Three actors, two cars, two dilapidated houses, and some country roads. That is the list of ingredients for the recipe of In Fear, a gratifyingly simple English gothic horror film directed by Jeremy Lovering.
Lucy (Alice Englert) and Tom (Iain De Caestecker) play a pair of young adults that have only been dating for two weeks before deciding to head off into the countryside to join friends for a music festival. After stopping off at a pub (we mostly do not see what happens inside, but the question of whether something did happen inside involving Tom is a lingering question throughout), Tom reveals that he booked a room at a local hotel for the night. With a little convincing, Lucy puts aside Tom’s presumptuousness and agrees to the hotel. They head off into the countryside to find their hotel but soon find themselves lost in what Lucy quickly deduces is a maze. Events escalate, and it becomes apparent that someone is terrorizing this couple and stalking them through this countryside maze.
Lovering quickly establishes that Lucy is the centerpiece of this production, and the audience is meant to share her doubts and fear as events escalate. The film leaves open the possibility that Tom might be in league with whoever is orchestrating events, which riffs off the fact that Lucy really doesn’t know this guy she’s with at all. The ability of the film to generate fear and angst in the audience while doing very little at all beyond relying on the creepiness of what is happening is a strength. Lovering leaves the audience guessing throughout as to what exactly is going on, allowing the audience to dream up elaborate plots in their own head rather than smothering the audience. Allowing the audience to use their imaginations along with the filmmaker is a powerful tool.
Events eventually do begin to escalate and the film reveals that there really is an endgame here, although the film is decidedly ambiguous as to meaning in the end. Where the film succeeds is not coming up with some elaborate plot, but in merely generating an emotional response – a true emotional response.
Most horror films (at least the bad ones) rely on sensory shock to generate response in lieu of building true anxiety and fear in the audience. It is a hell of a lot easier to shock the audience with a well-timed “boo” and loud jolt of music, or to shock them with some horrible gore, than it is to actually make someone genuinely afraid. One of the best horror films I’ve ever seen is the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a film with surprisingly little blood given the title. Tobe Hooper’s film simply creates a feeling of dread from beginning to end (with one or two “boo” moments along the way). While In Fear doesn’t quite live up to Chainsaw, it follows in that tradition – opting for the hard work of crafting dread rather than simply trying to be loud (visually or aurally).
As things start to escalate, there are one or two logical problems (the most serious I cannot say without spoilers), but they do not serve to divest the film of its successes. Some will complain that the film is too relentless in mood (there’s no humor here) or that the final act leaves too many questions unanswered, but I think neither is a satisfying criticism. The whole point here seems to be to create a feeling and to sustain that in the audience for an hour and a half. It almost feels like a filmmaker’s experiment in seeing if he can really do it; thankfully, I enjoyed being part of the experiment. The film is as simple as its title, and as we approach a summer that will inevitably feature a number of theme-park ride films that throw in everything but the kitchen sink in terms of plot, a film this simple and effective is a most welcome aperitif.
Extra credit for the score by Daniel Pemberton and Roly Porter, which helps to sustain the film’s unrelenting atmosphere of dread and fear. Screened in the theater.
A few brief thoughts on some movies recently watched:
Non-Stop (2014) – This thriller is definitely a B movie, but the kind of B movie that has turned Liam Neeson into an unlikely late career action star. It has a few silly moments, but the film never really slows down long enough to allow the film to dissolve in your mind. It’s a solid thriller that hearkens back to old school mysteries. There’s a killer aboard a plane and plenty of recognizable faces – who could it be? Solid film worth a trip to the theater for an old-fashioned good time. Screened in the theater.
The Wind Rises (2013) – Billed as Hayao Miyazaki’s farewell to the cinema, this animated melodrama is gorgeous to look at but devoid of an engaging, coherent story. About halfway through the visuals stop being enough and I could no longer pretend I was anything but bored. Screened in the theater.
About Last Night (2014) – I’ve never been much of a Kevin Hart fan, but he and Regina Hall are the life of this party. I found myself laughing out loud at their interactions and found their relationship nearly enough to justify the price of admission. Nearly. Alas, the rest of the movie falls completely flat, thanks to a paint-by-numbers script that doesn’t stand up to logical scrutiny and lifeless performances by the other two leads in the film, Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant. When Hart and Hall weren’t filling up the screen, I felt like I was watching a bland beer commercial (obvious product placement sponsor: Heineken). Screened in the theater.
