Showing posts from August, 2019

Apocalypse Now - Final Cut (1979/2019) *****

40 years has passed since Francis Ford Coppola unleashed what many consider to be his masterpiece, Apocalypse Now (1979). Despite monumental obstacles in the form of severe weather, postponements resulting in the film taking years to make, budgetary and casting problems (including Marlon Brando arriving overweight and unprepared), improvisation on the part of Coppola in order to get a film that worked or Martin Sheen suffering a breakdown and near-fatal heart attack, and Coppola himself almost being driven as mad as his character Kurtz (all of which is documented in the superb Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse(1991)), Coppola did create a masterpiece.

Because Apocalypse Now is a film that rewards the viewer every time. There's always something new to appreciate or some aspect to be further enriched upon each viewing. Whether it's the incredible cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (the orchestration that must have gone into some shots is mind boggling), the immer…

Ready Or Not (2019) ***

Ready Or Not(2019) is a cool little horror flick in which its main character must survive a night with her new groom's fucked up family. It doesn't necessarily tread any new ground, as much it just adds some twists to familiar territory (The Most Dangerous Game (1924) being the most obvious reference). The characters are archetypal and a bit tropey, but the cast handle the material well. RON offers up a nice plate of blood, black humor, and outlandish fun.

Popcorn (1991) **1/2

Popcorn(1991) is a decent little horror flick that has earned itself a cult following but it never truly delivers on any level.Predating the trend of metafiction prevalent in 90s horror films such as New Nightmare (1994) and Scream(1996), Popcorn offers an appealing premise for film nerds and cinema lovers, but its goofy execution, while initially fun, wears thin as the film progresses.

Popcorn blendsPhantom Of The Operastyleantics with William Castle style gags against the backdrop of film students presenting an all-night Horrorthon at a theater set to be torn down in a few weeks. The film focuses (sort of) on Maggie (Jill Schoelen, who coincidentally starred in the 1989 version of Phantom Of The Opera with Robert Englund, two years prior), one of said students, who has been having nightmares eerily similar to a surreal short film that the group discover and which is possibly connected to her past.

The films within a film that the students present at the Horrorthon are fun, tongue-in-…

Stand By Me (1986) ****1/2

Stand By Me (1986) stands the test of time as a poignant, accurate, but never sappy film depicting how it feels to be a sensitive teenage boy on the verge of junior high. The wonderful young cast brilliantly portray four boys's 2-day journey across fields, woods and train tracks in search of a dead body. They sing songs, they playfully insult each other (and each others's mothers), they eat junk food, they open up to each other, and, finally, they lose their innocence. Stand By Me is that near perfect blend of nostalgia that hits you in the heart without necessarily causing the tears to flow—a film for the ages.

You can find my Stephen King Feature & Television Film Adaptations Ranked list here.

Redd Kross "Beyond The Door" (2019) ***1/2

I forget why I bought it (in 1995 or '96, I think), but a promotional copy of Phaseshifter (1993)—still a favorite of mine—was my introduction to Redd Kross. I still have yet to hear their comeback album, 2012's Researching The Blues, which reunited the Neurotica (1987) lineup, because until earlier this year—I'm ashamed to say—I wasn't familiar with that latter album or Born Innocent (1982) or Third Eye (1990) (which I'm now in love with). But I did have another RK LP, Show World (1997) (on cassette!), along with the soundtrack to Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984) (re-released on CD in 1997). So I was about half familiar with RK.

Their newest album, Beyond The Door (2019), continues their tradition of blending 70s glam/rock with punk and bubblegum pop to serve up a fresh plate of tasty tunes. They don't mess with their formula or add too much studio trickery, choosing instead to rip through the tracks with ease. BTD is rock solid, concise (11 songs, 33 mins)…

Do The Right Thing (1989) ****1/2

Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing(1989) remains, 30 years on, an unconventional, electric and brilliant film. (Sadly) it also remains relevant in its portrayal of racial relations and tensions. Through the microcosm of a single block in a Brooklyn neighborhood populated by an eclectic (and superbly monikered) array of characters (played to perfection by the wonderful cast), Lee portrays how quickly relationships can deteriorate and turn to violent conflict over one scorching summer day. There really is no other film like DTRT, thanks in part to—among many contributing factors—the top notch acting, vibrant costume design by Ruth E. Brown, the beautiful and vivid golden hues of Ernest Dickerson's cinematography, and—of course—that unforgettable Public Enemysong.

The Silence (1963) ****

Ingmar Bergman spent much of his career making films brimming with (brilliant) dialogue. While The Silence(1963) isn't quite silent there are indeed very few vocal exchanges. It's a film that relies heavily on its images, its erotically charged nature and its dreamlike impressionism (something Bergman would explore even further in Persona(1966)).

