A Stuffed, Legless Duck Production|
[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in
[ << Previous 20 ]
[ << Previous 20 ]
|Saturday, August 27th, 2016|
|The rational mind can accept just so much.
Ever eager to cash in on whatever craze came along, producer/director Roger Corman hopped on board the past-life regression train with his confusingly titled 1957 film The Undead
, which isn't about zombies or vampires at all. Rather, it follows a fair maiden in medieval times named Helene who's falsely accused of being a witch and is due to be executed by a black-hooded headsman at sunrise. This plot doesn't kick in until ten minutes in, though, since it's nested within one about a modern-day psychical researcher just back from Tibet after seven years who wishes to show up his old professor at the American Institute of Psychical Research (check out those initials) by sending a streetwalker into a deep trance so he can "invade the depths of the mind" and make contact with all her past lives, one of which happens to be accused witch Helene. Conveniently, both Helene and working girl Diana Love are played by top-billed Pamela Duncan, but everyone else in the cast has to make do with only one role apiece, which is enough for most of them.
Adrift in Helene's time, Diana's disembodied spirit unwittingly changes history by helping her former self escape from the Tower of Death on the eve of her beheading, touching off a tug of war between the innocent Helene and actual witch Livia (Allison Hayes) for her beau, the noble Pendragon (Richard Garland), who seeks to free her at any cost, even if it is as high as his immortal soul. Among the colorful characters populating the tale penned by Charles B. Griffith and Mark Hanna are Mel Welles as bewitched and bewildered gravedigger Smolkin, whose dialogue sounds as if he traded places with Hamlet during his pretending-to-be-mad phase, Bruno Ve Sota as superstitious innkeeper Scroop, whose defenses against witches are entirely ineffective, Billy Barty as Livia's imp, who gets no dialogue whatsoever but mugs up a storm to make up for it, and Dick Miller as a leper miraculously cured by an über-fey Satan (Richard Devon). And joining Diana/Helene in the past via the most nonsensical means possible is Quintus (Val Dufour), the smug hypnotist who started the whole mess in the first place. Incidentally, just as in the Terminator
series, clothing doesn't travel through time, so upon his arrival Quintus has to waylay an unwary knight and steal his suit of armor. Now forget Diana. Where's the scene of that guy
coming to and having to explain what happened to him? That's what I want to know.
|Friday, August 26th, 2016|
|If god can't figure things out, then we have to.
If there's a working filmmaker who's better at telling stories involving children than Hirokazu Kore-eda, I don't know who it is. His latest to reach these shores, 2015's Our Little Sister
, follows 2013's Like Father, Like Son
and 2011's I Wish
(and, more distantly, 2004's Nobody Knows
) in being centered on young protagonists trying to find their place in the world and either maintain existing or forge new familial bonds. Here, the fulcrum is 14-year-old Suzu (Suzu Hirose), who goes to live with her half-sisters, the Kôdas, after the death of their father. The one responsible for extending the invitation is the oldest, Sachi (Haruka Ayase), a nurse who's seemingly in no hurry to get married and move out of the family home. Next is middle sister Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa), a bank teller with poor taste in boyfriends and an acknowledged taste for alcohol. And the youngest is Chika (Kaho), who works in a sporting goods store and remains the most childish of the bunch even after Suzu moves in. All have their own problems -- both work- and man-related -- but they cheerfully take Suzu in in spite of the fact that, as their opinionated great aunt bluntly puts it, "She's the daughter of the woman who destroyed your family."
That line is the film in a nutshell. As much as the Kôdas feel an immediate kinship with the unassuming Suzu when they meet for the first time at their father's funeral (which they make time for even though he was absent from their lives for 15 years), she's still the product of the love affair that led to their parents' divorce. (As one of the sisters points out, he was on his third marriage at the time of his death.) Regardless, they still take measures to involve her in their family rituals, including inviting her to pray at the shrine to their grandparents. And enough mentions are made of their annual tradition of making plum wine at the end of the summer that it's a given that Suzu will be helping out come the end of summer. In this and many other ways, there are few surprises in Kore-eda's script, which he based on the manga Umimachi Diary
by Akimi Yoshida, but his films always leave me with a warm feeling of hope for humanity regardless.
|Thursday, August 25th, 2016|
|It's a dangerous thing we do for a living.