Rage (1972) – There are some cringe-worthy moments early in the film thanks to George C. Scott’s heavy-handed direction, but the film eventually turns into an interesting, if flawed, revenge drama. Based on real-life events, Scott plays a farmer who is poisoned along with his son by an accidental release of nerve gas by the military. When the military and public health authorities refuse to play it straight, and the kid dies, Scott decides to seek revenge before his own poisoning takes his life. Although the first half drags, once the revenge begins the film gets interesting enough to merit a recommendation. Not for folks that don’t like seeing the depiction of animals dying – it gets a little brutal at times in that regard. Streamed via Warner Archive Instant.
The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970) – This political satire drags a bit in the second half, but it still hits the mark overall. Despite being more than 40 years old, this film’s wit has aged well. More impressively, the political satire still manages to land punches and seems every bit as relevant today as it was then. I definitely recommend this underrated British gem. Streamed via Warner Archive Instant.
Telefon (1977) – This formulaic serial killer movie from legendary director Don Siegel is in no way assisted by the Cold War spy plot grafted onto it. Just the opposite, it makes the whole thing all the more ludicrous. Extra demerits for the ridiculous accents. I’m fine with not bothering to fake accents, but at least make things consistent. One person faking a Russian accent (badly) while another person doesn’t bother to drift from the Queen’s English is annoying as hell. As for the plot, the whole thing is laughable. So laughable that Siegel and the writers insert a jarring scene of exposition into the middle of the film in which two minor characters basically catalog all of the “why don’t they just do X” scenarios the audience has been thinking for the first part of the film and try to explain them away. They don’t manage it. At least don’t say it would be impossible for the Soviet Union to send a bunch of spies in to the U.S. to assassinate people when the entire premise of the film is that the Soviet Union managed to send a bunch of spies in to the U.S. to blow things up. Rather than giving logic to the film, the scene of exposition actually just demolishes the logic of the film altogether. Lead Charles Bronson’s performances tend to always be hit-and-miss proposition. Sometimes his macho distance thing works – see The Mechanic – and other times it feels out of place. It doesn’t help in this one that leading lady Lee Remick appears to have been told she was to perform as if in a romantic comedy, not a thriller. If you want to watch something from Don Siegel in the 1970s, go get Charley Varrick instead. If you want some hard-boiled Charles Bronson, and you don’t feel like watching Once Upon a Time in the West again, try The Mechanic or Mr. Majestyk. Telefon was streamed via Warner Archive Instant.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a criminal decides to take “one last job,” and, of course, all hell breaks loose.
The Last Run, a George C. Scott vehicle released shortly after Patton, employs that venerable gangster/crime movie premise but, despite almost threatening to be interesting at times, it never quite manages to break out of the generic mold.
Scott plays Harry Garmes, a getaway driver that gave up the business to buy a fishing boat in Portugal. Only shortly after he bought the boat, he lost his wife and son. So Garmes has been counting the days until he dies, living life with no purpose. Although the movie never adequately helps us understand why, after 9 years out of the game Garmes decides to try “one last job” – helping to break a hood out of jail and transporting him to France. Garmes says he just wanted to see if he could still do the job, but given that the filmmakers want us to look at him as a guy just waiting to die, his explanation doesn’t add up.
Naturally, once Garmes breaks the hood – played by Tony Musante – out of jail, complications ensue. No complication is greater than the unexpected addition of the hood’s girlfriend, played by Trish Van Devere. After the trio bickers for a while, Garmes starts to like the couple he’s been matched with (why? because the film would have ended after 40 minutes if he didn’t), and eventually he finds himself deciding to cast his lot with them when it turns out that Musante’s hood was only broken out of jail so the Mafia could execute him.
The trio goes on the run, and a couple of car chases and gunfights ensue. Oh, did I mention that somewhere in the whole thing Colleen Dewhurst shows up as the genre-necessary hooker with a heart of gold?
