Thursday, February 02, 2012

From Scooby-Doo to TORSO: January 2012 Viewings

Work, weather and other factors usually keep my winter viewing to a minimum but this year has – pleasantly – been a bit of a change. Efforts to find a better balance between life and business seem to be working and the year kicked off on some cinematic high notes. There was only one real dud in the bunch (NEW YEAR'S EVIL), a couple surprises (MONEYBALL, MYSTERY TEAM), another solid Eli Roth-helmed horror flick (HOSTEL II) and what would have easily made my Top 5 from 2011 had I seen it last year (RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES).

Monthly Total: 11 films (11 new/0 rewatches)
Year-to-Date: 11 films (11 new/0 rewatches)

Another "Liam Neeson Takes on the Baddies" actioner, this time with Neeson playing a professor who loses his identity after a car crash puts him in a coma. Entertaining but unmemorable with a nice supporting bit by Bruno Ganz and yet another wretchedly jaw-dropping turn from January Jones. Since Neeson ripped off Steven Seagal's BELLY OF THE BEAST for TAKEN, I think Big Steve should remake UNKNOWN as BIG FAT COMA KILLER.

Excellent documentary from NBC Sports Channel on the "friendly" ice hockey series between the USSR and Canadian All-Stars back in the early 1970s. Succeeds in making Phil Esposito downright charming and funny. Not as good as some of the recent sports docs from ESPN and HBO but always nice to have somebody else churning these out.

As a huge POTA fan I was frankly a bit nervous about this one. I really wanted to see the franchise rebooted but didn't want something like that Burton abomination. Luckily, this loose remake of CONQUEST fires on all cylinders and succeeds at being smart, funny, intense and even a little touching. Can't wait to see what they do from here.

What happens when those cute, mystery-obsessed kids turn into dorky mystery-obsessed teens? That's the premise of this slightly raunchy comedy starring Donald Glover, and your appreciation of the flick will probably track with how much you like Glover and his role on NBC's COMMUNITY. I was expecting something much more light-hearted and genteel (guess I didn't notice that 'R' rating!) so I was pleasantly surprised by the myriad gross gags and occasional nudity. Filled with familiar faces from NBC's Thursday night comedies.

Speaking of Big Steve, here's another in a seemingly-endless line of action thrillers lensed in Eastern Europe. This time he's a do-gooder whose foreign foster kid disappears into the clutches of a human trafficking ring run by Vince from the FAST & FURIOUS movies. Appears to have been made simply so Seagal could have a sword fight with the villain.

I feel like I'm officially scraping the bottom of the barrel of First Wave Slashers. You'd think a horror flick set at a New Year's Eve new wave concert hosted by Pinky Tuscadero (Roz Kelly) would have some potential. Unfortunately, this is an exercise in tedium that will have you yelling "Kill 'em all!" by the halfway point.

I know Eli Roth is a frequent genre fanboy punching bag, but I sure as hell can't figure out why. Frankly, my only complaint about Roth is that he isn't more prolific! HOSTEL II continues his stretch of solid horror efforts as another group of college kids run afoul of the murder-for-pleasure ring operating out of European youth hostels. Funnier and more self-assured than the original, HOSTEL II features some great black humor to go along with the grisly, bloody effects and Roth tips his cap to Eurotrash with some choice cameos.

There doesn't seem to be much middle ground with this flick. People I've talked to have either loved it or compared it to such eyeball-searing activities as paint drying or grass growing. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed it, not as a baseball or sports movie but as a film about passionate individuals looking to make a paradigm shift in how something has been done for 100 years. It could have been about cricket or publishing or knitting – I just liked the idea that the answer "because that's how we've always done it" wasn't good enough for them. Plus, I don't think I've ever actually *liked* Brad Pitt or Jonah Hill in a movie before.

The biggest problem I had with this comedy was accepting the idea that Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Daschanel, Emily Mortimer and Paul Rudd are siblings. Once I got over that I enjoyed this look at three sisters and their goofy, well-meaning, but dumb as a box of rocks brother. Rudd gets booted from his life on a farm after selling pot to a uniformed cop and he spends the flick bouncing from sister to sister, alternately ruining and improving their lives as he plots how to get his beloved dog back from his ex. Not a lot of heavy lifting but a good cast elevates the predictable material.

And the Scooby-Doo flicks just keep on coming! (Much to my daughter's delight.) This one features Scooby and the gang heading to a new age spa after Shaggy suffers one too many scares. Naturally, a nearby archaeology dig is plagued by a glowing, fire-breathing dinosaur and a hypnotized Shaggy turns into a tough guy whenever anybody says the word "bad". An average effort with just enough jokes and gags aimed at adults.

My Year of Segio Martino got off to a rousing start with my first viewing of this underrated giallo. Who is offing the bitchy girls at the local university? Is it the can't-take-no-for-an-answer student, the creepy uncle who peeps on his leggy niece, the solid-jawed doctor, the prickly prof or the rat-faced scarf vendor? Your guess is as good as mine as Martino deftly drops enough red herrings to keep me unsure until the final moments. This tension-packed thriller – which is also jammed with copious nudity and gratuitous J&B placements – deserves more love as Martino effortlessly segues from chilling scenes of murder to dark humor. It's no wonder the aforementioned Eli Roth loves this flick and lauds it as a major influence on HOSTEL II.

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