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Showing posts from October, 2019

The Blob (1988) ***1/2

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The Blob (1988) has a mean streak that I'm not typically a fan of, where everyone is disposable, and the filmmakers really seem to delight in killing people off in innovative ways but when the f/x work is as good as it is here, it doesn't bother me too much. The tone is just a bit weird, when characters that you're sort of supposed to care for die horrible, particularly cruel deaths. I do appreciate the killing off of the character that you think is going to be the male lead less than a half hour in (à la Psycho (1960)) though.

A lot of the f/x appear to be homages to setups from John Carpenter's The Thing(1982), including a few gags that are straight up rip-offs of Rob Bottin's work from that most perfect of perfect horror films. There are also some shots that are reminiscent of 1987's Street Trash, which is enough to melt a grue lover's heart (literally). But it's hard not to love practical f/x and makeup in horror films, particularly 80s ones. And it…

Phantasm (1979) ****

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Phantasm(1979) is one of those films that I've seen many times, where I'm willing to forgive some of the clunkier aspects—the rough acting (and overacting), the dated f/x, the silly (but fun) dialogue, and some truly goofy character moments—because I can't help but marvel at the spirit and enthusiasm that its writer/director Don Coscarelli and his dedicated cast and crew were able to get up on screen with a micro budget. It's one of those films that inspires because you can tell it's made by people who truly cared and it's got an underdog quality that you can't help but root for.

In those ways, it's a lot like Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead(1981)—in fact there are physical gags in Phantasm that are similar to the type of humor used in The Evil Dead. Additionally, the chainsaw duel in this film's sequel, Phantasm II(1988), was likely a tribute to Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), and the quadruple shotgun to Evil Dead II(1987).

P…

Wild At Heart (1990) ****1/2

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Wild At Heart (1990) features my favorite on-screen rebel couple, Sailor and Lula, two young lovers who cope with all the shit dealt their way from the wild weird world the only ways they know how—through sex, cigarettes, heavy metal, and their undying and true love for each other. WAH is a film about passion, crime, dancing, individuality, freedom, good and bad witches, temptation, menacing baddies, oddball families, and much more, all filtered through the strange and wonderful mind of David Lynch.

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

An American Werewolf In London (1981) *****

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More than just a superb horror film, more than just a gorefest, more than just a dark comedy—An American Werewolf In London(1981) is a true classic that features revolutionary makeup f/x by Rick Baker, affecting performances by David Naughton, Jenny Agutter and Griffin Dunne, endlessly quotable dialogue, and a memorable score by the prolific Elmer Bernstein (plus clever use of "moon" songs)—all directed to perfection by John Landis.

Even though two other high profile werewolf horror films (The Howling and Wolfen) preceded AWIL earlier the same year, and while I like both of those films, they don't hold a candle to AWIL, which rightfully earned a spot on my Top 100 Films list and my Top 10 Horror Films list. AWIL won the first ever Academy Award for Best Makeup—well deserved for Baker's incredible transformation scene alone. The blood and guts and mayhem (that Piccadilly Circus scene!) in this film are peerless.

AWIL has astounding replay value, thanks to its brillian…

Conquest (1983) ***1/2

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While it may be a mark against this film for some viewers, there is something entirely satisfying to me that Conquest(1983) feels like it was birthed from the imagination of a 14 year old boy. There is no denying that Conquest is a low-rent Italian rip-off of Conan The Barbarian(1982) and The Beastmaster(1982) that has more in common with Hawk The Slayer (1980), but that's what makes this movie so enjoyable.

