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Showing posts from August, 2018

The Bonfire Of The Vanities (1990) ***

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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

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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) ***

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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) ****

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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.





The Lair Of The White Worm (1988) ***

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The Lair Of The White Worm (1988), much like another (cult classic) horror film of the same decade, Re-Animator (1985), is a campy, crazy film based on an early 20th century story by a legendary author (in the case of Re-Animator, H.P. Lovecraft; in the case of this film, Bram Stoker). While it's more goofy and spoofy than Crimes Of Passion(1983) and not as existential as Altered States (1980), it's still trippy, titillating and pure Ken Russell. A fun little flick.

Jim Thompson "Texas By The Tail" (1965) ***1/2

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On the surface, Texas By The Tail (1965) isn't as pulpy, hard-boiled or as deeply rooted in crime as the bulk of Jim Thompson's novels, but it nevertheless involves grifting, a femme fatale of sorts, extortion, and tough guys. Tailis an entertaining yarn with that Thompson touch and yet somehow more "lighthearted" than his usual fare.

BlacKkKlansman (2018) ***1/2

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With BlacKkKlansman (2018), Spike Lee deftly tackles difficult subject matter by battling it with humor and it mostly works. The film has its moments of gravitas and, obviously, those of a disturbing nature, but I do think that some of the characters are presented as a bit too oafish (though, sadly, probably not that unrealistically). BK actually plays more like a (funny) cop drama or a blaxploitation film than a true biography (and if I'm not mistaken a lot of the events portrayed are exaggerated or invented for the silver screen).

The lead actors, color palette, production design and soundtrack are all excellent (though the score by Lee's longtime collaborator Terence Blanchard falls short of feeling authentically 70s). Striking, drifting closeups of the faces of black college students, audience members during a speech, are particularly beautiful and a highlight. While the recent real-life footage that closes BK feels relevant to the topic, it also feels a bit tacked on, gi…

Summer Of 84 (2018) ***1/2

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The directing trio behind Turbo Kid(2015) return for a very effective serial killer thriller that on the surface appears to be cut from the same cloth as Stranger Thingsand It(2017) (and there are certainly similarities, namely the nostalgia), but in some way has more in common with The Guest(2014) and It Follows(2014). Throw in dashes of The 'Burbs(1989)and Stand By Me(1986) and you've got the tone down. The four teenage leads are all excellent and the synth score by Le Matos is another winner. Not every choice (or lack of) works, certain characters and plot points feel underdeveloped, however the film takes an unexpectedly dark turn that sets it apart.

Spetters (1980) ***

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Paul Verhoeven is not a subtle director and neither is Spetters (1980) a subtle film. At times a raunchy sex comedy, at times a shocking downbeat drama and at times a dirt bike showcase, the filmis troubling in the way that it portrays attitudes towards women and gays but also feels quite realistic at times. Interestingly, it has more male than female nudity — including several erect penises and male on male oral sex (not something you'd see in any of the director's American films where he seemed to revel more in over the top violence). There seems to be some kind of message that the director is trying to make about freedom, following one's dreams, success, faith, and love but it kind of gets lost in the excess. Verhoeven has always been a controversial director, inciting protests of his films and treatment of his characters and Spetters is no exception. While it's no masterpiece, it's affecting and well-made.

Wolfen (1981) ***1/2

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Wolfen (1981) is a slowburn psychological horror thriller from director Michael Wadleigh (Woodstock(1970)), his only narrative feature. An interesting and strong cast (lead Albert Finney in particular lends the film much of its gravitas), a moody and mysterious horn-heavy score by James Horner, occasional grisly violence, and innovative use of a Steadicam and a Louma crane to create the subjective "heat vision" perspective of the wolves (an effect popularized 6 years later in Predator (1987)) make Wolfen a memorable movie that holds up well on repeat viewings.

Spasms (1983) ***

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Spasms(1983) is psychological snake cinema starring that hammiest of hams, Oliver Reed (fresh off another killer snake film, Venom, only 2 years prior) and that chillest of cool cats, Peter Fonda. The plot is basically King Kong (1933) (giant unique monster gets shipped to the States) meets David Cronenberg (ESP and gory f/x via legend Dick Smith) with some satanic/cult stuff thrown in for good measure. The acting is over the top and the movie's not all that great, honestly, but an unbelievable shower kill scene and A-movie production values make this B-movie pretty damn entertaining.

Passage To Marseille (1944) ***

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Passage To Marseille (1944) is a solid little flick but considering it reteamed the director, four of the stars, and the composer of Casablanca(1942) it's not in the same playing field at all. While Marseille is technically brilliant (thanks in large part to James Wong Howe's striking cinematography) and Michael Curtiz does an excellent job of presenting multiple timelines and flashbacks, Bogie is an utterly unconvincing Frenchman (he doesn't really try at all) and the film lacks the romance, the riveting drama and the memorable dialogue of Casablanca. Passage also feels overlong, drags at times and is overly patriotic and self-aggrandizing. A good effort but not a classic.

