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Showing posts from July, 2019

I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) ***

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I'm Gonna Git You Sucka(1988) arrived two years before Keenen Ivory Wayans created the wildly popular television show In Living Color(1990–1994) (which I'm overdue for a revisit), which would utilize some of the same talented players in larger roles (including Keenen's many siblings).

Writer/director/star Wayans assembled an array of blaxploitation veterans for Sucka, his loving parody of the genre, including Bernie Casey, Antonio Fargas, Isaac Hayes and Jim Brown. There are some humorous appearances by other future stars in bit parts as well, including David Alan Grier, and in particular Chris Rock. I hadn't seen IGGYSfor at least fifteen years. It never struck me before, but Wayans was clearly influenced by the comedy stylings of writer/directors Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker (Airplane! (1980), Top Secret! (1984)), as he employs many of the same types of (often repetitive) gags (IGGYS was coincidentally released the same year as The Naked Gun). Mel…

Corvette Summer (1978) ***1/2

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Corvette Summer (1978) is a time capsule of a movie—a cute coming of age story with some elements that wouldn't fly in 2019. Case in point: Annie Potts's (aspiring) hooker with a heart of gold, a character trope that most people don't want to see anymore. It's hard to deny Potts though—she's sexy, saucy, and irresistible. It’s also worth noting that her character Vanessa has autonomy—she’s her own boss (she doesn’t have a pimp), she drives her own van, and she’s never looking to be “rescued” by anyone. Mark Hamill brings his quirky boyish charm to the role of shy and handsome high school grad Kenny, on the hunt for the stolen custom 1973 Corvette Stingray that his shop class restored.

The similarities to Pee-wee's Big Adventure(1985) are impossible to ignore, especially for this viewer, since that's my favorite film of all time. Aside from the obvious—boy searches for his beloved (red) vehicle and meets intriguing characters along the way—there's little…

The Magic Flute (1975) ****

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I've never seen an opera in person (though I'd love to someday, particularly in Italy), but I've seen a few filmed operas. I wasn't familiar with Mozart and librettist Emanuel Schikaneder's 1791 opera, The Magic Flute, but I've learned that it's one of the most popular operas in the world.

Ingmar Bergman's 1975 film version of The Magic Flute was originally broadcast on Swedish television and later given a cinematic release. Bergman's Flute is a playful rendition that takes some welcome liberties such as behind the scenes glimpses of the production of the opera (an actor taking a cigarette break, the two leads playing chess, a dragon lurking about backstage), pictures come to life, and close-ups that you can't get in a stage show. Having been fascinated by the opera since his childhood, Bergman never loses sight of the core of the story though—a tale of good vs evil, with a prince and princess, but with some interesting twists.

The Magic Flute (1…

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) ***1/2

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Upon a rewatch, my appreciation for Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive(2013) has grown but not quite enough to change my star rating. Like most of his films, there are many great moments in OLLA. Something about the whole doesn't quite gel as well as some of his other work for me though. It could be that the film draws a bit too much attention to its hipster tendencies. It could be the feeling that the film is trying too hard to subvert expectations of a genre.

But there are a lot of things that I like about OLLA—all four leads are perfectly cast, the droning score and soundtrack songs are both excellent, the melancholy mood is mostly just right, the languid pace works, and the costumes and production design are cool.

You can find my Jim Jarmusch Feature Films Ranked list here.

Gimme Danger (2016) ***1/2

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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019) ***1/2

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Ever since Death Proof (2007), Quentin Tarantino films have been difficult for me to rate/review after I've seen them for the first time. Without question, there is always something (or many somethings) about them that is exciting and worthwhile, which is why I keep coming back for more.  But I'm not the type of QT fan that eats up everything he serves like it's on a golden platter. QT has never made an outright failure—though the aforementioned DP comes close—but I long ago resigned myself to the fact that there wouldn't likely be another film of his that would hit me the way that Pulp Fiction (1994) did when I saw it in its theatrical run at age 14 (especially considering he has stated that he's retiring after his next film).

The purpose of that introduction is to say that his latest, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019), might require another viewing for me to fully process. That's not because it's a challenging work as far as the plot goes—it's eas…

Inside (À l'intérieur) (2007) **1/2

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I saw Inside(À l'intérieur) (2007) back in 2008 where I awarded it ***. On "Take 2" I still appreciate the original concept and the unrelenting quality but I found the emotional weight of a pregnant woman in peril to be sidelined by the film's need to flex its gore muscles so frequently. And the gore is effectively disgusting and squirm-inducing but the film is a bit too nihilistic for my tastes. Additionally, the CGI baby scenes have not aged well and don't play well either. The film contains a few nicely shot scenes but also lots of silly character choices. A decent horror movie but not a great film.

