Showing posts from May, 2019

A Boy And His Dog (1975) **1/2

A Boy And His Dog (1975) is a tough movie to rate and discuss without spoilers and a different experience in 2019 than I'm sure it was when it was released (or maybe not for women?).

The premise is that in an apocalyptic 2024 society is (surprise) still a patriarchy but more so it's just a degenerate rapefest. Even our protagonist Vic (Don Johnson) basically just lives to survive and get "laid" (with the women not having a say in the matter). He is aided by a talking dog (only he can hear) named Blood (humorously voiced by Tim McIntire) who can smell these "broads" for Vic to have his way with. 
Now I can accept leads or "antiheroes" that have misogynistic or even rapey tendencies in films (lord knows I love A Clockwork Orange—both the book and film), but typically there is some other quality to them that makes them "likable" (be it charisma, dimension, and/or redemption) or at least entertaining in a satirical sense. Art is art and I do…

The Murderer Lives At Number 21 (1942) ***

Henri-Georges Clouzot's debut feature film The Murderer Lives At Number 21(1942) is notable for the playfulness it exhibits, largely absent from most of the director's other films. He made other mystery/crime films that had some mischievous elements to them, but Murderer is very much comedic in tone. Numerous influences, including film noir, Hitchcock, and Agatha Christie are apparent here, but none so much as The Thin Man series (1931–1947). Glimpses of the misanthropic tendencies of Clouzot's later films are present but for the most part, Murderer is a breezy and short (84 mins) piece of fluff filmmaking from a director who would go on to make a slew of stronger films.

You can find my Henri-Georges Clouzot Feature Films Ranked list here.

Labyrinth (1986) ***1/2 [Henson UHD Double Feature Pt. 2]

I've always maintained that Labyrinth(1986) is the sillier, lighter version of The Dark Crystal(1982). And to a certain extent, that was Jim Henson's intention. A lot of it doesn't work for me, but I think if I'd discovered it at a younger age, I'd probably be more enamored with it. I don't really remember seeing it until I was in my teens and I feel like I was past the prime demographic at that point (preferring much darker art at that period in my life).

I think part of the problem I have with Labyrinth is that it plays out more like an amusement park ride or a video game than a movie. The characters literally need to overcome obstacles in order to continue their journey. The action is merely a series of set pieces, which makes for less of an interesting story for me.

I also find the score pretty cheesy, which is a shame because Trevor Jones delivered a memorable and lush orchestral score for Henson in The Dark Crystal. The David Bowie songs are fun and his …

The Dark Crystal (1982) ***** [Henson UHD Double Feature Pt. 1]

The Dark Crystal (1982) is one of my Top 100 Films and it's safe to say my favorite fantasy film. It certainly scared me as a child but I love that Jim Henson (one of my heroes) wasn't afraid to go to dark places in a "family film," a quality largely lacking in today's entertainment.

TDC is a fairly simple story of good and evil with a hero on a quest to save his world from darkness (with the aid of a selfless and gifted female friend). What sets it apart is the masterful handmade artistry that went into making the film. I've always appreciated the monumental effort that it must have taken to bring TDC to life.

And the film stands the test of time. I realize that certain aspects of the film may appear dated and that it's not perfect, but it has the power to transcend. Every time I return to it, I am wholly absorbed in its world.

The Muppets may be Henson's most recognized legacy (and we're talking about a man who gave the world so many memorable cha…

Evil Dead II (1987) ****1/2 [ED UHD Double Feature Pt. 2]

For his quasi sequel/quasi remake, Evil Dead II (1987), Sam Raimi upped the insanity, the slapstick comedy, the frenetic camerawork, and the gallons upon gallons of blood.

The second Evil Dead film benefits from better production values, in particular the moody lighting, the crazy stop motion animation, and the much improved special effects and makeup courtesy of f/x wizard Mark Shostrom, with assistance from the three men that would go on to form KNB EFX Group the following year.

Though he has some has co-stars and some help along the way, Evil Dead II is largely a one-man Bruce Campbell show, where he inflicts self-harm like no other actor can and takes whatever Raimi is willing to throw at him (literally). It's here that we first glimpse Campbell (and Ash Williams as a character) become the cocky but goofy action hero—the Bruce that we all know and love—spouting one-liners and kicking Deadite ass.

Though I prefer the Ash in EDII to the more smarmy one in Army Of Darkness (1993…

The Evil Dead (1981) ****1/2 [ED UHD Double Feature Pt. 1]

Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead(1981) is full of flaws, cheap sets, bad makeup, and more, but it's so inventive, so unique, and so steeped in low budget charm that none of that matters.