You can find my Michael Curtiz Feature Films Ranked list here.

The Sea Wolf (1941) ****

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The Sea Wolf (1941) is an excellent psychological drama with rousing performances from its heavies as well as a strong supporting cast.Edward G. Robinson stars as the cruel captain Wolf Larsen, who shows no mercy to the crew of his ship ("Ghost"), nor the refugees he picks up played by the foxy and feisty Ida Lupino (as an escaped fugitive without much to live for) and Alexander Knox (as a steadfast writer who desperately wants off of the ship). John Garfield plays a crewman who inspires a mutiny and hatches a plan to escape with Lupino's character whom he's fallen for. This oceanic adventure is expertly directed by Michael Curtiz and impeccably shot by Curtiz's frequent cinematographer of the time Sol Polito.
You can find my Michael Curtiz Feature Films Ranked list here.

Dodge City (1939) ****

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Dodge City(1939) is good old-fashioned fun featuring derring-do from that classic derring-doer Errol Flynn, loveliness and spunk from the lovely and spunky Olivia de Havilland, villainous villainy from Bruce Cabot + gang, and humorous sidekickery from Alan Hale. Plus it has one of the most epic bar brawls put to film and from what I can recall doesn't even feature a single horse fall (I love westerns but I hate those). All this in Technicolor (not yet a common practice in those days), expertly directed by that hit-making machine Michael Curtiz, and released in 1939, considered one of the greatest years in film history.

You can find my Michael Curtiz Feature Films Ranked list here.


Top 20 Directors

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I updated my Top 20 Directors Letterboxd list to include links to my Feature Films Ranked list for each director. You can view the list (and access those additional lists) here.

DB Mix Series 3 – What's In A Name?

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It's been four months since the last DB Mixeswere posted and now it appears to be a tradition to post them on the 16th day of the month posted. Today also happens to be Bryan's birthday!

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 Bryan—each of us was to pick an artist for each letter of our full names and make a mix. The songs and artists that we chose for each other's names should also represent each other's musical tastes. To avoid confusion, remember that the large name on the nametag of each cover (along with the names of the files that you can download below) is the opposite cousin than the one who created the compilation.

To recap one of our rules—we never tell each othe…

Without Warning (1980) **1/2

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Without Warning(1980) has a very solid first two thirds but falls apart in the last third when it becomes a snooze fest. The ending almost saves it but not quite. It's a by-the-books horror/sci-fi film in a lot of ways (there's even a Halloween (1978) rip off (homage?) at the end, but Dean Cundey did shoot both films). But there is still a lot to appreciate (i.e. laugh at)—a Marty McFly prototype (another Dean Cundey connection), some gooey, goofy f/x, some pretty cool "electronic music realization" by Dan Wyman, a radical theatrical poster, and, most importantly, Jack Palance and Martin Landau out crazy-old-man-who-knows-something-the-other-cast-members-don't-but-should-they-trust-either-one-of-theming each other.

It's Alive III: Island Of The Alive (1987) **1/2 [Killer Babies Triple Feature Pt. 3]

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For the third and final film in the It's Alive trilogy, 1987's It's Alive III: Island Of The Alive, Larry Cohen takes the action to a tropical island to show his audience how these mutant babies turn out as adults. The creatures ended up on this island by decree of a judge presiding over a court case to decide their fate. Michael Moriarty and Karen Black play the parents of one of the mutant babies. When we're the on the island I got a very Predator vibe (interesting as that film was released just two months after this one), as we see people picked off, occasionally from (as in the other two films) the monsters' perspective (they see double). The action takes place in multiple locations (from Florida to the island to Cuba back to Florida) and while we're treated to even gorier f/x than the first two films and Moriarty's typically "out-there" style of acting, the script feels pretty scattershot and I'm not that big of a fan of the monsters as …

It Lives Again (aka It's Alive 2) (1978) *** [Killer Babies Triple Feature Pt. 2]

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In Larry Cohen's It Lives Again(aka It's Alive 2) (1978), the sequel to his 1974 film It's Alive, Frank Davis (again played by John P. Ryan), the father of the mutant baby from the first film, returns, assisted by doctors keen to his cause—to help a husband and wife soon to deliver another mutant baby. In the tradition of horror sequels, It Lives Again ups the number of monsters and the gore (again delivered by Rick Baker), while still retaining the familial drama at the heart of these stories. It's Alive 2(as it's also known) is still a slow moving horror film by today's standards and it's not quite as good as the first in some regards but benefits from the improved f/x from Baker, as well as Bernard Herrmann returning to score. Cohen does a good job of retaining the feel of the first film without repeating it.

It's Alive (1974) *** [Killer Babies Triple Feature Pt. 1]

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Larry Cohen's It's Alive(1974), while being on one hand a "schlocky" mutant baby horror film, is foremost a slow moving family drama about pollution, species adaptability, and the lengths that parents will go to protect their offspring. Cohen's screenplay is excellent, but the low budget nature of the picture can hamper it at times, particularly in the editing. On one hand Rick Baker's makeup f/x can look a bit cheesy but it sort of adds to the charm of the film. The score by Bernard Herrmann is distinctively his, including a very memorable theme, but with the added texture of synthesizers to give it an otherworldly feel.

