Showing posts from 2018

Hot Fuzz (2007) ****1/2

I'm not exactly sure but I think I watched about 80% of Hot Fuzz(2007) with my friends/neighbors on New Year's Eve. It's still one of my Top 100 Films ever, but it's amazing how even 10-11 years can make a huge difference when it comes to CGI. Not that there's a lot of CGI in HF but some of the gore gags and other f/x stood out to me as looking pretty fake this go around. The film itself still rules—the editing and the cast are brilliant—and the jokes still land incredibly well. I just felt it deserved a 1/2 * lower rating from the perfect score I've always given it. I have other little nitpicks, but Fuzz is still off the fuckin' chain, as far as I'm concerned.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018) ***

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018) is an interesting and engaging concept (choose your own movie by making onscreen decisions every few minutes) but the resulting feeling I was left with at the end was more akin to watching an episode of the show. We follow a video game programmer in 1984 (wonder why they chose that year…) whose reality is being controlled by someone else (paralleling the titular book—and its author's tormented life—on which he based his concept). The whole experience lasts approximately 90 minutes (from over 5 hours of footage)—I had reached the point where I could skip to the end credits about 50 minutes in and then I went back to choose different paths, which lasted about another 40 minutes. The direction by David Slade and the hypnotic score by Brian Reitzell are the highlights. The performances are solid. Ultimately, while fun (although bleak, it is Black Mirror, after all), I found Bandersnatch to be a neat experiment but nothing mind-blowing. I'm curious…

Sabata (1969) **** [Italian Western Quadruple Feature Pt. 4]

Gianfranco Parolini's Sabata (1969), the first in a trilogy by the director, is a playful, ridiculous, self-parodizing Italian Western like no other. Like the best parodies that simultaneously work as strong examples of the genre, this one comes from a place of love—the cinematography, performances and score are all top-notch. Lee Van Cleef's invincible titular character grins mischievously throughout.

The Mercenary (1968) *** [Italian Western Quadruple Feature Pt. 3]

Sergio Corbucci's The Mercenary(1968) is a fun, comedic "ZapataItalian Western that amusingly (as they are both Italian actors) pairs Franco Nero, as a self-serving Polish opportunist, with Tony Musante as a Mexican revolutionary. The two work together to different ends, with a common enemy in a sneering Jack Palance (because that's what Palance does in westerners). Morricone provides a memorable score, complete with whistling galore.

Man, Pride And Vengeance (1967) ***1/2 [Italian Western Quadruple Feature Pt. 2]

Man, Pride And Vengeance(1967), based on Prosper Mérimée's Carmen(1845) is an atypical Italian Western that plays out more like a film noir, complete with femme fatale, impressive camerawork, and a whopper of an ending. The sadomasochistic, love/hate relationship between ruggedly handsome Franco Nero and devastatingly gorgeous (those eyes!) Tina Aumont is at the heart of this melodramatic tale of a soldier who falls into a life of crime when he falls for a deceiving, manipulative gypsy.

Navajo Joe (1966) *** [Italian Western Quadruple Feature Pt. 1]

Released the same year as his classic Django (1966) (as well as two other films, one of which is another Italian Western that I have yet to see), Sergio Corbucci's Navajo Joeis not nearly as good, but it's an entertaining, well-shot film with a stellar Morricone score (those main titles!) and a great standoff during the finale. There's no deep characterization, but, provided you're not offended by Burt Reynold's bronzed, unconvincing portrayal of a Native American, or the fact that he's basically referred to as "that damned Indian" every five minutes or so, the film delivers what you'd expect in an Italian Western—brutality, machismo, gunfights and revenge.

The Devil's Honey (1986) ***

The Devil's Honey(1986) found Lucio Fulci back in the director's chair after a year off to recover from a liver illness. Here he explored a genre he'd never explicitly worked in before (if you don't count his more erotic gialli from the late 60s/early 70s), the erotic thriller. Though "erotic thriller" isn't really accurate, considering how messed up all the sex scenes in the film are. And there are plenty of them, some jaw-droppingly audacious, along with copious nudity. Lead actress Blanca Marsillach is nude so often and almost always in sex scenes that are more degrading and disturbing than titillating that attempts at eroticism are mostly thrown out the door.

But while the film is unabashedly sleazy, there is actually an interesting psychosexual and downbeat vibe running throughout Honey, a tale of sadomasochism, lust, love, emotional abuse and mental instability. In another director's hands, with some dialogue work and a bigger budget, this could…

Code Name: Dynastud (2018) ***

It's hard to criticize a film like Code Name: Dynastud (2018). Not that I put much stock in film criticism or feel a strong need to "criticize" films, per say. What I really mean is that it's difficult to find shortcomings when the low budget nature and over the top performances are sort of the point. Think Astron-6, Troma, a tamer Ryan Nicholson, or the work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone and you'll have an idea of the flavor that Scorpion Film Releasing goes for with their output.

