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Showing posts from April, 2019

The Sea Hawk (1940) ****

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The Sea Hawk (1940) is an exciting action adventure picture from that purveyor of excellence, director Michael Curtiz. Replete with swashbuckling, derring-do, drama, and romance, The Sea Hawk features Errol Flynn (in his tenth collaboration with Curtiz) as a dashing buccaneer, Alan Hale (again paired with Flynn) as his right hand mate, Claude Rains as (amusingly) a Spanish ambassador, and Flora Robson as a wonderful, saucy Queen Elizabeth. 
Beautifully photographed by Curtiz's frequent cinematographer of the time Sol Polito, with a sweeping, rousing score by Erich Wolfgang KorngoldThe Sea Hawk combines elements of Curtiz and Flynn's previous work together—Captain Blood(1935), The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) and The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex (1939)—to form a vastly entertaining Hollywood epic of the kind they simply "don't make anymore".
You can find my Michael Curtiz Feature Films Ranked list here.

Le Corbeau (1943) ***1/2

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In some ways, the history behind Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Corbeau (The Raven) (1943) is actually more interesting than the film itself. Clouzot's film was banned after it was released, as it was "produced by Continental Films, a German production company established near the beginning of the Nazi Occupation of France, and because the film had been perceived by the underground and the Communist press as vilifying the French people. Because of this, Clouzot was initially banned for life from directing in France, but after protests only until 1947. The film was suppressed until 1969."* Even more fascinating to me is the fact that "although after the war Le Corbeau was banned and leftists supported keeping the ban in place, the film was screened in cineclubs throughout France and often drew thousands of moviegoers."*

The story of Le Corbeau involves mysterious poison pen letters, pointing accusations at select residents of a small town—in particular a doctor…

Bad Milo (2013) ***

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Bad Milo (2103) is like the spawn (sorry, had to) of Gremlins (1984) and Office Space(1999)—a horror comedy about inner demons, family, true love, and the stress of work and every day life. While not every joke lands, the backstory is a bit light, and the plot mechanics are a bit predictable, the film is still oftentimes very funny, Ken Marino and Peter Stormare deliver go-for-broke performances, and, hey, it's fun to watch a (mostly) animatronic ass demon wreak havoc.

Judgment Night (1993) ***1/2

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Judgment Night(1993) doesn't offer much in the way of plot mechanics, but as a non-stop survival actioner with realistic stakes and a rap/rock soundtrack that still rips, it holds up quite well. The cast is good too, including a mostly passive (until the finale) Emilio EstevezCuba Gooding Jr.'s manic machismo, a babyfaced Stephen Dorff, smarmy comic relief  by way of Jeremy Piven, and, of course, Denis Leary at his unhinged, psychotic best. Director Stephen Hopkins keeps the tension remaining high throughout, and, along with cinematographer Peter Levy, infuses the film with visual flair, including some great split diopter shots.

For fans of Deliverance(1972), the Dirty Harry series, and the Predator franchise.

Opera (1987) ***1/2

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Dario Argento's Opera (1987) is one bizarre giallo. Every time I watch it, its flawed nature becomes more and more apparent. The film is mind bogglingly scattershot—both tonally and editorially (even more so than Phenomena(1985)), to the point of being comical—and features very poor dubbing (even for an Italian genre film), unfortunate dialogue, and some particularly atrocious acting. Some also complain about the seemingly random placement of heavy metal cues but that's one aspect that's never bothered me (in fact I kind of love those moments).

It's frustrating because while Opera doesn't make a lot of sense and comes off as unintentionally campy a good deal of the time, it also contains some of Argento's most riveting and audacious cinematography and most inventive set pieces (one kill in particular is a highlight of Argento's entire career). It's a bit like a fever dream or what you might term a "glorious mess" and for that I can't help …

Master Of The Flying Guillotine (1976) ***

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Master Of The Flying Guillotine (1976), star and director Jimmy Wang Yu's sequel to his 1972 film One-Armed Boxer(which I've yet to see), is one zany mishmash of kung-fu craziness, filled with non-stop action, outlandish characters, and—perhaps the oddest choice that somehow works—a krautrock soundtrack consisting of Neu!, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. A very fun time, if you don't mind poor dubbing, a bit of goofiness, and some casual racism.

They Live (1988) ***1/2

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While I've always found the political satire of consumerism, greed, class, and sheep-like mentality in They Live (1988) to be a bit clumsy and heavy-handed (though still relevant), the mix of black humor and realistic violence/drama a bit tonally uneven, and the score to be one of director John Carpenter's cheesier and lesser efforts, it's still a very fun and entertaining film.

Lead Roddy Piper belies his wrestling roots to give a mostly subdued and strong performance, and Keith David is his perfectly-cast support. The seemingly endless and awesome street fight between the two is a showstopper—brutal, comedic, and—amazingly—includes no stunt doubles.

To sing more of They Live's praises—it features excellent cinematography, choice one-liners, action that predates first-person shooter video games, a perfect zinger of an ending, and one of the most iconic genre posters of the 80s.

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

Prince Of Darkness (1987) ***1/2

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Prince Of Darkness (1987) is a bleak, perhaps even a bit nihilistic, film but I love it. There's a definite Lovecraftian vibe running through POD and it plays as a kind of more-focused Fulci film, channeling a similar sense of unease. At times it's also reminiscent of the kind of sci-fi/horror on display in Halloween III: Season Of The Witch(1982).
What hampers POD from being a stronger film are the numerous amateur performances (though Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong, as the most seasoned actors, are both strong here), very underdeveloped characters, some unfortunate dialogue, and a bunch of humor that falls flat. Though on one hand, some of the aforementioned qualities, along with the siege plot aspect, and director John Carpenter's penchant for delivering bang for every dollar spent, harken back to his earlier Assault On Precinct 13 (1976).
On a technical level, it's as good as anything Carpenter ever made (the "dream transmissions" are particularly excel…

The Chemical Brothers "No Geography" (2019) ****

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On their ninth album, No Geography (2019), The Chemical Brothers strike a nice balance of familiarity and surprises, while never sacrificing what matters most to their sound—bangin' beats. Other things matter too, of course, like funky basslines, repetitive samples, and noisy yet controlled synths and frequencies—all of which are also present.