The one and only Bruce Campbell was still finding his footing here in his commercial debut, but he left his mark as Ashley Williams—put through the wringer, smashed, beaten up, splattered with guts, dumped with buckets of blood, and tormented by the titular forces, all to Raimi's delight.

The young director infused his debut film with energetic gusto, extreme dutch angles, and insane POV shaky cam, in the process making one of the most influential independent horror films and one of the most beloved cult films ever made. It's one of my Top 100 Films—I've seen it dozens of times and it never fails to impress me every time I watch it.

You can find my Sam Raimi Feature Films Ranked list here.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) *****

Like many people my age, I'm sure, Steven Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial(1982) was a childhood favorite. I watched it many, many, many times. These days I only watch it about every 7 years, whenever it hits a new home video format or edition.

It's a film that still works for me, as an adult. Part of it is nostalgia, undoubtedly. There have been so many filmmakers that have attempted to tap into that same movie magic, that same tone that Spielberg conveyed in the 80s—his name became synonymous with a brand. Sometimes those filmmakers are successful, mostly they just feel like copycats.

Another reason for E.T.'s longevity is that the film has remained untainted for me. In the age of irony and snark, where everything is a meme and nothing is sacred, it's easy to make fun of a film like E.T., whether because of the puppet's "peculiar" appearance or the sentimentality of the piece—though there are some dark edges, the film just chooses not to wal…

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) ****1/2

Francis Ford Coppola's film Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) is larger than life, gothic as all get out, and melodramatic to the core. But how else do you properly tell the tale of a noble who, returning from gruesome battle, renounces God because he lost his wife to treachery and thus became the most powerful vampire known to man? Coppola's largely faithful adaptation of Stoker's 1897 novel (turning 122 years old tomorrow, coincidentally) is one of my favorite films and #2 on my Top 10 Horror Films (1990 – current) list.

Coppola's Dracula goes for the gusto in an incredibly artsy way. Every second of every shot is carefully framed—the cinematography by Michael Ballhaus (Goodfellas(1990)) is sumptuous. The editing is dazzling, at times frenetic. The budget shows in the jaw-dropping production design by Thomas E. Sanders, the gorgeous, bold (and often too little glimpsed) costumes by Eiko Ishioka. Not to mention the transformative makeup, the beautiful and varied score …

Stephen King "Mr. Mercedes" (2014) ***1/2

Surprisingly, for such a fan of horror,Mr. Mercedes (2014) is only the sixth Stephen King book that I've read. I greatly enjoyed it—a gripping modern detective novel with compelling characters, albeit with some tropes, but they work for the story. I found some of the scenes and dialogue a little silly, but overall, it’s a winner. I look forward to reading the two sequels.

Drive-In Massacre (1976) **

Drive-In Massacre (1976) was one of a few non-porn films made by porn film director Stu Segall.  It's a not very good slasher with a few nice kills, terrible acting, laughable dialogue, awkward pacing, poor editing, and a weird, mostly out of place score (including one track that actually sounds like a cue from Halloween (1978)—one of the few impressive parts of this film, as it predates that one).

Speaking of John CarpenterGeorge "Buck" Flower, bit player in five of the director's films, randomly crops up in an uncredited appearance, along with his real-life daughter Verkina Flower, in an, um...memorable scene.

The carnival scenes got me a bit nostalgic for my first job (when I was 15), working games booths at Whalom Park (also where the video for "Touch And Go" by one of my favorite bands, The Cars, was filmed), as a lot of the same rides (The Yo-Yo!) were featured in Massacre.

A fun one to watch with folks who appreciate bad films, but no lost classic b…

Original Gangstas (1996) **1/2

For his final feature film, Original Gangstas (1996), director Larry Cohen came full circle to genre that he cut his teeth on, blaxploitation. For Gangstas, Cohen reunited with recurring blaxploitation actor Fred Williamson, star of the director's second film, Black Caesar, and its sequel Hell Up In Harlem (both 1973), who also co-directs here (uncredited). Other heavyweights of the genre such as football legend Jim Brown (Slaughter (1972)) and Pam Grier (Coffy(1973), Foxy Brown(1974)) co-star, with Richard Roundtree (Shaft(1971))and Ron O'Neal (Super Fly(1972)) also making appearances.

