Showing posts from 2018

Halloween (2018) ***

A reboot/sequel of a classic film in a beloved series that was already rebooted/remade (in 2007) was always going to have strikes against it and be overly scrutinized. But as someone who doesn't hold the original  1978 film (and definitely not the series) in quite the same high regard as most horror fans (*ahem* Black Christmas(1974) is better), I am satisfied with Halloween (2018).

Ignoring all but the first film for this new sequel was a good call in my book. There are dumb characters and dumb moments, but that's true for every film in this series, by varying degrees. There is nothing overly clever about the 2018 film—barring one seriously lame scene with "the new Loomis", which was a huge misstep—it plays it straight as a solid slasher (one with a main character with some obvious history though). And Jamie Lee Curtis does the role justice—never going too Sarah Connor on us but still ready to battle her old enemy, yet with a realistic sense of fear and vulnerabili…

Shock Waves (1977) **

Despite having a great theatrical poster and a decent premise, Shock Waves (1977) is neither shocking nor does it really have many waves (though you may go through waves of boredom sitting through it). I'd seen this film before and it was just as snoozy as I'd remembered it. It wasn't the first Nazi zombie film but it may be the most lackluster.

Those hoping for a gorefest or laugh-out-loud fun will be disappointed—there is almost nary a drop of blood to be found and the film is grim but in a yawn-inducing way. What you get instead is an elderly John Carradine (resembling an elderly John Hurt) in essentially a bit part as a craggy captain, a complainy middle-aged man basically playing the same character as the Harry Cooper one from Night Of The Living Dead(1968) (which this movie is basically a variation of), a James Caan stand-in who has a sudden massive panic attack late in the game, no real sense of danger, and zombies that look Rutger Hauer (and would have been far mo…

DB Mix Series 4 – Electric Connections

Once again, two months since the last DB Mixeswere posted, and on the 16th day of the month, I present to you: DB Mix Series 4 – Electric Connections.

For those unfamiliar with these music challenges—my cousin Bryan and I alternately choose a concept, we each choose the appropriate number of songs, make a playlist, share with each other, then I mix the playlists, design the album art, and share with you! You can check out the previous DB Mixes here.

The concept this month was chosen by me—each of us was to make a 20-song mix where the preceding song was connected to the next one by a person—whether that be the main artist, a musician, producer, engineer, etc. The main rules set down were that we could not use the same artist (for a song) more than once and we also could not use the same person as a connection more than once. I went with an intentionally amateurish, cheesy cover design this time. Below the front and back covers for each mix I provided a legend (modified from Bryan'…

City Of The Living Dead (1980) ****

City Of The Living Dead (1980), the best of Lucio Fulci's four "undead" films made between 1979–1981, is all guts 'n ghouls 'n drills 'n maggots. It's not as iconic as Zombie (1979), it's not as atmospheric as The Beyond (1981), but it has the benefit of not having a main character portrayed by an insufferably annoyingly voiced child actor, as is the case with The House By The Cemetery(1981). The plot is pretty loose, but doesn't strike me as all that important—what matters is getting the characters from one gory Lovecraft-inspired set-piece to another. And though its tone is grim, City is a whole lot of fun. It also features one of Fabio Frizzi‘s best and most memorable scores. 
You can find my Lucio Fulci Feature Films Ranked list here.

The Hoo-Ha's: A Scary Storytelling Event

I'll be performing in this show a week from today—hope you can make it down!

The Hoo-Ha's: A Scary Storytelling Event
This Halloween season, join us at the Mediator Stage for a live storytelling event featuring selections from Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy.

$5 suggested donation with all proceeds to benefit the Day One Sexual Assault & Trauma Resource Center in Providence.

We'll have autumnal refreshments with vegan and GF options (donations appreciated!) and locally made Halloween crafts will be available to purchase.