Some folks simply aren't equipped to slip quietly into retirement. Cantankerous Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton is just such a specimen, and so is Jeff Bridges, the 66-year-old actor who plays him in Hell or High Water
. This is not to suggest Bridges has made any noises about retiring anytime soon, but neither has he shown signs of slowing down as he approaches the end of his sixth decade in show business. And hey, as long as he keeps getting offered juicy roles like this, why would he even consider it? Created by Sicario
screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, Hamilton is a complex character, mercilessly ribbing his half-Comanche/half-Mexican partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) one minute and the next methodically working out how to halt the sudden spate of bank robberies that lands in his lap days away from hanging up his spurs.
Said robberies are being pulled by the Howard brothers -- level-headed Toby (Chris Pine) and loose cannon Tanner (Ben Foster) -- who only target branches of the Texas Midlands Bank for reasons that don't take long to become clear. Donning improvised hoods and taking steps to make sure the banks are as underpopulated as possible when they strike, their bravado is nearly trumped by rookie mistakes that prompt the first bank employee they hold up to say, "Y'all are new at this, I'm guessin'." That may actually be true for Toby, who's only breaking the law to save the family ranch from being foreclosed upon, but Tanner spent a decade in prison and has no intention of going back. This devil-may-care attitude adds an element of suspense to all his interactions, which director David MacKenzie capitalizes on. Same with the idiosyncratic characters encountered by the Howards and the Rangers alike. Must be the heat or something.
|Wednesday, August 24th, 2016|
|Be careful of that Black Rider.
After the crushing disappointment that was The Rawhide Terror
, I was relieved to find that 1935's Rocky Mountain Mystery
, made the following year, delivered on the masked maniac promised by its poster art
, even if director Charles Barton (later of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
fame) never does give him a proper close-up. Based on a novel by western special Zane Grey, the film is set in the rocky, mountainous state of Nevada, where mining engineer Larry Sutton (Randolph Scott, who towers over his co-stars) has been sent to assess the viability of radium mining on the land owned by Jim Ballard (George Marion, Sr.), who's on his deathbed, but that's the least of his problems. For starters, Larry's predecessor, Jack Parsons, is wanted for the murder of Ballard's partner. For another thing, Ballard's nieces and nephews have descended upon the place, eager to cash in as soon as the bedridden tycoon checks out. It's the buzzards themselves that start getting picked off, though, by the sinister Black Rider.
The newly minted deputy sheriff, Tex Murdock (Charles "Chic" Sale, whose brand of hick comedy quickly grows tiresome), believes the masked villain is none other than Parsons, who so far has eluded capture, but Larry has his reasons for trying to prove otherwise. Instead, he looks to Ballard's household, which includes his loyal housekeeper, Mrs. Borg (Mrs. Leslie Carter), her son John (James C. Eagles), and his Chinese servant, Ling Yat (Willie Fung). Of his money-grubbing relatives, nephew Fritz (Howard Wilson) is eliminated as a suspect early on when he's eliminated by the Black Rider, who makes gruesome use of the mine's stamp mill. That just leaves Fritz's sister Flora (Kathleen Burke, late of Island of Lost Souls
, in which she indelibly played Lota, the Panther Woman) and their cousin Rita (Ann Sheridan, soon to be menaced by the Black Legion
), neither of whom seems to have it in them to pull off the Rider's dastardly deeds. Barton, meanwhile, denies the viewer the sight of Larry pulling off the Rider's disguise, but that's probably just as well. Those kinds of reveals are nearly always anticlimactic.
|Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016|
|We've got to get that maniac, dead or alive.
Whoever tagged the 1934 western The Rawhide Terror
with the plot keyword "hooded killer" on the IMDb has a lot to answer for. A strip of rawhide that barely covers a man's nose is in no way, shape, or form a hood. Add in the indifferent direction, stiff acting, bad writing, and sloppy editing, and you've got yourself a recipe for 47 minutes poorly spent. Hard as it is to believe it took two people -- Bruce Mitchell and Jack Nelson -- to direct this mess, they even did so under the supervision of Victor Adamson (father of noted schlockmeister
Al), who also contributed the story, with Nelson credited with the continuity and adaptation. Whoever did what job, though, none of them were done well, and that includes the casting, starting with top-billed Art Mix, who doesn't even play a major character.
