IT was an encouraging sign that, following the success of his graphic, grisly movie Saw, director James Wan retreated from the escalating sadism of that franchise to direct a trio of old-fashioned spookfests: Dead Silence, Insidious and just recently, The Conjuring.
You might say Wan is following in the footsteps of John Carpenter, who scored his own monster hit early in his career with his low-budget, high-impact, 1978 thriller Halloween.
Carpenter eschewed directing the inevitable Halloween franchise sequels too, opting instead to co-write and helm the atmospheric ghost story The Fog.
How old-fashioned is it? It opens with a crusty old sea dog (John Houseman) telling a circle of wide-eyed children the spooky story of how a ship ran aground 100 years previous in the coastal town of Antonio Bay with all hands lost due to the crew mistaking a bonfire "just like this one" for a signal fire.
When that 100-year anniversary is reached, strange doings start to occur in town, ranging from miscellaneous electrical weirdness to a trio of drunk fishermen going... missing. A few savvy citizens start to wise up about the impending menace, including a foxy DJ/single mom (Adrienne Barbeau), a trucker (Tom Atkins), his new hitchhiker girlfriend (Jamie Lee Curtis) and a drunken priest (Hal Holbrook) who discovers a diary detailing what really happened to that aforementioned shipwreck.
It's all tied to a mysterious fog that moves against the wind and seems to creep around this scenic town with sentient cunning.
"There's something in the fog," Barbeau guesses. And she's right.
Avoid the remake and go directly to this Shout Factory Blu-ray, which boasts typically lavish extras, including an interview with the always charming Jamie Lee Curtis, a few more vintage interviews with Carpenter and the late great producer Debra Hill. ***1/2
Robert Williams: Mr. Bitchin'
CALIFORNIA lowbrow artist Robert Williams may be best known for the controversial cover he painted for the Guns N' Roses album Appetite for Destruction.
But his career extends long before that and proceeded well after. Williams, a hot-rod enthusiast, apprenticed under Ed "Big Daddy" Roth (where his outrageous magazine drawings drew the ire of advertisers), and was drawn into the underground comics realm in the late '60s, alongside fellow id monsters Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez and Gilbert Shelton.
This documentary of Williams is an entertaining, freewheeling portrait of the artist, recounting Williams's rise to underground prominence, deconstructing a few of his select works, and even offering a glimpse of his marriage to Patricia Williams, who states she too was an artist and hot-rod enthusiast before she ever met Williams.
She is one cool babe.
Inspired by Mad magazine, pin-ups and ephemeral youth culture, Williams has largely been ignored or held in contempt by the mainstream art world. (In retaliation, Williams published his own magazine, Juxtapoz). This doc by Mary C. Reese gives the man his due as a charming, unpretentious provocateur. ***1/2
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
BEFITTING a movie co-produced by the toy company Hasbro, G.I. Joe Retaliation casts human actors as plastic action figures and accordingly whips 'em around through various tableaux. In a sequence where a ninja called Snake Eyes (Ray Park) fights off a squadron of ninja henchman on the side of a mountain, one imagines the whole sequence was plotted out using G.I. Joe dolls on the back of someone's couch.
Director Jon M. Chu takes over the franchise from Stephen Sommers, who helmed the 2009 entry The Rise of Cobra. That previous movie's star, Channing Tatum, clears the field so the lead role can be taken up by Dwayne Johnson, an actor who has already been immortalized as a plastic action figure in his wrestling persona The Rock, and is thus better qualified to assume the lead here in the role of an ace soldier called Roadblock.
On a mission to steal nuclear warheads from Pakistan, the entire G.I. Joe unit is betrayed and mostly wiped out on the orders of the president (Jonathan Pryce). If you saw the last movie, you know that the prez is actually Zartan, a master of disguise working for the sinister organization Cobra.
Surviving "Joes" Roadblock, Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) are obliged to head to the U.S. to join forces with retired Gen. Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) to expose the fraudulent president before he carries out Cobra's mission of world domination.
Kids old enough to own the dolls may appreciate the ludicrous action. For the rest of us, wow, this is just really silly stuff. *1/2