The Silence concerns the unusual and volatile relationship between two sisters (one sensual and emotionally detached, one intellectual and seriously ill) plus the son of the first, as they travel by train, eventually staying in a hotel in a small undisclosed city where war is imminent. While it's certainly tame by today's standards, the film's frank depictions of sex and frequent nudity were highly controversial in its day and oddly enough—though being cut in many countries—caused the film to be financially successful, based on its reputation.

You can find my Ingmar Bergman Feature Films Ranked list here.

Logan Lucky (2017) ****

A southern fried Ocean'swith hints of Out Of Sight (1998). Logan Lucky(2017) is so much damn fun—the best Elmore Leonard-esque film made since he passed.

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

Sicario (2015) ****

Denis Villeneuve's Sicario (2015) is a politically-charged crime drama that manages to tackle complex issues with little in the way of conventional action, character background or development, and yet never feels lacking, thanks to Taylor Sheridan's taut script. The blurred allegiances and dark subject matter ring true to Villeneuve's style, Roger Deakins's cinematography is marvelous and the performances are all grounded in reality.

You can find my Denis Villeneuve Feature Films Ranked list here.

Dog Soldiers (2002) ***

When I first saw Dog Soldiers(2002), when it was released on DVD, I loved it. Neil Marshall's debut felt like a shot in the arm for those that appreciated the low budget quality of the early films of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. Also I was 22 at the time, so I fit the prime demographic that a film like that is aimed at—rabid young male gorehounds. Unlike those aforementioned directors' debuts, The Evil Dead(1981) and Bad Taste(1987), respectively, DS hasn't aged quite as well.

Dog Soldiers has a certain frenetic energy that is admirable, particularly on that first viewing. But now that I've seen it probably a half dozen times, I just find the dizzying camerawork and number of cuts tiresome and particularly fatiguing on my eyes. There is plenty of bloodletting and I enjoy the practical, handmade aspect of the f/x. Obvious callouts to the The Howling(1981) and AnAmerican Werewolf In London(1981) are kinda cool (plus a The Matrix(1999) gag that is good for a laugh) but th…

Psycho Beach Party (2000) ***1/2

I have a bit of a soft spot for Charles Busch's Psycho Beach Party(2000), as I was musical director for a production of the stage play just shy of 10 years ago. My cousin and I supplied the live tunes on drums and guitar, respectively, and a few of my theatre friends starred and directed as well, including my friend Victoria (in the role(s) of Chicklet/Ann Bowman). Before those 3 performances took place, I watched the film and greatly enjoyed it. But even if I hadn't been involved in the stage play, I'm sure I would have found my way to this whacky little movie eventually and embraced it.

Busch wrote and stars (in drag) in the film adaptation of his play about a regular square teenage girl who wants to learn how to surf and to fall in love but suffers from blackouts, multiple personalities, and might be responsible for a series of murders. Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under (2001–2005)) brilliantly takes over the lead role of Chicklet in the movie, which Busch himself played …

Baby Driver (2017) ****

I finally got around to revisiting Baby Driver (2017). I still love it, despite a few eye rolling moments. The soundtrack is tight, the choreography of the scenes around the songs is impeccable, the film is a marvel of sound design, the stunts are impressive, and it's all done in a way that no other filmmaker could accomplish. Musicians themselves crop up all over the film as well—most obviously Jamie FoxxPaul WilliamsFleaSky Ferreira, but also Big BoiKiller Mike andJon Spencer (JSBX is the first track used in the film).

I like that Edgar Wrightisn't afraid to acknowledge his influences (obviously The Driver (1978) and Drive(2011)), including a cameo from Walter Hill (which I spotted this time), and there's also a nice homage to The Omen(1976).I'm sure there's other stuff that I've missed—as with Spaced(1999–2001),it can be a near impossible task to catch all the references.

The story is fairly simple and maybe, along with some of the character traits,…

Winter Light (1963) ***1/2

I tend to have difficulty relating to films that center on religion, myself not being religious in the slightest. But Ingmar Bergman always offers something in his stories in which to pause and ponder. Winter Light (1963) concerns a pastor's (Gunnar Björnstrand) crisis of faith, his slavishly dedicated lover (Ingrid Thulin), and his inability to alleviate the debilitative fears of one of his parishioners (Max von Sydow). I didn't connect with Winter Light as deeply as the rest of Bergman's work that I've seen but I appreciated many things about it—it's deliberately slow quality, its beautifully intimate cinematography by Sven Nykvist, and most of all, its lack of resolution in regard to existential doubt.