It's unfortunate that the photography is not up to par with Lucio Fulci's other films (the soft focus was applied a bit too liberally), but it's impossible not to enjoy this fantasy freakfest. If you like your sword and sorcery flicks with a mostly-nude, golden-masked, snake-wielding, brain-eating, orgiastic necromancer witch who has an army of wolfmen and the power to control the sun and the moon, look no further! If, in addition to that (as if you needed more), slow motion jumping from great heights, a laser bow, healthy doses of gore, and an out of place but aw…

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) *****

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There really is no other film like 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968). No other film before and no other film since. And there really was no other filmmaker like Stanley Kubrick (my favorite director). Before or since. It's a film of impeccable style, grace, and patience, filled with gorgeous visuals, sumptuous and occasionally terrifying sounds, and ponderous and unnerving moments. It's a technical marvel, a masterpiece and the existential sci-fi film to end all existential sci-fi films—one that has sparked many theories. When I made the updated 2019 version of my Top 100 Films, I rightfully included 2001 on the list. It seems to get better with each viewing.

In 2018 I had the pleasure of seeing the film in a new 70 mm print. One day short of a year ago I watched the newly remastered Blu-ray, which was just as gorgeous. Since I bought a 4K OLED TV and a 4K Ultra HD player earlier this year, I have had the capability to watch the UHD disc and I finally got around to it. It's stu…

People On Sunday (1930) ***1/2

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People On Sunday(1930) is an historically significant film for several reasons. Chief among those reasons is that it was one the first films made by several young German filmmakers (Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann, Curt Siodmak, and Eugen Schüfftan) who would all go on to become important figures in Hollywood in varying capacities. Another reason is the naturalistic, almost documentary-like quality of the film (combined with its cast of "non actors"), which would influence and anticipate the Italian neorealist movement.

Additionally, POS provides an interesting—if maybe not entirely accurate—look at the interwar period in Berlin. Its examination of everyday people enjoying time off is fun to watch and it often features evocative imagery. Outside of everything mentioned above though I'm not sure it's a film that has a lot of rewatchability for this viewer, due to its lack of plot. In short: People On Sunday is a great curio—a neat, breezy …

M.R. Mackenzie "Cruel Summer" (2019) ***1/2

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Full disclosure: M.R. Mackenzie is a friend of mine. I've guest hosted numerous times on the podcast which he co-hosts, Movie Matters. I also had a hand in proofreading this book, so this was my second read-through. And I like to support my friends in their creative endeavors. Regardless of all that, I still very much objectively enjoyed his sophomore novel Cruel Summer (2019).

Summer is the sequel novel to In The Silence(2018) (my review for that book here) and the second installment in the Kelvingrove Park Trilogy. Two of the main characters from Silence, Zoe Callahan and Anna Scavolini, return in Summer, but the focus this time lies on Zoe rather than Anna. Three years after the horrific events of ITS, which, without spoiling anything, have a deep and personal affect on Zoe, we now find her embroiled in possible political scandal and in bad favor of some unsavory and dangerous people, who threaten her and her loved ones.

Whilst I really appreciate that Summer is not simply a re…

The Lighthouse (2019) ****

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In Robert Eggers' sophomore feature, The Lighthouse (2019), the sanity of two wickies (portrayed by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) is brought to question when their scheduled four-week contract is extended due to a storm, which may have been brought on by an act of violence perpetrated by one of them.

While I wouldn't say that The Lighthouse offers any surprises or twists, I don't think it needs them. Its primal story (Eggers co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Max) is chock full of period prose, imaginative insults, and well-timed farts (yes). Dafoe's salty (former) seafarer, Thomas Wake, is perfection, one of those "born to play" roles, and his sinister Poseidon/Neptune-like quality is a force on screen. Pattinson as Ephraim Winslow is quite good as well, forced to endure the verbal and physical punishment doled out via Wake (when he calls Winslow "pretty boy" it feels as if he's specifically poking fun at Pattinson's star turn i…

Trilogy Of Terror (1975) **1/2

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While praise can rightfully be aimed at Karen Black for the range of her performances across all three segments in Trilogy Of Terror (1975), all of which are different and decent, the television budget and production levels are clearly evident throughout and there's not much of a lasting impression. TOT is good for some laughs, particularly this TV movie's ability to be "sexist, racist, (and) pervy as well as tackle Daddy and Mommy issues in just over an hour" (thanks to writer Richard Matheson)—to quote my friend Kate.