Following the most perfunctory of prologues -- in which we learn of the existence of identical birthmarks on two brothers just before their prospector father and mother are massacred by a dozen white claim-jumpers posing as Indians -- the story picks up ten years later when Luke (Edmund Cobb, easily the most competent actor in the bunch), the sheriff of Red Dog, is being pestered by the town's elders who want him to do something about the Rawhide Killer, who has begun picking them off one by one and leaving cryptic notes scrawled on pieces of rawhide with each corpse. Meanwhile, siblings Betty and Tom Blake (Frances Morris and Bill Desmond) take in their neighbor's boy, Jimmy (Tommy Bupp), to protect him from his stepfather Jim (William Barrymore), who has a history of beating him. Shortly thereafter, Jim is revealed to be the Rawhide Kid, and wouldn't you know it? He turns out to be one of the boys from the prologue, too, all grown up and still pretty bitter about watching his parents get murdered right before his eyes. And you know what? Somebody else in the story turns out to be his brother, but I wouldn't dream of spoiling The Rawhide Terror
by revealing who it is.
Okay, it's the sheriff. There, I just saved you 47 minutes. You can thank me later.
|Monday, August 22nd, 2016|
|Seems like he wears some sort of an eerie mask that scares the daylights out of his victims.
For reasons known only to the bean counters, actor Tim Holt spent the late '40s and early '50s appearing in a series of low-budget westerns as a character named -- wait for it -- Tim Holt. The first of these was 1948's Gun Smugglers
, in which Holt was paired up with Richard Martin, then on his twelfth outing playing his signature character, the comic-relief sidekick Chito Rafferty. The combination must have clicked with audiences, because Tim and Chito were back in the saddle again in the following year's Masked Raiders
, in which the two Texas Rangers are sent to the town of Willcox to investigate a spate of bank robberies carried out by a gang of masked bandits led by the ruthless Diablo Kid.
How do we know the Kid is ruthless? Well, while the rest of the raiders make do with black scarves over their faces, our Diablo goes all in with a black hood for maximum intimidation. What's suspicious about the way they operate is they only ever hit the one bank, and they always seem to do so after some homesteader or rancher has just paid greedy banker Corthell (Frank Wilcox) off. Could this be a case of the Diablo Kid robbing from the Territorial Bank of Texas to give to the foreclosed? And just who is the Diablo Kid anyway? Anybody who wishes to be surprised by that reveal (which, to be fair, happens about a third of the way into this 60-minute feature) is advised against looking up Masked Raiders
on the IMDb before watching it.
Also recommended: not worrying about getting too wrapped up in the story, which involves a ranching family, the Trevetts, whose ranks include longstanding cowboy stars Tom Tyler and Clayton Moore and who take their cues from headstrong cousin Gale (Marjorie Lord). It's all perfectly serviceable -- director Lesley Selander and screenwriter Norman Houston aren't out to break any new ground. They just needed to make sure the thing was ready to fill the bottom half of the bill it was intended for. In that, they definitely delivered. Now, masks on!
|Sunday, August 21st, 2016|
|We were told not to let the situation go on for more than 24 hours.
As the Olympics in Rio wind down, I thought it would be timely to revisit one of the darker chapters in the Games' history. Released in 1999 and winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary, One Day in September
is a useful reminder that much worse things can happens at the Olympics than some tool lying about being robbed. The day in question is September 5, 1972, when eight terrorists from the radical Palestinian Liberation group Black September took eleven Israeli athletes and coaches hostage, killing two of them in the early morning hours and keeping the other nine as bargaining chips. What they hoped to bargain for is immaterial because they didn't get it. What is relevant is that five of their number died -- along with all of the hostages -- when they attempted to go to Plan B. Plan B, incidentally, is also immaterial.