To pull from the film's IMDb description: "In the year 2024, homosexuality has been outlawed by an extreme right-wing government. Only one extraordinary man can stop this wave of terror and repression, a superhero for our troubled times." The very liberal, satiric humor is heavy-handed but still pretty funny most of the time. A lot of it is very juvenile, but creative in the construction. The production values are also slightly better than you might expect from something…

Terror Train (1980) **

Terror Train (1980) is a predictable, plodding, only mildly funny slog of a horror movie. The pacing reminds me a lot of Tobe Hooper, who, rest his soul, only truly made a few great films. There aren't even very many good gore gags/shock scenes either. Not even David Copperfield's creepy magician can save this from being a snorefest. Typical, tropey stuff; not terrible, but not terrifying either.

Batman Returns (1992) ****1/2

Ah, Batman Returns (1992), my favorite Batman film, my favorite super hero film, one of my top 3 Tim Burton films, one of my Top 100 Films, and, if you want to make the argument—as people love to with Die Hard (1988)—one of the best Christmas movies (that no one really talks about as a Christmas movie; it permeates throughout the film in more than just references to mistletoe).

Burton made a smash hit with Batman in 1989. Rather than coast on that success with a similar sequel he insisted on being able to make a "Tim Burton movie". And he went gonzo. He made an operatic, over the top, comic book come to life. Let's get this out the way now—when it comes to this film, I'm not concerned with accuracy or canon or realism. It's a damn good, entertaining, thoughtful film and my kind of comic book movie.

Is Batman Returns a dark, psychosexual tragedy of Shakespearean proportions? You bet your ass and all the better for it. Is there too little of Batman himself in the …

Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out) (1980) ***1/2

Christmas Evil(aka You Better Watch Out) (1980) is one of my favorite Christmas movies, riding the line between trash and genuinely well-made cinema. It's a bit too long, it falters here and there, and the budget shows at times, but it also features a one-a-kind, all-in central performance by Brandon Maggart as a mentally disturbed Santa-obsessed man, a unique score with a great sense of unease, and vibe that balances creepiness, humor and shock factor very well. Plus that bonkers ending!

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) ***1/2

The Magnificent Ambersons(1942) is perhaps the most well-known example of a film being taken away from its director by a studio and it's impossible to discuss the film without mentioning it. RKO Pictures and editor Robert Wise famously re-cut Ambersons by removing 43 minutes and adding a happy ending while Orson Welles was in Brazil, making another film (which he never completed), refusing to return to the States or communicate properly with the production company, who supposedly repeatedly requested that he finish the film.

The cut footage ended up being destroyed and the final film remains at a mere 88 minutes (from the original 148 minute version). A 131-minute preview version was shown a short time after Pearl Harbor was bombed but that preview audience insisted that they didn't wish to see a depressing movie so, with Welles out of the country, the production team made the cuts without his input. It's understandable that that audience might not connect with this story …

Hi, Mom! (1970) ***

Hi, Mom! (1970), the sequel to Brian De Palma's 1968 film Greetings, is the best of his early films with Robert De Niro (who reprises his role from that earlier film). It's one part darkly humorous sex farce, one part disturbing and radical recreation of the black experience in America, described by writer Charles Hirsch as "Taxi Driver (1976) lite". The tonal shifts are jarring, but I think that's the point. The filmmaking runs the gamut of styles, from De Niro's Jon Rubin character's "peep art" to the rough 'n tumble B&W documentary style of the film-within-a-film Be Black, Baby to more traditional narrative storytelling. It makes for a bit of a schizophrenic filmgoing experience but one that is never boring.

You can find my Brian De Palma Feature Films Ranked list here.

Mary Poppins (1964) ****1/2

An all-time classic, Mary Poppins (1964) is a film that I watched repeatedly in my childhood and it's one that proudly stands the test of time. Julie Andrews is a delight—kind, witty, very sweet, (more than) fairly pretty, doesn't scold. Dick Van Dyke is walking, talking, singing jubilance—a goofy, charismatic friend to every being. Just about every song on the soundtrack by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman is pure gold. Despite a few minor shortcomings, Poppins is practically perfect in every way, a jolly holiday of a movie—the kind that effortlessly reinstills in you a marvelous glow and reminds you to embrace your inner child, the same way that Mary does. It's more than just super, it's supercali—well you know the rest.

Mary Poppins Returns (2018) ****1/2

I loved lovedLOVEDMary Poppins Returns(2018). It's the ideal modern sequel for a number of reasons—it's not snarky, it's not meta, it doesn't simply ape its predecessor, and it feels like a natural extension of the world created in the original film. This is all especially commendable, considering that MPR sets a new record as the longest gap between a live-action film and its sequel in history (54 years).