The Circus (1928) ****

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Charlie Chaplin's final silent film, The Circus (1928) (rereleased in 1969 with a new score), was released just a few months after 1927's The Jazz Singer, the first feature-length motion picture with sound. This seems to inform the final shot of The Circus, which ends on a somber but hopeful note.

Chaplin's Tramp ends up a part of the titular troupe by accident, as he flees from the police after being mistaken for a pickpocket. The scene where he literally stumbles into the ring is one of the film's highlights (along with the earlier automaton gag, which is one of the best of Chaplin's career). Initially an unwitting comic performer, soon the Tramp finds himself the star of the show.

As he interacts with the various playersincluding falling in love with the show's bareback riderthere are many scenes and gags throughout that cause a smile, a laugh out loud, and tug at the heartstrings in equal measure. Additionally, there are sequences with in-camera f/x that …

Polyester (1981) ***1/2

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For John Waters' first studio (and biggest budgeted) film, Polyester(1981), he ditched the overt filth and midnight movie approach to make his version of an R-rated Douglas Sirk melodrama, casting Divine against type (trading his well-known monstrous persona for a sympathetic character), and scored a real Hollywood star, 50s heartthrob Tab Hunter.

Aided by a scratch-and-sniff gimmick, Odorama™ and inspired by William Castle, Waters aimed his crude satirical sense of humor at suburbiatackling divorce, abortion, adultery, alcoholism, foot fetishism, and the religious right. While it's tamer than his previous films in regard to shocking on-screen gratuitous content, it benefits from improved production values, refined performances, and there's still plenty of memorable dialogue. His usual cast and crew of Dreamlanders are all there, just in minimized roles.

Polyester received good reviews and brought Waters to the multiplexes. This wasn't a bad thing. Though he never mad…

Häxan (1922) ****

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Writer/director Benjamin Christensen described his 1922 film Häxan as a"cultural history lecture in moving pictures." The silent film explores witchcraft in the Middle Ages and compares it to modern treatment (at the time) of mental illness, combining historical descriptions via intertitles with on-screen reenactments. In the process it created something the likes of which had never been seen before—a pseudo documentary/pseudo horror film—that serves all at once as a somber reminder of what superstition can cause people to do, a delightfully demonic romp, and a virtual handbook for goths everywhere.
Christensen himself plays Satan, lasciviously flicking his tongue at and luring women in various states of (un)dress throughout the film. All the iconic imagery you could want on this topic is there—black magic, a bubbling cauldron, a full moon, creepy forests, infant sacrifice, blasphemy, torture. If I'm being honest, those are the parts of the film that entertain me the mo…

The Laundromat (2019) **1/2

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I'll watch anything Steven Soderbergh does because he never repeats himself and I love that he balances blockbusters with passion projects, making both popcorn escapism and serious political dramas—sometimes within the same year. He made another film in 2019, High Flying Bird(my review here), also released by Netflix, and I enjoyed it, despite not being a sports fan in the slightest. I didn't like The Laundromatas much though and a lot of that has to do with the slapdash tone (Is it a breezy satire? Is it a scathing diatribe? Is it a documentary?), the lack of character development, and the irony of a "message" film like this being delivered by millionaires.

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

Scarface (1983) ****

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It's so interesting to see how one views a film at different points in their life or even depending on the mood they're in when they watch it. The last time I watched Scarface(1983) (my review here), I wrote how it didn't feel much like a Brian De Palma film. Now that it's been just shy of eight years since my previous viewing, I couldn't feel more different. Between the camerawork, the editing, the melodrama and the way De Palma takes the gangster picture to almost cartoonish proportions, it very much feels like his work.