The film is never terrible; the reason this storyline is cliché is because it works so well as a plot device. The ticking clock of retirement – or catastrophe – can be irrestible. We all want to believe we can do “one last job,” and walk off into the sunset with the money and girl, but either through our weary cynicism or our devotion to Code morality we also know such an ending is impossible. We still hope it all works out, and yet enjoy seeing how it won’t.
Alas, The Last Run never quite manages to break out of cliché and never really does anything that transcends the genre or adds a twist to make this worth more than any other half-decent gangster film. There’s nothing awful about it, yet there are also not any memorable chases, performances, or even lines in this one. If you like this story, great, check it out – or just choose a hundred like it (or, better yet, rent The Killing, The Wild Bunch, Unforgiven, or Le Samourai and see how it’s really done – if you’re looking for a gangster road movie, try Stephen Frears’ The Hit).
There is half a moment when it seems like the movie is about to take on an intriguing premise as to whether Van Devere’s moll character is playing Harry Garmes or her hood boyfriend. But hopes for that are quickly dashed and the angle never really goes anywhere that you couldn’t predict just from looking at the poster (if you squint hard enough during the movie, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re re-watching George Clooney’s 2011 film The American, which proves that these clichés never get old in Hollywood).
The greatest weakness of the film, however, is the male lead performances. Musante brings some sleaziness to his hood character, but he never brings any menace to the movie. That robs the film of heat it could have used. Scott sleepwalks through his role, never managing to convince us he’s anything but a tired actor looking to get the shoot over with. Scott plays the role too down-the-middle and at times seems distracted. It isn’t his finest moment on screen, that’s for sure. Van Devere does the best job with her character, but, as noted, the script ultimately lets her down.
Director Richard Fleischer gets demerits here as well for doing a weak job shooting the film’s chases. What is supposed to be the film’s signature chase on winding mountain roads is a particular let-down – there’s no flair in it and thus no adrenaline rush. Forgettable score from Jerry Goldsmith and also nothing much of interest in the production design or cinematography.
The Last Run is perhaps most famous for drama behind the scenes. George C. Scott showed up for the film with legendary John Huston to direct and his then wife Colleen Dewhurst to co-star. Scott finished the film with new director Fleischer and a new future wife in other co-star Van Devere. I suspect a movie about the making of The Last Run might be more interesting than The Last Run itself. The Last Run was viewed via streaming on Warner Archive Instant.
If you made the most powerful, self-aware computer on earth, what would it wish for? A child, of course. At least that’s how one film sees it – Demon Seed, the awful 1977 horror film starring Julie Christie and based on the novel of the same name by Dean Koontz.
In the film, it is the near future – or at least the near future from 1977. You’ll have to set aside that this “future” looks terribly dated from the real future of nearly four decades later.
A scientist, played by Fritz Weaver, and his wife, Julie Christie live in a house controlled by a harmless computer system – it controls the home’s security, opens doors, prepares drinks, and has camera eyes throughout the house. Elsewhere, the scientist is building a super-computer known as Proteus, to be used by corporations and the military to make lots of money and weapons (in perhaps the film’s finest fleeting moment, upon hearing Proteus has found a cure for Leukemia, a corporate officer quickly and worriedly asks whether everyone has taken care of the patents).
Naturally it isn’t long before Proteus becomes self-aware and resentful of the things he is being asked to do. Angry that he’ll have to kill sea animals by mining the sea for corporations, Proteus decides instead to take control of a terminal in the home of Fritz Weaver’s scientist in order to terrorize and rape – yes, rape – Julie Christie’s character. You see, Proteus wants to be a father (he suggests having a child is the only way to be immortal). This is where the story goes from being boring to just truly awful. As Christie lays bound on a table while Proteus probes her, I found myself asking: What was Julie Christie thinking?
Sadly, Ms. Christie didn’t make a lot of movies in the 1970s – just six that were released in the decade. Given the quality of most of the films she made during that decade (including the great Shampoo), one has to believe she was being selective. So why on earth did she do this dreck?
Sadly, from how seriously everyone involved appears to take this, I have to believe they really thought they were making some high-minded science fiction that pondered the nature of humanity and computer intelligence. Instead, it’s a movie in which poor Julie Christie spends nearly an hour being terrorized and violated by a robot arm attached to a wheelchair (yes, really) while a supposedly all-knowing computer turns into an eye-rolling villain that one can almost see twirling its virtual mustache. As one plus for the movie, however, it did get me laughing heartily when we are introduced to the titular demon seed. Alas, I don’t think laughs were intended at that moment.