Much of Gangstas is quite good—the sense of gritty realism is palpable, Cohen's direction is assured and he seems to eschew the improvisation he's known for, opting for a more polished look and feel. There's even scenes that almost reach the kind of emotional weight that a film like Boyz N The Hood(1991) contains. Where this film falters is when it switches gears to become the kind…

Cinema Paradiso - Director's Cut (1988) ****

This was my second time seeing Cinema Paradiso(1988) and the first time seeing the 174-minute director's cut. It's a wonderful film when viewed in either version but I prefer the shorter 124-minute theatrical cut, which expresses the key elements of the film in a more concise nature and spends less time in the second and third portions of main character Salvatore (Toto)’s life—the first (child) portion is my favorite. 
Giuseppe Tornatore's film is a heightened, melodramatic version of real life, but it's beautiful and poetic, funny and touching. It plays like the less violent cousin of Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In America(1984)—exploring the bulk of one man's life and employing the same grandiosity and scope, but with a gentler touch. The performances are spot on, the images masterly, and the score by Ennio Morricone sweeping and consuming.
Cinema Paradiso is a love letter to the power of film to build community, of the many emotions that love (of cinema, …

Diabolique (aka Les Diaboliques) (1955) ****1/2

Playing like a cross between Double Indemnity and Gaslight(both 1944), Henri-Georges Clouzot's Diabolique(aka Les Diaboliques) (1955) is a highly influential and expertly executed exercise in mystery, building to a terribly suspenseful twist finale with elements of gothic flair.

Alfred Hitchcock wanted to make the film version of this story of a schoolmaster's wife and mistress who together plot to kill him, but Clouzot optioned the rights to the book upon which his film is based, preventing the more famous director from taking a stab at it. This led to critics to refer to Clouzot as "the French Hitchcock" (which is a bit silly, as really, none of his other films are much like Hitchcock at all). The Master Of Suspense's response to this loss was to make the more well-known and beloved Psycho (1960), of whom the author of that book, Robert Bloch, was stated in an interview to remark that Diabolique was his favorite horror film.

While Véra Clouzot tends to teeter i…

The Wages Of Fear (1953) ****

The Wages Of Fear (1953) is Henri-Georges Clouzot's film version of the tale of four men on a suicide mission, hired by an oil company to drive trucks loaded with nitroglycerine over dangerous roads to extinguish an ongoing fire at an oil well. Wages concerns itself with corporate greed, the guise of masculinity, and what men will do when they are desperate enough.

The film hints at commentary on classism, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. But the real center of the drama is the relationship between the two leads, perfectly portrayed by Yves Montand (as the young cocksure Mario) and Charles Vanel (as the elder, eventually cowardly, Jo). Both are unsavory characters, to varying degrees, but there are sympathetic qualities to be found in each of them.

With nearly unbearable moments of tension, powerful performances, and a story that solidly holds the viewer's attention over two and a half hours, The Wages Of Fear is a true classic of cinema. There are two key moments (in particu…

Snake Eyes (1998) ***

It had been a long time coming for me to finally get around to seeing Snake Eyes (1998), being that I consider Brian De Palma one of my Top 20 Directors and I admire a great deal of Nicolas Cage's acting work. In 1998 both the actor and director were at high points in their career, success-wise—De Palma with his most recent film prior, the hugely popular and financially lucrative Mission: Impossible (1996), and Cage having recently starred in three action blockbusters: The Rock(1996), Con Air(1997), and Face/Off (1997).

And while Snake Eyes is undoubtedly entertaining, and contains all the usual De Palma visual trademarks (split diopter shots, split screen, and a very impressively long tracking shot just after the opening credits) and despite the fact that it contains the talent behind and in front of the camera that it does, it rings a bit hollow.

The filmmaking is incredibly slick and there's a lot of dazzling editing. De Palma taps into his typical bag of Hitchcock worship…

The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015) ***1/2

The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015) is a very good slow burn debut from Osgood Perkins. The visual style is fairly simple and the performances largely subtle (Kiernan Shipka does commendably creepy work). While the dialogue is sparse, and the action almost nonexistent, the atmosphere is heavy and the score unsettling. The February (the film's original title) setting provides the perfect frigid backdrop to the tension of the piece and the disturbing events contained within.
The mood of the film reminds me of another, too little talked about, horror film—Carnival Of Souls(1962). While that film was shot in black and white, Blackcoat has an almost monochromatic color palette and it's one of those films that could work just as well in B&W, based on the strength of its craft. It's a bit of an "art film", if you will, so it may not be for everyone, but it's definitely for me.
In my opinion, it's best to go in as blind as possible with this one. A few story …

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) ****1/2

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) is lightning in a bottle. It's one of a handful of horror films worthy of hyperbole. It's required viewing for any horror hound. It's the ultimate grindhouse film. It's one of my Top 100 Films (Letterboxd version of that list here) and one of my Top 10 Horror FilmsTobe Hooper was never able to capture that lightning in a bottle again. He came close with his over the top 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2(a much less highly regarded film but one I love as equally as the original), but for totally different reasons.

