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Showing posts from July, 2018

The Case Of The Scorpion's Tail (1971) ***1/2

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The Case Of The Scorpion's Tail, released in 1971 (along with 1972, the most populous year for gialli), is my least favorite of Sergio Martino's five giallo films released between 1971–1973 (in fact, on a rewatch it fell a few places on the list below), but all the trademarks of the genre are present (along with two actors who frequented the genre, George Hilton and Anita Strindberg). Despite this and Scorpion's jet set locations, the film plods a bit here and there and doesn't have the same pizzaz that Martino's other gialli do—be it the psychedelic thrills of All The Colors Of The Dark (1972), the gothic chills of Your Vice Is A Locked Room...(1972) or the extreme tension of Torso (1973). Nevertheless, it's a very good giallo that ticks the boxes—black gloves, beautiful female victims, red herrings, convoluted plot mechanics, etc. Plus Bruno Nicolai's score is one of the most memorable of any giallo (that theme song will get stuck in your head for days).

Mermaids (1990) ***1/2

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Somehow Mermaids (1990) escaped me when I was younger and I never got around to seeing it until now. I'm glad I did — it's charming, funny, and a very good coming of age tale.

The four leads are all excellent — Cheris perfect as the oddball single mother who doesn't want to grow up and doesn't know how to be a traditional parent, picking up and moving any time she can't face her problems. Bob Hoskins is adorably gruff as he dotes over Cher's Mrs. Flax and her two daughters. Winona Rydershines as the teenage daughter who wants to rebel against her rebellious mother by attempting to be pious but ending up making the same mistakes as her. And Christina Ricci(in her feature debut) as the younger daughter, though not given as much screen time, is quirkily cute and showed promise right from the get go.

Having grown up in Massachusetts, I loved the locations and the autumnal colors. Having grown up the child of a cool single mother, I could relate to certain aspects …

Beyond The Darkness (Buio Omega) (1979) **

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Beyond The Darkness (Buio Omega) (1979) is like the one year elder sibling of Maniac (1980) — it's got the blood and guts, the creepy lead, the fresh supply of female victims, but with poor direction (by that endless supplier of smut, Joe D'Amato), poor performances (and not a single redeemable character), no backstory, scenes that plod on and on, and laughably uncomfortable situations. It does have an excellent Goblinscore that is far better than the film deserves though.

The Age Of Innocence (1993) ****

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Sandwiched between Cape Fear(1991) and Casino (1995), The Age Of Innocence(1993) proves that Scorsesecan make a romantic period drama just as well as he can a sizzling suspense thriller or a violent gangster epic. Featuring compelling performances, gorgeous cinematography, exceptional costume design, and a sumptuous score by the prolific Elmer Bernstein, Innocence is an engaging story of love and sacrifice set in nineteenth century New York high society that even someone who doesn't generally like period dramas, such as myself, can appreciate.

You can find my Martin Scorsese Feature Films Ranked list here.

Jonathan Bree "Sleepwalking" (2018) ****1/2

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I'm not familiar with Jonathan Bree's previous work (including two solo albums and four albums with the band The Brunettes), but based on the strength of his new LP, Sleepwalking (2018), I am very interested. On his latest, Bree blends 60s pop a-la Serge Gainsbourg (listen for a sample of his on the last track) with modern recording techniques to near perfection. Piano, synths, glockenspiel, strings, and bass drive the songs; guitar is almost completely absent. Bree's distinctive baritone lays nicely over the textures, crooning longingly—somewhere between the depths of despair and the heights of ecstasy.

For fans of darkly tinged pop in the vein of Serge/Charlotte Gainsbourg, Air, Beck, Massive Attack.

Sex, Lies, And Videotape (1989) ****

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Sex, Lies, And Videotape (1989) remains one of the most impressive, effective, and influential debuts by one of the most prolific directors alive (29 films in 29 years). The minimalist ambience of the Enoesque score by Cliff Martinez(his feature debut as a composer) perfectly suits the moods of the movie and the expressive, naturalistic performances by the four lead actors. This film has had an effect on my life.

You can find my Steven Soderbergh Feature Films Ranked list here.

Piranha (1978) ***

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There are more entertaining Jaws (1975) rip-offs, there are funnier Jaws rip-offs, and there are gorier Jaws rip-offs (The Last Shark(1981) falls into all those categories), but Piranha(1978) is the most well-made Jaws rip-off (and there aren't even any sharks). A campy knockoff (there's literally a camp in the film) that Steven Spielbergliked enough to hire Joe Danteto direct multiple films that he produced (Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Gremlins (1984), Innerspace(1987), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) among them) and that spawned (sorry, not sorry) a sequel (Piranha II: The Spawning (1981), directed (and disowned) by James Cameron), two remakes (Piranha(1995), which I'd never even heard of until now, and Piranha 3D (2010), which is a lot of fun) and a sequel to said remake (Piranha 3DD (2012), which I've yet to see).

You can find my Joe Dante Feature Films Ranked list here.

Dead Man (1995) ****1/2

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I hadn't seen Dead Man (1995) in at least 15 years, but it remains my favorite Jim Jarmusch film. To me it's the perfect blend of his style — road movie, existential trip, lyrical dialogue, sumptuous black and white visuals, dry and darkly tinged wit, and ensemble cast— all wrapped up in the western genre.