Complete with Julie Andrews' blessing, Emily Blunt instantly embodies the character the moment she steps, er, floats on screen. The look is right, the mannerisms are right, her singing is great. Simply put: Blunt nails it. Lin-Manuel Miranda didn't quite wow me in the same way but he had an equally  tough job to pull off, that of playing a new character named Jack which is essentially a modern version of Dick Van Dyke's Bert. Nevertheless, he gives a performance filled with heart and pizzaz. Speaking of Van Dyke, his cameo was a joy (the audience I was w…

To All A Goodnight (1980) **

To All A Goodnight(1980), directed by The Last House On The Left (1972) star David Hess, is a half baked slasher with more than a little in common with Black Christmas(1974) except for the level of quality. The Christmas setting is incredibly cursory, the acting and editing are poor, all the men are handsy (even the nerd and the police officers), there are numerous terrible day for night scenes, and the red herring and reveal of the killer are obvious (though, without spoilers, part of that reveal comes out of left field). Fun to laugh at with an audience and there are a couple of great punny gore gags though.

The Wedding Party (1969) **1/2

Shot in 1963, copyrighted in 1966 and not released until 1969, Brian De Palma's The Wedding Partypresents a snapshot of the director still finding his voice, still obsessed with the French New Wave (before he turned to Hitchcock). I didn't know it until tonight, but De Palma actually shares the directorial credit with two other people for this film (one of whom never did another film and the other who did very little else), which makes sense because this really doesn't feel like it has his signature. I hate to use the word, but TWP has a "quirky" feel to it, the B&W cinematography is nice and there's some interesting use of overlapping sound, but there's not a lot of substance and Robert De Niro's role is quite minor, which is what I would consider this work as well. Worth a watch, to get a glimpse of early De Palma, but, much like Greetings (1968), I can't see myself returning to this particular film repeatedly.

You can find my Brian De Palm…

Greetings (1968) **1/2

Brian De Palma's Greetings (1968), his second released film, is a competently made farce which holds the distinction of being the first film released in the United States with an X rating. I'm not quite sure why because it seems like it would have been tame even back then. More a series of vignettes than a narrative film, which involves three young men (one played by Robert De Niro in his first credited role), all of whom are avoiding the draft. Many topics are covered and satirized including US involvement in Vietnam, computer dating, peeping, sex, the French New Wave and the JFK assassination. Some objectionable racial and homophobic slurs, as well as treatment of women may turn some viewers off. It's kind of cool to see De Palma's technique blossoming but I don't feel like this is a film I would revisit often.

You can find my Brian De Palma Feature Films Ranked list here.

Maniac (1980) ****

Maniac (1980) is an exploitation classic, a film that caused much controversy on its initial release, and I love it to pieces. While the (great) gore f/x by master Tom Savini seem tame by today's standards, they're still brutal and indelible. For me though, Maniac is most memorable for the gusto performance that Joe Spinell gives as Frank Zito, the second greatest screen psychopath with mommy issues, after Norman Bates.

Sure, Maniac is clunky at times. And it's pretty unbelievable that a beautiful fashion photographer like the one played by Caroline Munro or any of her models would give sweaty, greasy Frank the time of day. But I've always found Spinell's performance, with its creepy voiceover and labored breathing (a la Black Christmas(1974)), genuinely effective—elevating the film beyond mere trash.

The guerrilla filmmaking by director William Lustig provides a time capsule of early 80s New York City. The excellent production design of Frank's apartment, with…

Texas, Adios (1966) ***

Texas, Adios(aka Texas, Addio) (1966) is a solid shoot-‘em-up with a memorable theme song written by the film's composer Antón García Abril and sung by Don Powell. Released just months after the more successful (and better) Franco Nero-starrer Django (1966), TA doesn't have the same finesse as many other Italian Westerns (even as Ferdinando Baldi attempts to ape the Leone extreme close-up). Additionally, Alberto Dell'Acqua's (here playing the younger brother of Nero's character) reactions as a character are very inconsistent. There are some violent moments, but nothing shocking; TA has more in common with a traditionally-styled western like Peckinpah's Ride The High Country (1962). No big surprises from this one; just a decent way to spend 90 minutes.

Django (1966) ****

Django (1966) is widely and correctly regarded as one of the best and most influential Italian Westerns. There are a number of reasons for this—one is Franco Nero's handsome and manly titular antihero, who, despite a seemingly misanthropic and even sadist attitude toward humankind, has a certain code of ethics. Another is Sergio Corbucci's story and direction—iconic scenes of Django dragging a coffin across various landscapes, feuding Mexican revolutionaries vs. a former Confederate Major and his private KKK army, a town with the thickest mud you've ever seen, a thrilling bar fight, excessive hand torture, and a certain reveal of a certain beneficial weapon are incredibly memorable. And, of course, there is the music—Djangofeatures a rousing, grand, at times screeching score by Luis Bacalov and an unforgettable earworm of a theme song that never gets old, crooned to perfection by Rocky Roberts.