TCM is a messy, imperfect film. Some of the scenes drag on too long, the action ebbs and flows in weird patterns, and it's quite repetitive at times. The first time you see it, it's hard to decide if the filmmakers are deranged geniuses or flying by the seat of their pants. But it works either way because it builds and builds to that show-stopping dinner scene and then it's all been worth it. Marilyn Bur…

La Prisonnière (1968) ****

Henri-Georges Clouzot's final (and only color) film, La Prisonnière(aka Woman In Chains) (1968), is an underappreciated psychosexual drama with impressive visual flair. While the S&M subject matter may seem tame by today's standards, the story and the way it unfolds is what holds your attention, rather than any particularly shocking imagery.

Elisabeth Weiner is captivating as Josée, the unsatisfied wife of an artist drawn into a world of voyeurism and submissiveness, sparked by the BDSM photography of her husband's gallery owner Stan. She is looking for true love, but what she finds instead holds tragic consequences for all involved in the triangle.

La Prisonnière culminates in an incredible and surreal dream sequence—reminiscent of another unforgettable sequence in another film from 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey—that echoes the experimental, kaleidoscopic techniques that Clouzot was dabbling with in his aborted film 1964 Inferno (more on that here). The film ends on a ble…

Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975) ***

You kind of have to expect it with a title like Strip Nude For Your Killer(1975), but it's a sleazy film. I've seen sleazier, for sure, and Strip Nude isn't a particularly great film, but it has a certain...shall we say...trashy charm. I've seen it three times now and despite its flaws, it's very enjoyable.

As gialli go, it's not top tier—the plot is thin (that of a fashion house falling victim to a serial killer), the characterizations are inconsequential  (the killer wears a motorcycle helmet but I'm fairly certain is never once seen riding a motorcycle), the misogyny is thick (the male gaze is heavy), and the nudity is aplenty. As a character the male lead is also a gigantic douchebuckle. But there is a definite sense that the filmmakers, to a certain extent, were satirizing the genre. Or maybe they just preferred the more salacious aspects of it—the gore in a few scenes is particularly grisly, specifically when it comes to genital harm.

As I mentioned …

The Ambulance (1990) **1/2

Though we lost filmmaker Larry Cohen in March of this year, his madcap low budget films will continue to live on. I still have yet to discover more than a few of his films as director and I also have yet to see the documentary about the micro maverick, King Cohen (2017).

While The Ambulance(1990), like some of his other films, varies in quality—here (as the writer/director commonly did) Cohen gathered talent of varying degrees to make an entertaining acton comedy horror thriller. Eric Roberts sports a wildly distracting mullet and is completely unconvincing as an artist working at Marvel Comics (Stan Lee stars as, essentially, himself in slightly more than a cameo). He also vastly oversteps his boundaries with women and I wonder if it felt any less creepy in 1990. Roberts's acting is even more unhinged than Michael Moriarty—star of four of Cohen's films as well as the director's episode of the Masters Of Horror(2005–2007) TV series—but it definitely adds to the weird char…

Quai Des Orfèvres (1947) ****

After initially being banned from filmmaking, due to the controversy surrounding his previous film Le Corbeau(1942)Henri-Georges Clouzot returned five years later (thanks largely to lobbying by artists and fellow filmmakers) to make Quai Des Orfèvres (1947), an excellent noirish police procedural re: the murder of a smutty old businessman.

Louis Jouvet anchors the film as Inspector Antoine—full of interesting traits, from his lame right arm to his varying treatment of suspects (both tender and cruel) to his status as a single father raising a mixed race child (very uncommon for any film from 1947). Wife and music hall singer Marguerite (aka Jenny Lamour) (Suzy Delair), jealous husband and pianist Maurice (Bernard Blier), and friend and photographer Dora (Simone Renant) all play into the investigation.

Some of the acting feels a bit dated, but the top notch editing, the streak of humor running throughout, and the progressive treatment of an LGBTQ character all make for a fine film.

Monster Dog (1984) **1/2

I first saw Monster Dog(1984) in the late 90s when my friend Kevin gifted me a VHS copy of the film. I think we watched it once or twice and it was good for a laugh but when I watched it again in 2016, when the Blu-ray was released, I had all but forgotten it.

Probably with good reason because it's filled to the brim with every horror trope imaginable, along with laughable dialogue, unintentionally funny performances, and incredibly poor editing.

It does its fair share of ripping off An American Werewolf In London(1981) throughout and it takes a brief inexplicable detour to try its hand at becoming a siege film, a la Straw Dogs(1971). Attempts at atmosphere and suspense come off half-baked every time. Alice Cooper remains a solid presence (the film would be worse without him) amidst a cast of particularly unexceptional actors, all badly dubbed.

Monster Dog is undoubtedly a dog of a film but it's still entertaining and its "theme" song, "Identity Crisises", …