1984 (1984) ****

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I only saw this (the second) film adaptation of George Orwell's classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) for the first time two years ago. It's been since high school that I read the book so it's hard for me to vouch for exactly how faithful the film 1984 (1984) is, but it's my understanding that it hews very closely.

The themes and ideas from Orwell's novel are so indelible and ingrained in our society as to have inspired an adjective, "Orwellian," in much the same way that Franz Kafka's (whose novel The Trial(1925) bears similarities to Nineteen Eighty-Four) writing lead to the term "Kafkaesque." Orwell's most well-known work has been adapted, homaged, referenced and has served as inspiration in so many forms of art (film, television, music, artwork, etc.) that its imagery and terminology is impossible to forget or to escape. And in some ways Orwell did accurately predict how the world would be in the future (and currently)…

A Face In The Crowd (1957) ****

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Elia Kazan's A Face In The Crowd(1957) is a film ahead of its time—a fascinating portrayal of the creation of a demagogue, the trappings of power, and the influence that media and advertising can have on human beings. Still relevant, particularly in Trump's America, A Face In The Crowd features electrifying performances by Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal, penetrating cinematography, and a politically charged plot by Budd Schulberg that is always handled with dexterity.

You can find myElia Kazan Feature Films Ranked list here.

Gothic (1986) ***

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As it's a Ken Russell film, Gothic (1986) is, expectedly, an exercise in excess and psychosexuality. Based on a fictionalized version of the visit by Percy (Julian Sands) and Mary Shelley (Natasha Richardson) to Lord Byron's (Gabriel Byrne) estate which led Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein(1818) and John Polidori to write The Vampyre (1819).

Again, since it's Ken Russell, the viewer must be prepared for over-the-top performances, intentional parody of tropes and trippy imagery. While the film is beautifully filmed, the production design is marvelous, the f/x wonderfully bizarre and the actors give their all, it doesn't rank with Russell's best work. Additionally, the score by Thomas Dolby is interesting on its own, but doesn't always work for the scenes, in my opinion. Still, Gothic is a fun haunted house ride from a radical visionary and a good time for those more adventurous souls.

You can find my Ken Russell Feature Films Ranked list here.

John Waters "Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom Of A Filth Elder" (2019) ****

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With Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom Of A Filth Elder (2019), John Waters touches upon many subjects, including his passions—art, architecture, film, music, sex, rebellion. He also gets a bit poignant when he writes about his love life, friends that he's lost and, in particular, death. But rest assured, he never loses his acerbic wit—managing to squeeze in cuss words, graphic descriptions of unpleasantries and gallows humor galore. Essential reading for Waters fans.

Gaslight (1944) ****

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Patrick Hamilton's (whose other most famous play Rope(1929) was also made into a 1948 film by Alfred Hitchcock) 1938 play Gas Light had been made into a British film in 1940, but I have to imagine that it wasn't until George Cukor's 1944 film starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten hit that the expression "gaslighting" gained widespread popular usage.

Per Wikipedia, "encouraged by the success of the play and the British 1940 film, MGM bought the remake rights, but with a clause insisting that all existing prints of the first film be destroyed, even to the point of trying to destroy the negative. Evidently that order was not honored to the letter, since the 1940 Gaslight is still safely available for both theatrical and TV exhibition."

The three leads are all excellent, but Ingrid Bergman is particularly so—having beat out Barbara Stanwyck's performance in Double Indemnity (a better film in my opinion) to win the 1945 Academy Award f…

Stranger Than Paradise (1984) ****

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Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise (1984) was a huge step up from his debut, Permanent Vacation(1980), with more realized yet naturalistic performances and a stronger aesthetic. Jarmusch's trademarks are present—hip offbeat characters and simple minimalist shots, but Paradise has a much richer quality and more assured direction than Vacation. It plays as a sort of American version of the French New Wave. There's also a playful nature that would figure heavily in his subsequent work—his brand of dry comedy starts to peak its head out. Tom DiCillo's black & white cinematography perfectly complements the dynamic of the three characters at the film's core and John Lurie's (who also stars) sparse string quartet score adds a feeling of melancholy to the proceedings.