Oliver Stone's script takes the very basic idea of Howard Hawk's fantastic original 1932 Scarface, transports the action from Chicago to Miami, switches the ethnicity of the characters from Italian to Cuban immigrants, and changes the means of power from illegal alcohol to cocaine. Stone's dialogue is part of the lexicon of cinema, like it or not. Al Pacino's performance is one of over the top bombast, an approach he's taken w…

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) ***

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I'm not sure that I needed to find out what happened to Jesse Pinkman after the conclusion of Breaking Bad(2008–2013). And honestly, there is nothing particularly revelatory about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019). It feels more like two long episodes of the TV series than a film on its own right. But there's nothing wrong with that. Nothing felt out of place since series creator Vince Gilligan wrote and directed the movie himself. The production values are really high, as with the series.

Revisiting these characters was like slipping on a glove—no surprises, just a comfortable feeling. Aaron Paul is certainly excellent. And the film will always carry a certain level of noteworthiness due to it being the last performance by Robert Forster released during his lifetime (I found out about his passing as I was writing this review—R.I.P.). While I can't say that El Camino is necessary, neither does it feel like any kind of a betrayal or a letdown per se. It's just dif…

Predator 2 (1990) ***1/2

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While not the classic that Predator (1987) turned out to be, Predator 2(1990) is a worthy follow-up and a thoroughly enjoyable action/sci-fi flick.

Danny Glover was a bit of an odd choice to square off against the "silent, invisible, invincible, ultimate hunter" but somehow he makes it work in a cast filled with intense/over the top male actors—Gary Busey, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi and Morton Downey Jr. among them. There's definitely an additional level of comedy added that wasn't present in the first film, but it's also a gorier affair, at times dipping deeper into horror movie territory than its predecessor (or Predacessor? Sorry.) did. Stan Winston's alien creation gets some nice updates in costume and weaponry that are put to great use.

Stephen Hopkins was a solid choice to direct Predator 2. While A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, which he directed the previous year, is my least favorite of all the Freddy films (not counting the abysmal 2010 re…

Don't Look Now (1973) ****1/2

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Don’t Look Now (1973) has always felt like more of a thriller and a moving drama to me than a horror film—at least until the last 15 minutes. In that way it’s much like Daphne du Maurier’s (whose 1971 short story serves as the basis of this film) Rebecca (1938), which was also famously adapted to film by Alfred Hitchcock. Of course since DLN was directed by Nicolas Roeg, it's a whole different type of experience. Concerning a married couple in Venice following the death of their young daughter, DLN is a film that focuses on the aftermath of the death, the grief that pervades the couple, and two sisters (one clairvoyant) that persist in their lives. 
Roeg's film is noteworthy for many reasons. Among them are its actors' willingness to fully commit to their roles, its unconventional editing style and manipulation of time, combined with a fractured (and at times intentionally glacially paced) narrative, its frank depictions of nudity, including a sex scene between leads Julie…

Shaun Of The Dead (2004) *****

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It's difficult for me to fathom that Shaun Of The Dead(2004) is already fifteen years old. All the jokes and references still land, the dialogue is incredibly quotable and relatable (and the callbacks clever), the editing and story beats still impress, you care in one way or another for all the characters, and the film is ridiculously fun for the entirety of its runtime. SOTD is basically a perfect film, and, along with Re-Animatorand The Return Of The Living Dead(both 1985), is one of the Top 3 zombie comedies ever.

You can find my Edgar Wright Feature Films Ranked list here.

The Shape Of Water (2017) ****1/2

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I wrote on my second viewing of The Shape Of Water (2017)that it is a film that will stand the test of time with its simple yet complex beauty. After a third time through I still hold that sentiment.

TSOW is a beautiful, at times brutal adult fairy taleand a good old fashioned romance (with more nudity), all directed masterfully and impeccably by that modern movie wizard Guillermo del Toro.