October 21st, 2018
Mediator Stage
50 Rounds Ave, Providence, RI 02907 Doors at 7 PM, stories 7:30–9:00
$5 suggested donation Facebook event page here

Let's Scare Jessica To Death (1971) ***

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971) is a melancholic exploration of mental illness that’s a little short on plot but has an appropriately creepy vibe. The actors aren’t amazing and some scenes come off a bit clunky or goofy but I appreciate the ideas behind the film—what is in the titular character’s head vs. what’s real? At times I was reminded of Polanski’s Repulsion (1966) but the psychedelic tone and editing style of Jessica is most similar to George Romero’s 70s output—The Crazies (1973) and, in particular, Martin(1978). The eerily atonal synth and piano—which serve more as chaotic sound design most of the time than a true score—create a foreboding atmosphere. Despite (or perhaps because of it) being a product of its time (and having a title that doesn’t really make sense), and with a little more finesse, Jessica could have been a true cult classic, but it's still worth a look.

Last Embrace (1979) ***

With Last Embrace (1979), Jonathan Demme tries his hand at a mystery/thriller in the vein of two titans of the genre but it’s missing the sense of humor and adventure that Hitchcock had and the melodrama and technical wizardry of De Palma. It feels a bit too much like a copy of a copy (a bunch of MacGuffiny stuff in the first half and callbacks to Hitch films galore), lacking both the charisma of a lead like Cary Grant or Gregory Peck and the audacity of De Palma’s grand set pieces but it’s still a fun flick with a solid cast—including Roy Scheider, doing his best to one-up Grant's leathery tan, and Janet Margolin, who does a hell of a job bouncing between mousy and femme fatale. Miklós Rózsa (who scored many a great film from the golden age of Hollywood, including the greatest film noir of them all, Double Indemnity (1944), and Hitch’s own Spellbound (1945)) is on hand to provide music.

For fans of North By Northwest (1959), Vertigo (1958), and Obsession (1976).

Heathers (1988) ****1/2

Heathers (1988) is like a John Hughes movie with more bite—a dark high school satire that still feels relevant 30 years later (and not just to high schoolers). Without Heathers there would be no Election(1999), no Mean Girls(2004), probably no Kevin Smith.

While it's not showy, director Michael Lehmann and his design team infuse his debut film with a hyper-real style that has aged quite well. It's no surprise that Batman Returns (1992) is my favorite Batman film and superhero film, because it was also written by this film's writer, Daniel Waters. Dialogue is Heathers' strong suit—honest, brutal, brilliant, hilarious, endlessly quotable—and the perfectly-cast leads (including Wynona Ryder and Christian Slater, only a few films into their careers at this point) deliver it with aplomb.

All the themes of Heathers remain pertinent—bullying, suicide, date rape, homophobia, popularity, power struggles, abusive/manipulative (boy)friends, school violence—all within the context …

The Pyjama Girl Case (1977) ***1/2

1977's The Pyjama Girl Case(La ragazza dal pigiama giallo) intertwines a murder investigation (based on a real case in Australia) by a craggy retired detective (played, amusingly, by Ray Milland) with a seemingly unrelated portrait of a woman in decline (Dalila Di Lazzaro). At times it's seedy (though never terribly exploitative) but also has a somber atmosphere hanging over the entire film—our lead character Linda clearly suffers from depression. An oddly eclectic but excellent score by Riz Ortolani fluctuates between synthesized disco and melancholic string queues. While not a giallo in the traditional sense (black gloved killer, high body count, dramatic lighting/production design)—it's actually more of a domestic drama than anything—it's still quite good and distinctive within the genre.

You can find my Giallo Feature Films Ranked list here.

Witchboard (1986) **1/2

Witchboard (1986) has soap opera level acting, alternately shirtless or open-shirted lead males, Tawny Kitaen both naked and possessed, psychic humor, and most importantly—"progressive entrapment". It's not particularly good but it's particularly fun and funny with an audience.

Jim Thompson "The Alcoholics" (1953) ***

Jim Thompson's The Alcoholics(1953) is a short novel about a clinic called "El Healtho" in Los Angeles. At the heart of the book is Dr. Peter Murphy, who desperately wants to keep his clinic open—despite not having the money to—because he truly cares about curing his patients and he also doesn't want to be a failure. The characters that make up El Healtho are diverse and amusing (and this is one of Thompson's funniest novels) but I would definitely classify this book as one of Thompson's lesser works. Of course, lesser works by Jim Thompson are still very entertaining.