You can find my Ingmar Bergman Feature Films Ranked list here.

DB Mix Series 6 – First Impressions

Wow, it's been six months since the last DB Mixeswere posted! A whole half a year. Doesn't feel like it at all. But, it's the 16th day of the month and today also happens to be Bryan's birthday! (Series 3 was also posted on Bryan's b-day last year.) Read on to discover DB Mix Series 6 – First Impressions.

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 time was chosen by me—each of us was to make a 26-track mix (one artist for each letter of the alphabet) of nothing but album opening tracks (from our available MP3 collections). Some of the rules we set this time around were: the songs had to be from full-length LPs (no EPs or singles), no songs from soundtracks/scores, and no live tracks.

To recap…

Uninvited (1988) ***

If you're in the mood for a mutant cat climbing in and out of a regular (?) cat, terrible acting, the same two sound f/x library cat noises (even when said cat's mouth is closed) more times than you can count, atrocious editing, piss poor creature f/x, bikini butts, and bad dancing then Uninvited(1988) is very very much your film. Plus you get character legends Clu Gulager (A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's RevengeThe Return Of The Living Dead(both 1985)) and George Kennedy (the same year he starred in one of his most famous roles in The Naked Gun). That, my friends, is one good time at the movies. Seeing this killer cat on a yacht Z-grader with an audience was a hilarious experience, particularly the ending—the theater absolutely erupted with laughter. You can't polish a turd but when the turd is this tasty, maybe you shouldn't. * for quality, ***** for fun = *** overall.

I couldn't choose just one terrible poster to represent this film, so here's f…

Source Code (2011) ***1/2

Source Code(2011), Duncan Jones's sort of time travel thriller is a bit like a mashup of 12 Monkeys (1995), The Manchurian Candidate(1962), Groundhog Day (1993), Quantum Leap(1989–1993), and Alfred Hitchcock. Trading the heavy melancholic mood of his previous film Moon (2009) for a more optimistic action drama, there's still an emotional weight and a strong central performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Source Code holds up on repeat viewings, even when you know the outcome and even though it borrows elements from other (aforementioned) better films. And that's because it's a well structured popcorn type flick, but one that never expects its audience to turn off their brains (or hearts) completely.

American Psycho (2000) ****1/2

It had been over a decade since the last time I'd viewed American Psycho(2000), a film I'd watched many times in the heyday of DVDs. The film is now almost 20 years old and the events of the film are more than 30 years old. Does this satirical psycho-horror cult classic hold up? Yes, very much so. But in the same way that Fight Club (1999), another critique of toxic male attitudes, does.

Is AP a darkly hilarious, highly quotable, controversial film? It is all those things. But if you don't understand that it's a satire then you're missing the point. No one should be rooting for supposed serial killer Patrick Bateman or his wholehearted embrace of capitalism and 80s consumerism as a mask to hide his inner emptiness. Whether Bateman's crimes are real or imagined (as the film's surreal conclusion suggests) is not the most important aspect to focus on. Rather, it's Bateman's complete disregard for human lives—his lack of empathy, his sociopathic tenden…

The Thin Man (1934) ****1/2

Nick and Nora Charles are one of my favorite cinematic couples. In W.S. Van Dyke's film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel The Thin Man(1934) and its five sequels, William Powell and Myrna Loy portrayed said couple with an on-screen chemistry like no other. Their playful back and forth banter, their dry wit, their enviable and flirtatious marriage—pure movie magic. 
Only a movie could make retired detective Nick's alcoholism seems so amusing and only Powell could ooze charm in the role the way he does. Nick's clever, adventure-seeking socialite wife Nora is his perfect match (and perfectly embodied by Myrna Loy)—ever willing to go toe to toe with him in every regard. Nora is a unique female character for the time—no doting housewife is she, but her love for Nick is always apparent through their sarcastic jabs at each other. Of Nick and Nora's relationship, film historian Andrew Sarris was quoted as saying they were the "first on-screen Hollywood couple for…

The Quick And The Dead (1995) ****

I remember that I saw The Quick And The Dead(1995) when it was released theatrically and I believe I may have seen it on DVD as well. But I didn't recall much about the film at all. So watching it again was like rediscovering it. While it starts off really strong and loses some steam by the final third, it's still an underappreciated (and under viewed) entry in Sam Raimi's filmography.