Water most closely resembles the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunetin design, tone and even parts of the score by Alexandre Desplat, but there's definitely a bit of a Steven Spielberg/Tim Burton vibe too. All the leads are on point—Sally Hawkinsas the daydreaming headstrong mute, Michael Shannon as the imposing violent force, Richard Jenkinsas the vulnerable relatable loner, Octavia Spencer as the loyal thankless friend, and Doug Jonesas the literal fish out of water, both powerful and tender.

The story certainly follows a formula of sorts and the actors play strong archetypes but it's all filtered…

Addams Family Values (1993) ***1/2 [AF BD Double Feature Pt. 2]

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There's a sizable subset of fans that prefer 1993's Addams Family Values to its 1991 predecessor. As sequels go, it's quite good, but I still prefer the first film overall, even if I settled on awarding the same star rating to both. I'm not actually certain that I had ever seen this sequel in its entirety before. In any event, if I had, as with the first film, I hadn't seen it since the 90s so it was fun to revisit.

Barry Sonnenfeld returned to direct and did basically as good a job as he did with The Addams Family (1991). I don't think Paul Rudnick's screenplay is as good as the first film, relying a bit too much on silly humor that goes for a big laugh rather than a sly smirk (which is more my speed). The cast is excellent once again, given a chance to sink their teeth even further into the characters (Christina Ricci in particular is a delight), though I much prefer Judith Malina as Granny in the first film to Carol Kane—her performance isn't as good…

The Addams Family (1991) ***1/2 [AF BD Double Feature Pt. 1]

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After Tim Burton passed on directing The Addams Family(1991), Barry Sonnenfeld took the assignment as his directing debut. Previously Sonnenfeld had served as cinematographer on a number of great films (including the first three CoenBrothers features). Ironically, TAF had three cinematographers (including, finally, Sonnenfeld himself), due to Owen Roizman quitting and Gale Tattersall being hospitalized.

I hadn't revisited TAF since the 90s. I seem to recall that I saw it in its original theatrical run, but I I'm not 100% sure (you start to forget things that happened almost 30 years ago when you get older). I've seen some of creator Charles Addams' original cartoons and I've seen episodes of the The Addams Family(1964–1966) TV series, but I am no aficionado, by any means. However, as a film based on these characters, standing on its own merits, I find it really enjoyable—full of light-hearted gruesome fun.

The cast is pitch perfect—Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, Chr…

The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires (1974) ***1/2

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For 1974's The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires, legendary production company Hammer (best known for its Gothic horror output) joined forces with the legendary Shaw Brothers studio (best know for its kung fu output) to release an action-packed horror/martial arts mashup. It was the ninth and final film in Hammer's Dracula series, and the only one in that series where an actor other than Christopher Lee played the Count (apparently he declined the role after reading the script)—here played by John Forbes-Robertson.

Peter Cushing stars as Van Helsing (his fifth and final appearance in the role for Hammer), who, along with his dandy son Leyland (played by Robin Stewart) and a wealthy widow (Julie Ege)—an emancipated, sexually empowered woman (though she's useless in battle)—embark on a journey lead by one of his students (David Chiang) and his many brothers and sister (all masters of one weapon or another) to kick some serious vampire/zombie butt.

The f/x are cheap and dated w…

Chromatics "Closer To Grey" (2019) ****

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Chromatics fans were expecting their next album to be the much anticipated (and delayed) Dear Tommy, but instead the band has surprised everyone by dropping an entirely different album, Closer To Grey (2019)—their first in 7 years. The Roman numeral on the cover states that CTG is their 7th LP, and the band's label lists Dear Tommy as their 6th, even though it's yet to be released. Regardless, Chromatics' first full-length studio album since 2012's Kill For Loveis love at first listen.

In a similar move to KFL's opening Neil Young cover song ("Into The Black"), CTG opens with a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound Of Silence". Much like that Neil Young track, it's not a song I would have pictured Chromatics covering but when you hear it makes perfect sense. Chromatics are a band that can translate their stripped down sound to almost any cover and make it work. There's also another cover, of The Jesus And Mary Chain's "…