You can find my Jim Jarmusch Feature Films Ranked list here.

Permanent Vacation (1980) **1/2

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Permanent Vacation(1980) serves as a decent precursor with elements of what would define Jim Jarmusch's style when he truly hit his stride but it feels too much like a rough draft for me to really dig it. The loose non traditional narrative nature certainly fits Jarmusch's hip, poetic tendencies and the cinematography is very good for a debut but the poor sound quality, non-actors, and forced voiceover make it all feel a bit too much like a student film.

You can find my Jim Jarmusch Feature Films Ranked list here.

Broken Flowers (2005) ***1/2

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When I first saw Broken Flowers (2005) five years ago, I wrote that I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the film because I thought itwas just going to be another Lost In Translation (2003), but it turned out to be very much a "Jarmusch film"—both funnier and better than Translation.

After having seen Jarmusch's more recent Paterson (2016) (more than once, my review in the form of a poem here), this revisit to Broken Flowers revealed itself to be a kindred spirit of sorts—poetic and random at the same time. Rather than being a midlife crisis film, it shows us that strange things can happen to us at any point in our lives. While Flowers feels "lite" for Jarmusch and the cinematography even feels unremarkable compared to his other directorial efforts, the film is a grower for me, thanks to a stellar cast bolstered by a soulful soundtrack.

You can find my Jim Jarmusch Feature Films Ranked list here.

Libido Reign

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I am beyond excited to unveil a project that my cousin Bryan and I have been talking about for years which we finally realized in 2019! Click the text below to hear the sounds of...

LIBIDO REIGN!


Read on for the full story...
Our uncle Steve Sardella was the keyboardist in a new wave band called Libido Lane, which self-released a 2-song 7" single in 1986. You can hear the original Libido Lane songs here. Info for the original songs can be found here (Steve is the one with the mustache). I sincerely hope that you will check out those tracks, if you haven't already. Bryan and I have always loved both of the songs and a couple of years ago he half-jokingly suggested that we should cover them someday.

Steve turns 60 on July 31st. Our family had been planning a surprise party to celebrate both this occasion and our aunt Susan turning 70. Bryan and I decided to make his suggestion a reality—to record the Libido Lane cover songs and unveil them to the family at the party, which happ…

Night On Earth (1991) **** [CC BD Double Feature Pt. 2]

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Jim Jarmusch's Night On Earth (1991) depicts five taxis in five different cities across the world on one night and the conversations that happen between the various drivers and passengers portrayed by an amazing international cast.

Jarmusch is no stranger to anthological vignette-based films, having made Mystery Train two years prior to NOE and compiling Coffee And Cigarettes twelve years later. While all but the last segment are largely based around humor (the final one is much more somber), they all weave together nicely—revealing character traits and situations that occur in the brief time period and enclosed space that is a cab ride. The mood of all the pieces is aided along by Tom Waits's jazzy, plinky score.

You can find my Jim Jarmusch Feature Films Ranked list here.

Swing Time (1936) ***1/2 [CC BD Double Feature Pt. 1]

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George Stevens's Swing Time(1936) is a light and fluffy (and "Fine") romance of a film with a few classic tunes. Astaire and Rogers are, of course, charming, the choreography and dancing are, of course, impressive and Stevens's direction is on point. Victor Moore's amusingly expressive grifter and Helen Broderick's sarcastic wisecracker make a cute sidekick couple. The story itself is serviceable and the blackface sequence is very unfortunate (especially considering how long it goes on for) but the film has plenty of that Old Hollywood magic that makes you feel warm all over.

The Beastmaster (1982) ***

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The Beastmaster(1982) is a solid entry in the sword and sorcery genre, which was booming in the early 1980s. Released just a few months after Conan The Barbarian (1982), Beastmaster bears many of the same qualities (and tropes), but had almost half the budget. And while that's apparent in the production values, Beastmaster never approaches Hawk The Slayer(1980) or Krull (1983)levels of fantasy cheese (though I like both of those films just a bit more).

I hadn't seen The Beastmaster for at least fifteen years and I had forgotten a good deal of it. It's silly and there's a kind of rapey moment with our hero, which is unfortunate, but it's still a lot of fun and I still really appreciate some of the creature designs, the photography, the sets, and how much imagination Don Coscarelli could pack into an adventure flick.

You can find my Don Coscarelli Feature Films Ranked list here.

