Tuesday, August 23, 2011

August Quick Picks and Pans

Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008) Frank H. Woodward’s straightforward, informative documentary about the life and work of the author H.P. Lovecraft.  Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore Lovecraft’s lasting influence on the science fiction and horror genres, and Woodward does a fine job painting a portrait of a troubled, but brilliant writer.  The film largely relies on interviews with several authors and filmmakers whose own work was heavily influenced by Lovecraft (including Guillermo del Toro, Stewart Gordon, John Carpenter, Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman and others).  Stylistically, the film doesn’t break a lot of new ground, with talking head interviews, accompanied by footage of his Rhode Island surroundings.  It’s most effective when Lovecraft is allowed to speak for himself, with snippets of his stories juxtaposed with artwork interpreting his horrific descriptions.  

Woodward’s documentary deftly skirts the line between fanboy adoration and a critical examination of Lovecraft the man and Lovecraft the writer.  The film doesn’t pull its punches with regard to exploring his xenophobic, borderline racist beliefs, but puts them in the context of early 20th century New England.  Lovecraft is shown to be a man of strong convictions, as well as contradictions (For example, his anti-Semitic views didn’t stop him from marrying a Jewish woman.).  The documentary also addresses the shortcomings of his writing through some of his most ardent admirers, while acknowledging his undeniable contribution to literature and enduring legacy.  Highly recommended!

Rating: ****.  Available on Blu Ray and DVD.

The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) Have you ever had one of those times when you couldn’t decide between a comedy, absurdist family drama, horror, or a musical?   Okay, probably not, but The Happiness of the Katakuris might just be the movie you never thought you were looking for.  Based on the quirky Korean dysfunctional family film The Quiet Family, Takashi Miike decided to takes his version one louder, combining all of the aforementioned genre elements and more into one strange brew.  For the Katakuri family, every silver lining has a cloud.  Trouble seems to follow them when the patriarch Masao (Kenji Sawada) decides to leave his day job and open up a family-run bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere.  It’s up to Masao and his family to preserve the illusion of normalcy when the few guests that manage to find the place end up dead.  You never really know what’s coming next, with scenes of high comedy, gory death, an animated segment, and random lyrical interludes.  If inspired insanity is your thing, then Happiness of the Katikuris could be the movie for you.

Rating: ****½.  Available on DVD.

Meet the Hollowheads (1989) In this obscurity from the late 80s, John Glover stars as Mr. Hollowhead, who works as a meter reader at a giant factory filled with enormous tubes.  The tubes serve some sort of vital function in his town, burg, dimension, whatever (don’t ask).  In a plot that could have been recycled from a 50s sitcom, Mr. Hollowhead, dreaming of a big promotion, takes his boss home for dinner to meet the family.  Unfortunately, his boss couldn’t care less about his sycophantic employee, but suddenly has the hots for Mrs. Hollowhead.  This ain’t Leave it to Beaver, though.  Meet the Hollowheads seems stuck in some sort of alternate reality where people eat goop delivered in tubes, and the family dog looks like a cross between a naked mole rat and Freddy Krueger.  I suppose it’s an attempt to make ironic statement about postmodern society, illustrated by 50s social mores, but your guess is as good as mine.  Be on the lookout for cameos by Anne Ramsey (Throw Momma From The Train, The Goonies) in her final role, and Bobcat Goldthwait, who has the film’s best line.  The style could only be described as Pee Wee’s Playhouse meets David Lynch, with sets that seem to be an alien’s interpretation of human society.  It’s definitely not for everyone.  In fact, I’m not exactly sure whom it would be for, but I applaud the cojones of the filmmakers for following their dreams (or acid trips) to make this film.

Rating: ***.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) What’s black and white and red all over?  It’s writer/director Peter Greenaway’s colorful, self-indulgent ode to gluttony and lust.  Michael Gambon stars as Albert, a sadistic crime lord, and Helen Mirren is his long-suffering wife, Georgina.  Most of the film takes place in Albert’s restaurant, Le Hollandais, where night after night the staff, patrons, and his entourage are subjected to his constant verbal and physical abuse.  Bored and disgusted by Albert’s oafish ways, Georgina steals away for a series of brief rendezvous with another restaurant patron, a 40-ish bookkeeper named Michael.  The camera doesn’t flinch from the ugliness of Albert’s actions.  It’s strong stuff, indeed.  If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t normally mention MPAA ratings, since they’re often arbitrary and unreliable, but in this case the NC-17 was well earned.  Consider yourself warned.  Although I couldn’t really find any characters to identify with, I admired it from an artistic standpoint, especially for its original use of color to set the mood.  I won’t reveal how Albert gets his eventual comeuppance, but let’s just say that it’s original and fitting.  If you only know Michael Gambon through the Harry Potter movies, you might be in for a shock.  You may never look at Albus Dumbledore the same way again.

Rating: *** ½.  Available on DVD (Out of print) and Netflix Streaming.

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