Village Of The Damned (1995) **1/2 [Damned Kids Double Feature Pt. 2]

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John Carpenter's 1995 remake of Village Of The Damned is a solid effort but it doesn't add much to the original 1960 film's premise (unlike his "remake" of The Thing (1982), which tops the original in many ways). In Carpenter's version of VOTD none of the cast quite feels right, and the children don't feel scary the way they did in the 1960 film (much creepier in black and white). The violence and explosions are upped but it doesn't necessarily make the stakes feel any higher. Additionally, there are some dodgy CG f/x and I prefer the ending of the original film. Unfortunately, one of JC's weakest efforts.

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

Village Of The Damned (1960) ***1/2 [Damned Kids Double Feature Pt. 1]

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Village Of The Damned(1960) plays a lot like a Twilight Zone episode and at a lean 77 minute running time it's not any longer than some episodes of many television series these days. VOTD feels more like it was made in the early 50s and so at times comes off a bit dated, but it does have some genuinely unnerving moments from its creepy children and the atmosphere created by its cast and crew.

Dunkirk (2017) ***1/2

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Dunkirk (2017) definitely plays better in a theater (preferably IMAX) with as large a screen possible and with a loud high quality surround system but it's still effective on Blu-ray (I don't have 4K yet) at home. I did detract a half star from my original rating though because while Dunkirk is a thrilling, tense & rousing achievement, impeccably shot and designed, the lack of character development hurts it in the long run, as a film that doesn't warrant multiple viewings.

The Prowler (1981) **1/2

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Joseph Zitodirected a few really good 80s action films (including Invasion U.S.A.(1985)) and the best of the Friday The 13th films (The Final Chapter(1984)), but despite some good gory kills courtesy of Tom SaviniThe Prowler(1981) is one of (if not) the most plodding, excruciatingly dragged out slashers there is. Also, I'd seen this film before (and it was just as slow as I remembered) but I didn't remember Lawrence Tierney or Farley Granger starring and didn't recognize either one this viewing.

My review, in short: ✉️πŸ’”πŸ—‘πŸ—‘πŸŒ·πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸšΏπŸ—‘πŸ—‘πŸŽΈπŸ’€πŸŒ·πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸŽΈπŸŠπŸ»‍♀️πŸ—‘πŸ—‘πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ”«πŸ”«

Xtro (1982) ***1/2

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Xtro (1982) is a bizarre, gross, hilarious, fun and dramatic low budget horror/sci-fi/schlockfest. Adult human birth, toys that come to life, mind control, nudity,  gory effects, a trippy synth score—Xtroticks all the 80s b-movie boxes and then some.

For fans of David Cronenberg, Frank Henenlotter, and Roger Corman.

Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (1985) ****

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I'm not familiar with the real life Yukio Mishima or his legacy, but as a piece of filmmaking, Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (1985) presents its subject as a fascinatingly obsessed and complex individual. Mishima is gorgeously shot by John Bailey, breathtakingly scored by Philip Glass, artfully designed with hyperstylized sets by Eiko Ishiokaand theatrically directed with flare by Paul Schrader.

Revenge Of The Ninja (1983) ***1/2

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Revenge Of The Ninja(1983), if you can get past the blatant stereotypes, racism, misogyny, poor acting and dubbing (which, frankly, is a lot of what makes this film awesome to laugh at), is virtually nonstop action and fun starring the king of 80s ninja films, ShΓ΄ Kosugi. While Revenge doesn't have the supernatural aspect of its in-name only sequel Ninja III: The Domination (1984), it is nearly as bonkers thanks to Sam Firstenbergand James R. Silke, who also respectively directed and wrote both films. The plot borrows many elements from classic Bruce Lee films—family members killed, a sworn oath of non violence (which of course must be broken), a move to America, a business acting as a front for drug dealing, gangsters that must be taken out, etc. Despite a great deal of goofiness, the stunts and martial arts are impressive. It's a blast to watch Kosugi Sho(w) (sorry) all those baddies who's boss and his real life son Kanekicks some major ass (literally). Revenge Of The Ni…

Jim Thompson "The Transgressors" (1961) ***1/2

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Jim Thompson's The Transgressors (1961) is interesting based solely on the fact that its main character, Tom Lord, appears to be a variation of Lou Ford, a character who appeared in both Thompson's The Killer Inside Me(1952) and Wild Town (1957). Besides the similar name, Lord is also a deputy sheriff and also had a father who was a doctor (just like Ford). Not only that, but Lord's initial love interest is one Joyce Lakewood, quite a similar name to the similarly trampy Joyce Lakeland from Killer. Transgressors doesn't get into the head of its protagonist in the way that Killer did (Lord is not sadistic like Ford either), and it's not as good a novel, but it's a reliably pulpy yarn from America's "Dimestore Dostoevsky".