There is so much to appreciate about this film. Just to name a few things:

1. Robby Müller's gorgeous cinematography. This man shot some incredible films with some of the best directors: Repo Man(1984), Paris, Texas (1984), To Live And Die In L.A. (1985), Breaking The Waves (1996), along with Jarmusch's Down By Law (1986), Mystery Train (1989), and Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai(1999). Dead Man may just be the most impressive thing he ever filmed though. Sadly, he passed away very recently.

2. Thatcast. Johnny Depp(when he was still vital) in a sparsely spoken role, emoting largely through his eyes and face only; Crispin Glover,being briefly weird and Crispin Glo…

Female Trouble (1974) ****

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Somehow, amazingly, I had never seen Female Trouble (1974) until now, which is almost as much of a cinematic atrocity as many would consider the bulk of John Waters's output. I could have sworn I had seen it before, but nope, it managed to escape me all these years, which is (forgive the pun) troubling as I've been a fan of Waters for over 20 years (ever since New Line re-released Pink Flamingos(1972)for its 25th anniversary, which I still have my VHS tape of, along with Desperate Living(1977) and Polyester(1981)).

Now that that's out of the way—I loved this film! It has immediately become my second favorite Waters movie. With Trouble,Waters wisely chose not to top himself with the gross-out factor of Flamingos. It's a slightly better made film, featuring his usual cast of Dreamlanders. Trouble also features Divine's second most famous character in Dawn Davenport, a delinquent schoolgirl who runs away from home, gets pregnant, and falls into the favor of Donald an…

The Virgin Suicides (1999) ****

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The Virgin Suicides (1999) does a very good job of portraying the awkwardness of suburban teenage years and the reactions of neighbors and schoolmates to tragedy in this environment. A loose and lyrical film with a dreamy, melancholy score by Airthat surpasses the movie itself in quality.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018) ****1/2

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I can't remember the last time that I teared up so much during a film. Like a lot of children, I grew up with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968–2001). It's not until you watch a documentary like Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018) that you realize (or are reminded) how much of an impact that that show and Fred Rogershad on society.

I don't necessarily agree with the opinion he had on every topic and I am not a religious person but I do believe in The Golden Rule and I think this was central to Rogers' teachings. He believed in giving children confidence to be themselves, exactly as they are. But also to face their fears and not be afraid to talk about them. He addressed topical subjects in ways that still ring true today. Despite what some jaded people might try to project on Fred Rogers, I'm firmly in the camp of those who believed that he was the real deal—a truly good person who cared about the well being of all people. He wanted to make the world a better…

Them (2006) **1/2

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From a poster that seems to promise some sort of John Carpenteresque awesomeness to lack of plot development to annoyingly shaky camerawork, Them (2006), while not a "bad" film per say, is nothing special—a mildly tense stalk and kill that is thankfully short (1 hr, 17 mins), despite feeling more like 2 hours.

The Awful Truth (1937) ****

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The Awful Truth (1937) is a delightful and hilarious "comedy of remarriage" in the tradition of The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, and My Favorite Wife(all 1940 and all also starring Cary Grant). The Awful Truth marked the first standout performance by Grant where, thanks in large part to director Leo McCarey, he was given a role he could shine in and truly become the Cary Grant we know and love. Irene Dunneis his perfect foil — funny, sexy and smart. The truth about this not at all awful film is that it's a screwball classic, full of consummate comic timing, inspired improvisation and standout slapstick.

Focus On Film Podcast Episodes

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Hi all! I just wanted to remind everyone that although the Focus On Film Podcast has been laid to rest, you can still listen to and download all the episodes through at least the end of the year. So if you have a hankerin' to listen to me and Ryan babble about movies for hours on end, use the "Focus On Film" label here on my blog and enjoy all 65 episodes! Thanks again for your support over 5 years.

Jim Thompson "Wild Town" (1957) ****

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In Jim Thompson's Wild Town (1957) deputy sheriff Lou Ford, the protagonist of Thompson's 1952 novel The Killer Inside Me (still my favorite of his works), returns, though this time around his character is "a mirror image of the one in Killer Inside Me. In Wild Town Lou Ford is also a sheriff, he also plays the fool, and he is also smarter and more capable than anyone else in the small town although he keeps it well hidden. He also prefers, and is usually able, to manipulate events rather than directly intervene. However, whereas in Killer Lou Ford manipulates events to further his own greed and lust, in Wild Town he manipulates events to bring about justice, to help people, and even to play matchmaker."[1]

If you love your crime pulpy, look no further. This one has many of the trademarks—a hotel, a dopey strongarm, femme fatales, an invalid old man, homicide, stolen money, twisting plot dynamics and steamy affairs.


1. ^Wikipedia

The Virgin Spring (1960) ****1/2

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Of the eleven Bergman films that I've seen thus far, The Virgin Spring (1960) is the most disturbing but also the most powerful. You truly feel the horror when Birgitta Pettersson's Karin loses her innocence, without the director resorting to gratuity. You feel the rage and remorse when Max von Sydow's Töre enacts his revenge upon his daughter's rapist/killers, without the need for gore. And you feel the hope that springs eternal, when the world seems to offer nothing but darkness and despair. A haunting but beautiful ponderance on religion, guilt and justice.

La La Land (2016) ****

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On Take 2 of La La Land (2016), I find my thoughts from my first viewing remaining largely the same. I went in wondering if I'd like it as much as I (somewhat surprisingly) did the first time. I still think it's a bit overhyped but once again I got swept up in the emotions, the colors, and the choreography. I also still think that the singing musical numbers are the weakest part of the film, but most everything else is gold. Great chemistry between the leads and the ending is perfect.

La La Landlife lesson: don't give up on your dreams.