a bad start. It’s a movie most horror fans would shell out to see around Halloween. It doesn’t necessarily scream “Criterion Material” though. As with THE HAUNTING (1963), THE INNOCENTS (1961) and THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL(1959), HAUSU only starts there, at a place where too many horror movies are content to stop.

From the moment HAUSU begins, you know you’re not going to get what the film’s premise says you’re going to. The eccentric sequence coupled with a cryptic flashback should be a hint.  This, coupled with the  overly schmaltzy music and the ridiculously caricatured girls make you immediately wonder what’s going on. The tone is confusing. And also quite disquieting. If this isn’t a put-on of some kind, then Ohbyashi has not seen a horror film before, or for that matter, has not seen high school girls. These girls and their school are a cartoon, a sanitized, simplified, padded version of reality meant for children.

When Gorgeous, the protagonist, goes to see her father, you really get a sense that something is not right. For one thing, the view outside his window is a blatant matte painting, a bright, cheery falsehood that makes no pretense of being real. But things start going south for gorgeous immediately. Although her  new stepmother looks angelic, Gorgeous has been living in a fairy tale and stepmothers get the short end of the stick in fairy tales. Gorgeous  flees to return to her creepy shrine of a room to bathe in the idyllic light of her memories and talk to her dead mother’s photo. And she decides to inquire after her aunt.

Her aunt okays the visit, so she heads out to the country, with her teenage friends Sweet, Fantasy, Mac, Kung Fu, Prof and Melody, each one named for a single prominent characteristic that defines their character. Their journey is cloaked in mellow saccharine rock, a la Scooby Doo or The Banana Splits. They’re also treated to a black and white flashback…for which the girls provide running commentary. The flashback goes on right outside the bus windows, which is an unlikely place for a flashback. Of course, haunted houses are all about those stuck in the past. Like Gorgeous. You’re left wondering, are they heading for a country house or heading into the heart of her memory? Regardless of what goes on, you can be certain this is not a movie about creaking Gothic mansions, or about teenage girls roaming around having fun. While HAUSU engages the core of the haunted house movie and the core of the Saturday morning cartoon and the teen comedy, it is completely different from any of these genres and something sinister is floating around in it.

At the house they meet Gorgeous’ sinister witchy aunt. And from here things go madder. A weirder film unfolds. A film that’s actually something of a horror film. Not a horror film that will meet any kind of expectations you would have of a horror film, but a horror film nonetheless. It’s funny, scary, eerie and wildly unpredictable. The transition occurs when the perpetually hungry Mac’s head comes out of a well to try and eat the supposedly over imaginative Fantasy. How someone’s imagination can be overactive in a world as strange as that of HAUSU is a baffling question, but nonetheless, the girls simply assume that Fantasy is hallucinating, having an acid trip within this acid trip.

HAUSU’s transformation is similar to that which occurs in Takashi Miike’s AUDITION (1999). AUDITION starts off as a romantic comedy and then transforms into brutal torture porn. HAUSU starts off as a cartoon and turns into something that defies description, a movie composed almost entirely of surprises, with a resolution as surprising as it is cryptic. You watch these very pleasant girls faced with many ironic but weird perils that will surely kill them all. The movie has, by this point already made you forget what you signed on for. If AUDITION’s genre-bending ways did not offend or annoy you, then you’re probably sharp enough to play along with HAUSU. HAUSU is one of those movies where you might as well be staring at static if you’re not willing to play its game, accept the mutability of reality and genre and the lack of convention. If you’ve got smart, adventurous friends, it could be a nice addition to your Halloween party.

HAUSU brings out truths about films, artifice, memory, growing up and the horror genre. It reveals a lot about Haunted Houses and the Haunted House narrative without pandering, without characters openly discussing the movie’s themes, which is something that happens a little bit too often in Haunted House narratives. As great as Elisha Cook’s introduction to William Castle’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is, it could be argued that it’s a bit preachy and smacks you in the face with the movie’s message. As great as THE HAUNTING is, the handy dandy parapsychologist somewhat spoils things. HAUSU has no handy dandy parapsychologist. Only very confrontational expressionism.

Ghosts in the HOUSE (HAUSU) make for a wild time.

Criterion has given this movie the DVD release it deserves. Its menu, packaging and booklet are attractive and contribute to the movie’s cult mystique. It’s something you should be proud of owning and a badge of honor for the weird film buff. Included on the disc is a “Making of” type special that includes an interview with the director and a short film. For those of you who own Blu-ray players, this bright, colorful explosion of art horror chaos would be a nice thing to own. I’m sure it looks fantastic. This cult classic does not disappoint, especially if you’re some kind of freak. It haunts my DVD shelf and should have a chance to haunt yours as well.

© Copyright 2011 by Garrett Cook