Hold The Dark (2018) ***1/2

With Hold The Dark(2018) Jeremy Saulnier continues the successful string of films he started with Blue Ruin (2013) and Green Room(2015). As with his other films, HTD is another violent tale of vengeance and survival but the tone this time around is moodier and bleaker than ever, owing much to director Sam Peckinpah. Saulnier's constant collaborator (as actor) Macon Blair penned the screenplay (and has a small role) in this story of a wolf expert (Jeffrey Wright) called to Alaska by a mother (Riley Keough) to track down the wolves who took her son. Her husband, played by Alexander Skarsgård (in his second Netflix film of the year), returns from the Iraq War and he's all kinds of disturbed. Fun connection: Alexander's father Stellan starred in the excellent 1997 Norwegian crime thriller Insomniawhich Christopher Nolan repurposed to Alaska for his 2002 version.

Without spoiling anything, when a key plot point happens early on in HTD, the film goes in a whole other direction …

Metric "Art Of Doubt" (2018) ***1/2

Metric's seventh studio album Art Of Doubt (2018) is a solid batch of new songs that will feel familiar to long time fans who've come to appreciate their sound—Emily Haines's anthemic heart-on-sleeve vocals and spacious synths, James Shaw's crunchy arena rock guitars, bassist Joshua Winstead's driving, growling basslines, and Joules Scott-Key's robotic drumming.

A few of the songs last a minute or two too long and I might have dropped a couple tracks to scale back the run time a bit more as well, in particular the closer "No Lights On The Horizon", which is the most uninspired of the bunch. The title track hearkens back nicely to "Empty", the opener of the band's second (or third, depending on how you're counting) album Live It Out (2005). Some of the choruses get a bit repetitive in the lyrical department and those hoping for another Old World Underground... (2003) or Fantasies (2009) won't find it here—instead you get the slick…

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982) ***1/2

Producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill and writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace decided to take a different approach with Halloween III: Season Of The Witch(1982)—instead of delivering another vehicle for that unstoppable boogeyman Michael Myers, they opted to make a Twilight Zone/Richard Mathesonesque comment on consumerism and the mindless nature of the American public. While the film bombed at the box office and Myers was reinstated 6 years later in the fourth film, HIII has gone on to become a cult classic with definite replay value. 
Wallace does a great job channeling the same dark but darkly funny tone, look and feel of Carpenter's late 70s/early 80s output—thanks in large part to the latter's frequent cinematographer Dean Cundey lensing this film as well. Tom Atkins is very Atkinsy here and somehow a sex magnet to every woman but his ex wife. Carpenter and Alan Howarth deliver some of their best collaborative, droning synth work. While the action is slowly paced and the…

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) ***

As live action Star Warsstandalone ("Story") films go, Solo (2018) is not as good as Rogue One(2016) but it's definitely more fun, more traditional, and it sits well within this universe.

The so-so: despite "gun-for-hire" director Ron Howard purportedly reshooting 80% of the film, it doesn't feel hacked together, per say, but it still feels rushed at times. The action scenes unfold in very familiar ways. While some of the CG looks excellent, other scenes felt too cartoony for me. I also thought the deaths of a couple of characters lacked proper emotional weight. Additionally, there isn't a strong villainous presence in Solo—maybe that was intentional to focus on our main character, but it still feels off for a SW film. My final and possibly biggest nitpick: the introduction of the Millennium Falcon felt incredibly average.

The good: Alden Ehrenreich was inspired casting, perfectly embodying the charm and cocksureness of Han Solo (and Harrison Ford'…

The Tree Of Life – Extended Version (2011) ****

Terrence Malick's non-traditional narrative style has perhaps never been put to better use than in The Tree Of Life(2011), which is truly a visual poem, a cinematic dance. A poem with so much to behold—Jessica Chastain's impossibly angelic beauty and motherly grace, Brad Pitt's tumultuous jealousy and fatherly anger, the three boys' individual quirks, the naturalistic performances, the sumptuous combination of existing classical pieces with Alexandre Desplat's subtle score, just to name a few things.