When the events of that tense day were dramatized in the 1976 TV movie 21 Hours at Munich
, the full story wasn't known, and its makers didn't have access to any of the men who carried out the attack, which is why director Kevin Macdonald's sit-down with lone survivor Jamal Al-Gashey was such a get. Macdonald counterbalances Al-Gashey's input, though, with interviews with the Israeli victims' widows and children, as well as reporters who were on the scene, various negotiators, and policemen who had the unenviable task of making up for the lax security that allowed the incident to take place in the first place. And Macdonald didn't want for footage taken on the day or vintage news reports, some of which are riddled with misinformation. (Naturally, Howard Cosell is one of the sportscasters pressed into double duty, but Peter Jennings is also heard delivered updates from inside the Olympic Village.) To compensate for the one stage of the crisis with the least coverage -- the transport to and ambush at a nearby airport -- Macdonald employs computer animation to make plain just how much of a clusterfuck the operation was. No matter how much the German government wanted the 1972 Games to erase the memory of the 1936 Olympiad, it could be argued that they left an even worse impression the second time.
|Saturday, August 20th, 2016|
|A pop group playing Albania? Why, dear adult, it can't fail!
Overnight, as part of its Summer Under the Stars tribute to Ruby Keeler, Turner Classic Movies aired 1970's The Phynx
, one of the least explicable examples of Hollywood's rush to court the counterculture crowd. (See also: Otto Preminger's misbegotten Skidoo
.) Seems Miss Keeler is but one of about two dozen Tinseltown old-timers who have been kidnapped by the oppressive military regime of Albania, which the SSA (or Super Secret Agency) has to do something about. And what they decide to do -- at the prompting of M.O.T.H.A., the Mechanical Oracle That Helps Americans -- is about as loopy as the idea that such washed-up stars as Maureen O'Sullivan, Johnny Weismuller, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Guy Lombardo, and Butterfly McQueen are "world leaders" that must be rescued at all costs. In short, they conscript four clean-cut lads (A. Michael Miller, Ray Chippeway, Dennis Larden, Lonny Stevens), get Clint Walker to train them, Richard Pryor to teach them soul, and Dick Clark to approve their look, then turn them into a pop group and rig the system (by booking them on The Ed Sullivan Show
at gunpoint, among other strong-arm tactics) so they'll have the biggest-selling record of all time (with their gold record presented in person by James Brown) and get invited to Albania as cultural ambassadors. Easy as cake, right?
Well, not quite, because 68 minutes elapse before Phynx arrives in Albania -- just in time for its National Flower Day. They barely make it, though, because first they have to find a map with the location of the castle where the celebrity captives are being held, which is inconveniently tattooed in three sections on the stomachs of three girls in London, Copenhagen, and Rome (prefiguring the plot of Lust in the Dust
by a decade and a half). This is really the only part of the film that drags -- especially the extended sequence of looking at Romans in their underwear -- but one thing The Phynx
has over Skidoo
and its ilk is its healthy cynicism about the prefabricated makeup of the titular band. For starters, none of them are hippy-dippy types. In fact, two are college graduates and one is even a TV commercial actor. ("This is important," says their handler. "So's dandruff," Lonny replies.) Moreover, their main motivation for going along with "the most perilous mission in SSA history," as their Bogart-mimicking boss calls it, is avoiding the draft.
That said, there are some things that break the goofy meter, like the way all of the SSA's field operatives show up to their big conclave in the outfits they use to infiltrate their specific subgroups. (For example, those in the Bigotry Department are decked out in their Klan robes.) And the fact that the agency's Number One is a guy with a box over his head and the voice of Rich Little is more than a little peculiar, but director Lee H. Katzin -- fresh off What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?
-- doesn't try to downplay the absurdities in Stan Cornyn's screenplay (based on a story by producers Bob Booker and George Foster). Its real saving grace, though, is the songs crafted by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, which is why it's a shame Warner Bros. never put out a soundtrack album. If the Monkees could have hit records, why not The Phynx?
|Friday, August 19th, 2016|
|Heaven, do I really have to go through with this?