Escape From New York (1981) ****1/2 [Carpenter Double Feature Pt. 2]

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While some may find the outdated technology and obvious artifice of the production design a knock against Escape From New York(1981), for me these aspects only add to the charm of the film. I love the low budget nature (by today's standards), along with the incredible ensemble cast (Kurt RussellLee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau and Tom Atkinsc'mon!), the quotable dialogue, the subtle black humor, Dean Cundey's fantastic cinematography, and the moody electronic score by director John Carpenter and composer Alan Howarth. Snake Plissken is the kind of antihero that continues to resonate and Escape From New York is one of the preeminent 80s dystopian sci-fi action-adventure films—highly influential, and a true cult classic.

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

The Fog (1980) ***1/2 [Carpenter Double Feature Pt. 1]

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The Fog (1980) is a good old-fashioned ghost story with a strong cast, typically excellent cinematography from Dean Cundey, and a tense, somber score by director John Carpenter. There are some moments that fall a bit short quality-wise, and some of the characters are underdeveloped (in particular Jamie Lee Curtis), but the sense of dread throughout is palpable and the craft on display is commendable.

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

The Mystery Of Picasso (1956) ***1/2

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Henri-Georges Clouzot's film The Mystery Of Picasso (1956) is as equally mesmerizing as it is an exercise in patience. Essentially a 78-minute visual document (with some footage of the man himself) of Picasso painting, where special transparent "canvases" were used to portray the act of the creative process from the view of the painter.

This experimental technique had been done in a similar, but slightly different fashion, in a shorter documentary called Visit To Picasso (1949), but Mystery really capitalizes on the concept, adding a more cinematic quality—the majority of the film is presented in the Academy ratio of 1.37:1, but expands to CinemaScope 2.35:1 for the last 20 minutes—augmented by a varied and frenetic score by Georges Auric.

What's most fascinating about Mystery is when Picasso makes changes to his paintings, adding lines or colors, transforming them through on-the-fly choices—and being able to see that in basically real time. In particular, a paintin…

Pet Sematary (2019) **1/2

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I've not read Stephen King's novel so I can't speak to how faithfully or not Pet Sematary(2019) follows it. I also think I've only seen the 1989 version of Pet Sematary once (maybe twice) and don't recall much, so I'm probably due for a revisit.

As for this new filmic adaptation—it's fine but nothing great. I thought it was solid up until the finale, and in particular, the last moment—while nothing new in horror films, the smirky ending didn't work for me, and reminded me of a similar tonal betrayal in another recent horror film, A Quiet Place(2018).

That was a better film than Pet Sematary overall, but not dissimilar in the sense that they're part of the new school of horror—that of murky cinematography, drab color grading, and a lack of a unique voice. Even Christopher Young's score just kind of blends into the background (he scored another King adaptation, The Dark Half (1993), a better film and a great book). Sadly, there's no indicatio…

Cobra (1986) ***1/2

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Cobra(1986) is an action fan's delight—delivering muscular thrills, impressive stuntwork, slick cinematography, memorable one-liners, a catchy soundtrack, and an iconic poster. The film plays it by the numbers, but it's like a night of junk food, always satisfying when you're in the mood.

For fans of the Dirty Harry, Ramboand Death Wishseries.

Burial Ground (aka The Nights Of Terror) (1981) **

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Burial Ground(aka The Nights Of Terror) (1981) is one of those spectacularly bad films that is a lot of fun to watch with an audience who can enjoy laughing at it, but is by no means a horror film of any merit.

This isn't just your run-of-the-mill Romero Italian rip-off—no, it has incest (with the creepiest 25-year-old playing a child ever), perplexingly intelligent though painfully slow zombies (one is a crack shot, another is an excellent climber, and they even organize a weaponized mob!), and a hilarious, ridiculously elaborate gag involving a scythe.

Unfortunately it also has about as much suspense as a toe nail cutting session, more Fulci ripoffs than you count (if you've ever thought that director lingered too long on shots, Andrea Bianchi takes the cake), and slipshod production design and editing. Additionally, few films have this much disregard for their characters.

On the plus side, the synthesized score is pretty cool, but the f/x by Gino De Rossi are piss poor. De …

The Black Cat (1981) ***

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Lucio Fulci's The Black Cat (1981) is a bit of a mishmash, full of non sequiturs and disparate ideas that don't get satisfyingly explored. Using only very basic elements from the Edgar Allan Poestory of the same name, the story follows a medium (Patrick Magee, intense as usual and one of the film's strongest components) who is linked to the titular feline through a kind of supernatural hatred—similar to David Cronenberg's The Brood (1979).

On one hand, The Black Cat has excellent camerawork by Sergio Salvati and a superb score by Pino Donaggio (both taut and playful), but it also unfortunately contains a producer-mandated Exorcist rip-off that serves no purpose, as well as some kill scenes that feel like they belong in a different film.

Sandwiched between City Of The Living Dead(1980) and The Beyond (1981), The Black Cat has neither the levels of gore of those two superior films, nor the same phantasmagoric atmosphere, making for a restrained Fulci experience (similar …