The "creation of the universe" sequence is striking to behold, evoking 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968) (even utilizing special effects wizard Douglass Trumbull), but I've never been a fan of the CGI dinosaurs (they already look dated IMO)—they take me out of the moment. Fortunately, once that scene is over it's easy to soon be engulfed by the movie once again. I also can't help thinking that those "macrocosm" scenes, as gorgeous as they are …

Mistress America (2015) ***1/2

Mistress America (2015) is an hour and 24 mins long and moves at a blistering pace. At first I couldn't stand Greta Gerwig's character and by the end I wouldn't say I fell in love with her but she grew on me. She's one of those New York people that "does" a whole lot but doesn't really "do" anything and just seems to have money to do it all (like so many characters in Noah Baumbach films). Lola Kirke is excellent as a fledging writer and college student. The dialogue is sharp and quite funny at times. There are some scenes that feel very staged but they're still very enjoyable. It very much feels like a Noah Baumbach film.

Purple Rain (1984) ***1/2

Full disclosure: I didn't grow up with Purple Rain(1984). I only saw it for the first time 2 years ago for a special theatrical screening after Prince died. I also can't claim to be a huge fan of The Artist—not because I don't like his music a lot, just because I don't know much outside the hits and a few scattered songs (and his discography is extensive). 
As a film, the semi autobiographical Purple Rain has a lot of flaws—it's clunky, it's cheesy, and the acting isn't the best. The theme of domestic abuse crops up a lot—The Kid's home life is pretty dour and it's on one hand sad and on one hand perversely touching to see his mother and Apollonia stick by these abusive men. Because let's face it, The Kid is a major jerk in this film—taking out his aggressions on his girl and his band. I'm not really sure that he does anything to redeem himself either, outside of finally letting the girls in his band play their song. 
Additionally, there…

Mandy (2018) ****

Mandy(2018) is a hallucinogenic fever dream that blends Lynch with Heavy Metal, a revenge fantasy of two halves—one tender and tragic, the other savage and stupefying.

Even though it's slightly more narrative than Panos Cosmatos's debut film, Beyond The Black Rainbow (2010), I liked it a bit less. I can't quite explain why. For a film as weird as this, it somehow still felt a little too familiar. That could be because of the elements involved, things that seasoned b-movie veterans have seen before—beheadings, self-aggrandizing cult leaders, dueling chainsaws, gimps on motor vehicles.

That said, Mandy knows its audience and it delivers (albeit after a slow first half, which I may have liked even more than the latter). Andrea Riseborough’s (the title character) alien-like beauty is oddly entrancing, Nicholas Cage’s (perfectly cast here) vengeance is fierce, and Linus Roache’s villain is both sadistic and pathetic. The brilliant Jóhann Jóhannsson (who sadly took his life earl…

Black Sheep (2006) ***

Black Sheep (2006) is a fun little flick with farcically drawn characters, clearly influenced by and indebted to Peter Jackson's Bad Taste(1987) and Dead Alive(1992), Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films, and John Landis's An American Werewolf In London (1981). Sheep tries a bit too hard to nail its tone and doesn't fully succeed but it's got some great gore gags and goes down like a Sunday afternoon sandwich, familiar enough to tide you over until something more satisfying comes along.

Jim Thompson "The Nothing Man" (1954) ****

Clinton Brown, the protagonist of Jim Thompson's novel The Nothing Man (1953), is a neurotic, internally-struggling, violent male narrator to rival his character Lou Ford (of The Killer Inside Me(1952) and Wild Town (1957)). As with Killer, it's hard to relate to our lead, as he commits one shocking act after another, but we the readers can't turn away, instead turning the next page to find out which direction Clinton will careen next.

Misery (1990) ****

Misery (1990) is one of those films that is right up my alley but that I only managed to watch for the first time now. I still haven't read the book but then again, I haven't read nearly enough Stephen King books. I know I'm definitely in the minority here—this film seems to be one that most people have seen, whether they are a horror fan or not—so I'm glad I finally remedied this glaring omission in my film watching history.