Raimi's revisionist western sees Sharon Stone entering a dueling tournament, in a town run by Gene Hackman, with the intention of avenging her father's death. Stone as Ellen is an obvious allusion to Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name"—she doesn't mince words, she smokes cigars, and she remains steely-eyed for much of the running time. I've seen plenty of articles that state that Stone was miscast and her acting skills leave much to be desired, but as the female equivalent of an Eastwood-type antihero, I find that she does just fine. Additionally, the sight of …

Christine (1983) ****

Of the few films I've seen in the "killer vehicle" genre—those being Christine(1983), Duel(1971) and The Car(1977)—John Carpenter's take on Stephen King's novel of the same year is my favorite. It has endlessly quotable, perfectly high schoolian dialogue, impressive car f/x, an excellent and eerie Carpenter/Howarth score, and an awesomely unhinged central performance by Keith Gordon, as nerd Arnie Cunningham—who loves his '58 Plymouth Fury more than anything (or anyone) else and isn't going to take any more shit from the shitters of the world. Plus the added bonus of Harry Dean Stanton (only present in a few scenes, but memorable nonetheless).

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

You can find my Stephen King Feature & Television Film Adaptations Ranked list here.

The Driller Killer (1979) **1/2

Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer, his first non-porn feature-length film, stars the director as struggling artist Reno, who, unable to cope with life's difficulties, takes to the streets for a power drill massacre of defenseless derelicts.

This was my third time watching TDK and, as with the other two times, my experience and memory of the film remained the same—it meanders, it feels long (the multiple scenes of  the film's band The Roosters performing last much longer than necessary), it doesn't care about its female character portrayals whatsoever, and the score is loud and shrill. In some ways, it has a similar aesthetic to Liquid Sky (1982) or a grimier Taxi Driver (1976) but with less ambition and direction. I mean, I get it—the film is experimental and the lack of characterization was probably a stylistic choice to represent something or other about the human disconnect, etc., etc. But I truly think that with a stronger focus TDK would have been a better film.


Moon (2009) ****

The last time I watched Duncan Jones's Moon(2009) was in 2016, not long after his father died, as part of a "Bowie" double feature with The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). I've seen the film four times now, including in the theater on its original run and now on UHD, which is the best looking presentation I've experienced yet.

Jones's scientifically plausible, melancholic mood piece eschews the overly common action tropes of science fiction films in favor of the the emotional journey that one character (sort of), Sam Bell (brilliantly portrayed by Sam Rockwell), experiences on a moon mining base. Bell's AI companion GERTY acts as the anti HAL (of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) fame). Where HAL carried out its mission no matter what the human cost, GERTY aids Bell in every way, when Sam decides to expose certain discoveries about himself and his purpose on the base. Instead of robots being the source of fear, as in so much of science fiction, humans are actua…

Through A Glass Darkly (1961) ****

Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly(1961) is a somber meditation on mental illness, faith, love, family, despair, and artistic expression. It's beautifully contained on an island location, strikingly shot by Sven Nykvist (primarily in bright light contrasting its subject matter) and fantastically portrayed across the board by the film's only four actors—Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow and Lars Passgård.

You can find my Ingmar Bergman Feature Films Ranked list here.

Blue Velvet (1986) *****

Thirty-three years since its release Blue Velvet (1986) is as mysterious, disturbing and darkly funny as it ever was. David Lynch's story of the dangerous goings-on beneath the surface of white picket fence living is gorgeously shot, pitch perfectly performed and captures the beauty that can exist in ugliness.

While BV didn't make it on the 2019 Edition of my Top 100 Films (only because I didn't own a version at the time), it was on the 2014 Edition and you can be sure that it has a placeholder on the 2024 Edition. To quote from the film, it's a strange world and ours is a better one for having Lynch's films in it.

You can find my David Lynch Feature Films Ranked list here.

Screencaps courtesy of Filmgrab

The Witch (2015) ****

The Witch(2015)is one quiet film. There are moments of sudden alarming noise, to be sure. And the tension remains throughout, even in the quietest moments. But it's a textbook definition of a slow-burner. The performances are excellent across the bar, the cinematography is exceptional (shot with natural light only) and the atmosphere is creepy as all get out. I've seen The Witch three times now in as many formats (cinema, Blu-ray and this time UHD) and all signs point to this being a film that will stand the test of time.

Recommended for fans of Valhalla Rising(2009), A Field In England(2013),The House Of The Devil(2009)and Rosemary's Baby(1968).

Unforgiven (1992) ****1/2

Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992) is an all-time great revisionist western that, thanks to David Peoples's unforgiving script, deftly portrays a story surrounding the nature of violence, vengeance, guilt by association, and moral ambiguity. The acting, cinematography, pacing, and production design all perfectly compliment the bleak gritty mood of the film. Unforgiven never shies from showing the true nature of 'The Old West" and breaking down the myth of "true" heroes—revealing the cold hatred that can lie in any human being's heart.