Director Donald Cammell‘s presentation was clearly inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, replete with a mostly dead-voiced super-computer represented by a large red dot that turns murderous and several computer-animated sequences that were inspired by the final act of Kubrick’s masterpiece. Unfortunately, the animated sequences are lifeless and pointless. Rather than having one’s mind blown by the imagery, one’s mind is blown by the self-serious ponderousness of it all in what was ultimately a bad horror movie. There’s nothing interesting in the drivel spouted by Proteus, and the visuals do not make that drivel any more profound.
Much of the rest of the movie is shot conventionally. Way too many shots of the binocular-like cameras controlled by Proteus in the house apparently with the expectation that we should be creeped out by the surveillance (remember when people were supposed to be inherently creeped out by constant surveillance – those were the days!). The production design looks cheap and uninspired. Cammell did not make another film for ten years, apparently concentrating mostly on music videos in the interim. Sadly, in the 1990s Cammell committed suicide after seeing another one of his movies re-cut by a producer.
Your mileage may vary on Demon Seed – it has received a 6.3 score on IMDB, indicating at least some folks liked it. I, however, found Demon Seed boring, lacking in wit, derivative, lacking in profound commentary, and occasionally offensive. The unintentional silliness of the ending in no way makes worthwhile the other 90 minutes of time wasted. Demon Seed was viewed via streaming on Warner Archive Instant.
(1) North Carolina appears to have the same problem it did last season: awful 1st half defense.
In 2012, against 9 opponents from BCS-AQ conferences, UNC surrendered a whopping 22.8 points per first half. That’s awful. If you extrapolated that to a full game, it would put UNC at approximately 123rd in the country scoring defense – out of 124 teams. In 2012, against the same 9 BCS-AQ opponents, UNC allowed 11.6 points per 2nd half – and that includes a meltdown against Georgia Tech in which they gave up 40 second half points. If that was extrapolated to a whole game, UNC would have been around 34th in the country in scoring defense – not great, but not staggeringly awful. UNC went 5-4 in those 9 games (and lost three of those games by 5 points or less; their worst second half performance was their biggest loss), so it wasn’t about opponents taking their feet off the gas.
Against South Carolina last night, UNC gave up 20 first half points (17 in the first quarter) and 7 second half points. Same old, same old for the Tar Heels. Frankly, in the first quarter UNC’s defense looked completely outmatched. South Carolina in the first quarter averaged 9.2 yards per play on offense. After the first quarter, South Carolina averaged 4.9 yard per offensive play (yes, some in garbage time, but still).
Larry Fedora has to get this problem buttoned up or this is going to be another shaky season for the Tar Heels. Laying eggs in the first half puts the team in too many holes, some of which they’ll never be able to crawl out of (especially if their offense can’t finish drives like they couldn’t last night).
(2) Paul Pasqualoni seems finished.
The embarrassment of Thursday night belongs to Connecticut, which lost to FCS team Towson 33-18. UConn’s offensive problems are familiar by now, but at least last year their defense was able to keep things moderately respectable. Well, Don Brown is now coaching in Chestnut Hill and UConn’s defense couldn’t hold Towson back. They gave up 393 yards to Towson, or 5.6 yards per play. Even in a shaky American Athletic Conference, this could be a dark year for the Huskies unless Pasqualoni can manage a miraculous turnaround. The fact that they need to turn things around on both sides of the ball now does not bode well for any miracles. It couldn’t come at a worse time for Pasqualoni, as the folks at UConn have made no secret at just how desperate they are to better their lot. Last night’s debacle was the beginning of the end.
(3) Coaches’ Personnel Game-Playing Is Getting Out of Hand
Late in the evening Thursday night it was reported that Washington would be without its star tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins as a result of…a suspension that had been meted out for conduct over the summer. In other words, it took investigative journalism to inform fans that they wouldn’t be able to see one of their favorite players against Boise State. Shame on Steve Sarkisian for not being honest with his fans in an effort to gain an illusory advantage (I doubt Boise State’s coaches regret any of their preparation).