Largely a one-room, two-lead cat and mouse story about a writer who is "rescued" and imprisoned by his "number one fan", Misery actually surprised me with how funny it is and how "light" it feels until the last act, where it goes full gusto. It's really more of a thriller than a straight out horror film and I found myself thinking that it could have easily been rated PG-13 until the last fifteen minutes. Bates and Caan are both superb, the former in her ability to portray bipolar and other disorders incredibly wel…

Falling Down (1993) ***1/2

It's interesting how "hot button" films like this age—how you process and reevaluate them at certain points in your life and based on the zeitgeist and politics of the time. Falling Down (1993) is a film that I've seen numerous times and one that I've always liked a lot. I hadn't seen it for at least 13 years (I started logging my film viewing in 2005).

As a character study, it's top notch. Michael Douglas's performance is perfect. As a tense piece of entertainment, it's still really good. It also feels realistic for the most part and seems to want to comment on mental illness, domestic violence, racism, and inequality ("not economically viable") in a broad sort of way. But these days it feels just a bit hollow. How much are we supposed to sympathize with our protagonist, he who terrorizes innocent people due to his own breakdown? Just how bad should we feel for our white middle class hero who goes on a rampage in L.A.?

The film does a …

The Predator (2018) **1/2

I wasn't expecting a masterpiece from The Predator (2018) but I guess I was hoping it wouldn't be quite so Shane Blackized. By that I mean that all his trademarks are there—the macho humor, sarcastic male camaraderie, the smart/smart aleck child actor, the sassy female—and they just don't work for me in a Predator film (at least not his versions of them). On top of the Black trademarks, there's a whole lot of bad CGI (the Predadogs in particular are terrible), a slapped together script, sloppy editing, mediocre camerawork, action scenes where it's hard to discern what's happening, and characters that somehow magically adapt to everything that happens to them instantly.

My biggest gripe though is that the film is far too comedic (and way too meta). It really just plays out like all the recent superhero films. As in most of Black's films, there's a sense that everything is a joke and the stakes don't really matter that much as long as we have fun alo…

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) ***

The Slumber Party Massacre(1982) serves simultaneously as a parody of slasher/horror tropes and as an effective slasher in its own right. Director Amy Holden Jones (who, amusingly, would go on to write films as divergent as Mystic Pizza(1988), Beethoven(1992), and Indecent Proposal (1993)) intentionally ogles her cast of females, giving the audience laughable extended gazes of their naked flesh. There's also heavy-handed symbolism when it comes to our maniac and his phallic weapon of choice, an absurdly long and thick drill bit. The killer is seen in full very early on so his identity is never a mystery, which adds an unusual flavor to a genre that typically relies on revealing its crazies in the final act. The male leads that crash our title's gathering hoping to score turn out to be perfectly inept and taken out fairly easily. There are a few choice gore gags and a synthesized score that is very much a Halloween (1978) rip-off (really the whole film is, minus the comedy angl…

Mirah "Understanding" (2018) ***1/2

On Mirah's 6th solo studio (and 10th overall) LP, Understanding, she recorded the skeletons of the tracks whilst in art residencies away from home, later adding flourishes with producer El Crews (of Beulah fame) and Greg Saunier (of Deerhoof fame) back in her home base of NYC. As has always been the case, Mirah draws her lyrical inspiration from love, loss, hope and politics. The songs will feel familiar to those who've followed her musical journey—that of breathy vocals, impassioned cries for peace and harmony, raw and simple guitars, minimal synths and (mostly) gentle percussion.
"Hot Hot" (she so often seems to write songs about heat), the album's best cut, melds an indiefied R&B slow jam with chill out dance elements that perfectly suits Mirah's delivery. "Blinded By The Pretty Light" is another highlight—it's Mirah's "I'm On Fire", fitting given the similarity to another title by The Boss and the fact that she once co…

Oscar (1991) ***1/2

I never saw Oscar(1991) in its original theatrical run nor on home video until today. It's a bit too long and not every joke lands, but overall it's very funny in a very Mel Brooksian way, has an excellent ensemble cast of character actors, wonderful costumes and production design, and solid direction by John Landis. A great light-hearted comedy for any occasion.