Female Trouble (1974) ****

I only saw Female Trouble (1974) for the first time earlier this year when The Criterion Collection released their delicious Blu-ray of the film. My review from my first viewing is here. It was a blast to see the film with an audience this time, especially the type that at least some of them can appreciate (though judging by the silence during scenes I find really funny, I couldn't tell if some people were truly offended or not). I hadn’t had a good belly laugh like I did tonight for far too long. Rewatching FT put me in the mood, so as I type this I'm listening to A Date With John Waters (2007), an excellent compilation that I highly recommend.

For fans of Waters's subversive humor, guerrilla filmmaking and unique brand, Female Trouble is required viewing (and re-viewing) and don't you forget it!

You can find my John Waters Feature Films Ranked list here.

Eureka (1983) ***1/2

Eureka(1983) is a disjointed movie, a tonally schizophrenic mess, but not one without moments of pure cinematic brilliance. Much like his films that came before it, Nicolas Roeg's fragmented, experimental style is on display, perhaps a bit less so, but there is no question that this is one of his films.

There are scenes of violent savagery, of sexual abandonment, of dreamlike wonder. Some of the dialogue feels a bit forced and none of the characters are particularly likable, but they are always engaging and the film is never boring (not to mention that the cast is a very peculiar combination of stars). The score by Stanley Myers is sweeping and grandiose.

Much like the way that Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) references the Orson Welles-starring The Third Man(1949)on numerous occasions, Eureka has obvious parallels to Welles's Citizen Kane(1941) and Gone With The Wind (1939) (which it name drops more than once), as well as parallels to the themes and style of TMWFT…

M.R. Mackenzie "In The Silence" (2018) ****

Full disclosure: M.R. Mackenzie is a friend of mine. I've guest hosted numerous times on the podcast which he co-hosts, Movie Matters. I also helped proofread this book, so this was my second read-through. And I like to support my friends in their creative endeavors. Regardless of all that, I can honestly say that his debut novel In The Silence (2018) is excellent. It's right up your alley if you're fan of gialli such as What Have You Done To Solange?(1972) and/or murder/mysteries in the vein of a modernized Agatha Christie.

A whodunit with a criminology lecturer named Dr. Anna Scavolini as its protagonist, Silence is a riveting page-turner that rarely lets up steam. When Anna returns home to Glasgow for the holidays she witnesses a former classmate die before her eyes. When the police fail to give the case the attention she feels it deserves, she proceeds to investigate on her own. Anna's discoveries will shock and repulse her in equal measure, as well as put her saf…

Street Trash (1987) ****

Street Trash(1987) is a film I have a long history with, dating back to frequent viewings on VHS with my friends in high school. It holds the distinction of being in my Top 100 Films, if only because it's so blatant in its offensiveness, but also because it delivers—gooey, slimy, splattery, neon gore in buckets, that is.

There's a loose plot involving decades-old booze called Tenafly Viper, which causes those unfortunate enough to drink it to ooze, bubble and drip to their death (why this happens is never explained, but hey, we need an excuse to melt some people here!). On top of that, a sociopathic Vietnam vet named Bronson who rules the roost at a junkyard has some major PTSD and proves a threat to just about everyone. Everything else is just sort of stitched together but that's part of the charm.

Yes, the film's characters are unapologetically mean, racist, homophobic and misogynistic, but it also paints a picture of the homeless, cops, prostitutes, and liquor store…

Murder Rock (1984) ***

Murder Rock (1984) isn't one of Lucio Fulci's best films but it's a solid giallo with a memorable Italo disco score by the legendary Keith Emerson. Purportedly, the producer had seen Flashdance(1983) and Fame (1980) and "forced" Lucio to incorporate similar elements to cash in on the success of those films. To be certain, Fulci's camera loves to linger on the (frequently nude) female form of the many models making up the majority of the film, but the dance numbers, whilst maybe a bit cheesy, are fun and impressively shot. Plus, I challenge you to find another film with as many glistening spandex-clad buttocks and crotches and stylishly shot murder set pieces.

You can find my Lucio Fulci Feature Films Ranked list here.

You can find my Giallo Feature Films Ranked listhere.

True Stories (1986) ****

David Byrne's True Stories (1986) is a unique, weird and wonderful film about the everyday lives of a bunch of unique, weird and wonderful people in the fictional Texas town of Virgil. Much of the film has no explanation or obvious connection but the randomness is what makes these stories so special. Visually and musically driven, True Stories, which mixes both actors and non-actors,is funny without being forced, charming without being corny, and optimistic without being obnoxious.