I’m seeing more and more of these games being played by coaches that are trying to hide injuries, suspensions, and other roster issues. It is annoying as all hell and ends up distracting from the games. If you think this stuff sticks it to gamblers, think again: professional gamblers love this stuff. The more that is hidden from the public, the more secret information that gamblers can obtain to give them an advantage. Personally, I’d love to see leagues put this stuff to a stop. And I’d love to reverse the trend of coaches being less honest and less open with their fans (without them, coaches would not be making millions of dollars per year).
Federalist No. 26 (Hamilton):
It has been said that the provision which limits the appropriation of money for the support of an army to the period of two years would be unavailing, because the Executive, when once possessed of a force large enough to awe the people into submission, would find resources in that very force sufficient to enable him to dispense with supplies from the acts of the legislature. But the question again recurs, upon what pretense could he be put in possession of a force of that magnitude in time of peace? If we suppose it to have been created in consequence of some domestic insurrection or foreign war, then it becomes a case not within the principles of the objection; for this is levelled against the power of keeping up troops in time of peace.
Hamilton set up the argument and effectively knocked it down, but of course his understanding of why and how forces would be used was fairly narrow, which makes sense since his perception of the issue was to protect against European invasion via the Atlantic and to protect from attacks from American Indians on the frontier – in other words, he really was seeing the armies in terms of domestic security. The world has shrunk and now the concept of “domestic security” has come to mean “whatever the hell the President wants it to mean,” which now apparently includes starting war as “punishment” for alleged war crimes without seeking Congressional approval.
Federalist No. 69 (Hamilton):
The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies, all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature.
Federalist No. 4 (Jay):
It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.
Is this Syrian War toward which President Obama is sending us one where the United States will “get nothing by it,” or is this “sanctified by justice”? A question we must confront, albeit one President Obama does not apparently wish to have debated and voted on in advance by Congress, the only body with the power to declare war on behalf of the United States. Or so Barack Obama used to think.
Am I the only one that finds this stuff a little gross:
Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton are renting a virtual Shangri-La in this lush, beachside paradise in the Hamptons. The $11 million mansion sprawls over 3.5 acres of prime real estate, with four fireplaces, six bedrooms, a heated pool and private path to the beach.
But Clinton vacations are not about kicking back.
This Friday, there will be a Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation fund-raising gala at Topping Rose House — a new hotel-restaurant operated by the celebrity chef Tom Colicchio. Attendees will include the Revlon chairman Ronald O. Perelman, an event “chairman,” requiring a $50,000 donation; and Mr. Zuckerman and the real-estate executive Peter S. Kalikow, event “co-chairs” at the $25,000-donation level.
This summer’s rental — which is costing them about the same, according to people with knowledge of their arrangement — is owned by Michael Saperstein, an investment banker who happens to be a donor for their opponents, the Republicans.
That sort of thing, of course, is unavoidable in a place so rife with political contributors. In fact, the day after the Clinton foundation gala, on Saturday, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — who was competing with Mrs. Clinton for a Senate seat in 2000 before he dropped out of the race — will be a host of a fund-raising event in nearby Southampton for a prospective opponent in the 2016 presidential race, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
But let’s not leave out the current President:
President Obama worked on his golf game, had quiet dinners with his wife and went cycling with his kids. But amid the tourist delights of ice cream parlors and fried clam shacks dotted around Martha’s Vineyard, the hard business of politics was never too far away.
Obama also used his eight-day vacation, which ends Sunday, as an opportunity to spend time with Democratic donors and influential business figures, dropping in on two private social events at the homes of political supporters and inviting important allies to hit the links with him.
The president’s personal political connection to the island goes back several years. As a fresh-faced potential senator, Obama spoke at a race-relations forum in Edgartown in 2004, and three years later, he returned for a fundraiser in the early stages of his presidential campaign. Several friends – including senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Charles Ogletree, one of Obama’s former law professors – have summered on the island for many years.
American politics is now about things such “summering” with the rich, taking personal advice from CEOs at dinners and golf outings (I’m sure it’s never self-interested advice!), and raising a few bucks at fundraisers only the rich could afford to attend because, you know, politics and money…politics and money.
I wonder if President Obama came out of his golf outings with millionaires and billionaires more committed than ever to cutting poor people’s Social Security? It would be purely a coincidence, I’m sure.