Searching (2018) ***1/2

Searching(2018) ingeniously uses technology to present an engaging, tense and realistic mystery/thriller. It feels very much like a movie that Steven Soderbergh would make in this genre—one where the performances, direction, sound design, etc. are up to par with the gimmick (the entire film is presented from the point of view of smartphones, computer screens, captured footage, etc.) and where the gimmick (mostly) never feels "gimmicky". There is a twist that I only had an inkling of and I worry about how well the film will hold up on repeat viewings—once you know the twist and the resolution, will the tension remain? Will the film feel dated in 10 or 20 years? Either way, I'm very intrigued by what director Aneesh Chaganty will deliver for his next film.

Never Too Young To Die (1986) ***

Never Too Young To Die(1986) is 80s tropes epitomized. It's a low-rent Bond film (starring, briefly, one-time Bond George Lazenby) with Mad Max castaways for villains, our macho (sort of?) hero John Stamos one year away from Full House (1987–1995), Vanity fresh off of The Last Dragon (1985) being her sexy badass self (though sadly only kicking ass in the beginning and then being relegated to window dressing), a really weird and hilarious sex scene, political incorrectness galore (including, of course, a hyper intelligent but clumsy Asian sidekick with gadgets that only work some of the time), Robert Englund (not quite well known enough after only two Nightmare On Elm Street films) in a wasted part, incredibly goofy humor, and most importantly (the icing on this outrageous movie cake) Gene Simmons hamming it up big time as  our head baddie, a hermaphroditic version of Dr. Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). The recent crop of 80s nostalgia imitators clearly re…

The Changeling (1980) ****

The Changeling (1980) is an incredibly creepy gothic ghost story with an expectedly excellent lead performance by George C. Scott, an appropriately haunting and moody score by Rick Wilkins, strong cinematography by John Coquillon, and classy direction by Peter Medak. For fans of The Innocents (1961), The Haunting (1963), The Omen (1976), and The Amityville Horror (1979).

The Bonfire Of The Vanities (1990) ***

I've never read Tom Wolfe's 1987 book The Bonfire Of The Vanities, but Brian De Palma's 1990 film is well-known as a commercial and critical bomb, as well as failing to capture the essence of the novel. I only saw the film for the first time 3 years ago and with both viewings, I can agree that something feels missing, but I also don't think the film is "bad". In fact, sadly, it's still a relevant portrayal of America's (and WASPs', in particular) views and behaviors when it comes to politics, class, greed, and racism. It's a bit like the subdued 90s version of The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013).

You can find my BrianDe Palma Feature Films Ranked list here.

Interpol "Marauder" (2018) ***1/2

On Interpol's sixth album they continue to mine their NYC post-punk sound in a mostly business-as-usual fashion but that's never been a bad thing when they are concerned (except for maybe their lackluster self-titled LP). Marauder (2018) does offer a few diversions from their usual sound, most notably in the drumming of the last two full songs, "Party's Over" and "It Probably Matters", and "The Rover" is a banger of a single (as the kids these days say).

White Denim "Performance" (2018) ***1/2

White Denim's newest LP Performance (2018), at a lean 33 minutes, is their shortest to date, but looking back none of their albums run longer than 39 minutes. On Performance they continue to follow a similar trajectory that The Black Keys have, that of an early bluesy raw sound now filtered through a more accessible "pop" lens. But while The Black Keys went stale for me on their last LP Turn Blue (2014), White Denim is still cranking out winners. White Denim have always had a bit "jammier" sound than the Keys though and Performancefinds them channeling The Clash at the beginning of "It Might Get Dark", The Kinks on "Good News", and as always throughout their discography Thin Lizzy. There's also some nice synth stylings on songs like "Moves On" and "Sky Beaming". Performance is a great driving record—the kind you can listen to in its entirety on a shortish commute or round-trip during errands.

Dead Alive (aka Braindead) (1992) ****

Dead Alive(1992), Peter Jackson's heavily Raimi-inspired gore-fest remains a ridiculous, hilarious, offensive, disgusting, infantile good time and holds up as a hugely crowd-pleasing cult classic. The inventiveness of the gore gags that seem to come in endless supply has yet to be topped.