Detour (1945) ****

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In Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour(1945) the protagonist Al Roberts (Tom Neal) gives new meaning to the phrase "down-on-his-luck." On his New York to Los Angeles hitch-hike, after his fiancée postpones their wedding, Al unfortunately ends up with a dead body to dispose of and later (and perhaps even worse for him) he offers a ride to the  nefarious, scheming Vera. An actor with a more appropriate name couldn't have been cast when it comes to that character, played by Ann Savage—a femme fatale and a half.

At a brusk 68 minutes, the film is a marvel of economy, never wasting a frame—getting straight to the essence of why audiences love film noir. In the case of Detour, the cheap production values and B-movie vibe only enhance the gritty, fatalistic atmosphere. One quote, out of the many bits of priceless dialogue from Detour, sums up the film concisely:“whichever way you turn, fate sticks out a foot to trip you.”

You can find my Film Noir Feature Films Ranked list here.

Midsommar (2019) ***1/2

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As with Ari Aster's debut, Hereditary (2018) (my review here), I liked his follow-up, Midsommar(2019), a lot overall, but I still felt myself wanting something more. Read on for my thoughts about this story of college kids visiting Sweden gone amuck.

It's hard to write about Midsommar without bringing up The Wicker Man (1973) because it is the pagan cult horror film and there are plenty of similarities between the two films. But I've never been able to fully embrace The Wicker Man—I find a lot of it goofy, not scary and a little boring. Speaking of, while I was never bored by Midsommarand while I do like a good film with a languid pace, one that builds and builds, I did think this film could have had the same impact at 2 hours as it does with its 2 1/2 hour running time.

I will say, at times it felt as if I was watching something special, even grand, but that feeling was always undercut by the underdeveloped/stereotypical/uninteresting characters to the point that it so…

Invasion U.S.A. (1985) ***

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Joseph Zito's Invasion U.S.A. (1985) is one ridiculously over the top action flick—100% a Cannon film that only producing team Golan and Globus could have spawned. 

Chuck Norris is Hunter, a reckless antihero with no backstory who dresses in all denim, doesn't know the meaning of shirt buttons and lives in the everglades, where he drives a mean air boat, ropes gators, and has an armadillo friend. Hunter will go the distance, including driving his pickup truck through malls, knifing a sucka and blasting baddies with twin Uzis. Richard Lynch stars as his nemesis, Rostov, an unhinged Russian terrorist with endless rocket launcher ammo and a signature move of shooting dudes in the dick. Rostov has no qualms about mowing down innocent bystanders—be they Cuban immigrants or Christmas-decorating suburbanites—and no problem stealing anything he needs—be it LCVPs, helicopters, police cars, etc.

In this Invasion the plot is thin but basically when Rostov invades the U.S.A., pandemonium an…

La Vérité (1960) ****

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Henri-Georges Clouzot's La Vérité(The Truth) (1960) is different than the average courtroom drama in that the matter of guilt is not what is in question when it comes to a young woman's having killed her former lover. Rather, what the court is out to prove is whether the killing was premeditated or a crime of passion.

Brigitte Bardot as Dominique Marceau is electrifying on screen, here given a full range of emotions to act with—from playful/sexy to pouty/cranky to barren/destitute to hysterical/suicidal. The action is pretty closely split down the middle between the courtroom and flashbacks, painting a picture of Dominique's backstory and playing with structure in an almost Rashomon-like way at times.

The film succeeds in bending the viewer to its will, as I found my allegiance subconsciously shifting back and forth, both based on Dominique's actions and her cruel treatment at the hands of the prosecution (lead by a ruthless Paul Meurisse). La Vérité makes one wonder ho…

Track 29 (1988) ***

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Track 29 (1988) is unmistakably a Nicolas Roeg film. By that I mean that it's surreal, obtuse, over the top, disturbing and bizarre. And in the case of this film, incredibly Oedipal. Though, without spoiling anything, Oedipal isn't even quite the correct term, since the viewer can't really be sure how much of what is on screen is actually happening vs. drunken fantasies mixed with memories of a rape. If that sounds confusing or vague, well, so is the film.

The two leads, Theresa Russell and Gary Oldman—as one would expect with actors of their caliber—both immerse themselves completely and they are both very good (though Russell's southern accent is a bit dodgy). Christopher Lloyd and Sandra Bernhard are intentionally given non-comedic roles but their blandness just feels like a waste of talent. There's a bit of a Mike Leigh feel to Track 29 when it comes to the characters and the production design but the absurdity of the situations combined with Roeg's signatu…