In six short years, Prince Rogers Nelson went from starring in his very own movie
to directing his second star vehicle
to writing, directing, and starring in the sequel to his debut. Released in 1990 and marking the end of his sideline as a major motion picture director, Graffiti Bridge
finds the superstar slipping back into the role of The Kid, a struggling Minneapolis musician still in competition with the slick Morris Day, whose band The Time packs them in nightly at Pandemonium while just across the street The Kid is barely keeping his club, Glam Slam, afloat. Actually, Glam Slam isn't wholly The Kid's since Day owns a 50% stake in it, just as he has a controlling interest in all of the clubs in Seven Corners, and it's his desire to take it over completely that drives the action. Meanwhile, the ethereal Aura (Ingrid Chavez), an angel with the ability to appear and disappear at will, flits in and out of both of their lives on a mission from God to steer them away from the path of darkness when she isn't hanging out under a graffiti-covered bridge writing flowery poetry.
"Are there really angels? Or are they just in our mind? It all comes out in the wash... in time." These are the words Prince opens and closes the film with, and he inserts them into the middle as well for good measure because there's seemingly no line of dialogue in Graffiti Bridge
that, once spoken, can't be repeated two or three or more times. (If you took a drink every time somebody said "It's just around the corner," you probably wouldn't even make it to the song "Joy in Repetition.") Coupled with all the failed attempts at comedy -- many of them shouldered by Day and sidekick Jerome Benton, who share one of the most regressive gay-panic attacks I've ever seen -- and Prince's inability to understand story structure (58 minutes in is a mite late to introduce a plot into your movie), Graffiti Bridge
would be dead on arrival if it weren't for the songs, some of which are legitimate toe-tappers. And the walk-ons by George Clinton and Mavis Staples were also most welcome, even if they are underused. Still, as long as there's plenty of time for extended sequences of Prince tooling around on his motorcycle, that's all that matters.
|Thursday, August 18th, 2016|
|I don't know what's going on in the world these days.
Anybody who's seen Neil Young's Human Highway
doesn't need to be told it's a profoundly strange movie. True, not many people have
seen Human Highway
, but that may change now that it's been spiffed up for its DVD and Blu-ray debut some 34 years after its initial release. Previously only available on a long out-of-print VHS tape, the film was the result of an alliance between co-stars Young (also co-writer and co-director under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey), Dean Stockwell (co-writer and co-director), and Russ Tamblyn (co-writer and choreographer), who brought Dennis Hopper along for the ride but didn't let him anywhere near the script or camera. Together with their two credited co-writers -- associate producer Jeanne Field and editor/post-production supervisor James Beshears -- Young, Stockwell, and Tamblyn concocted a cockeyed insta-cult movie set in Linear Valley, a close-knit desert community in the shadow of an chronically unsafe nuclear power plant. Its humor is broad and sometimes abrasive, and the attempts at slapstick don't always come off, but there's a charmingly naïve quality to the film, like Young got a bunch of his friends together to make something just so they could hang out.
Most of the action takes place at Otto's Corner, your prototypical greasy spoon under the new management of Otto Jr. (Stockwell), and its attached gas station, where dorky mechanic Lionel (Young) and his buddy Fred (Tamblyn) work. Otto Jr.'s other employees are cracked short-order cook Cracker (Hopper) and waitresses Irene (Geraldine Baron), who keeps the place humming, Charlotte (Charlotte Stewart, late of Eraserhead
, in which she played Mary X), a singer excited about the amateur talent contest being held at the power plant that night, and Kathryn (Sally Kirkland), who pines for Otto Sr. and is the first to get the chop when his son starts economizing. To that end, he also cuts down on the number of sausages in the breakfast special, which riles up the regulars, and plans to sack everyone else and torch the place for the insurance. He needn't worry about that too much, though, since the whole planet goes up in the film's apocalyptic finale, which only Devo's Booji Boy (Mark Mothersbaugh) survives because he was a beautiful mutant to begin with.
Oh, did I forget to mention that Devo is in this, too? Well, Devo is in this, playing blasé radioactive nuclear garbagepeople known collectively as The Nukies. In fact, their involvement is what kept my interest in Human Highway
alive all these years since their rousing performance of "It Takes a Worried Man" -- a preview of what they presumably intended to do that night at the talent show -- was excerpted on the band's We're All Devo
and The Complete Truth About De-Evolution
video collections. They also show up in the extended dream sequence the film plunges into when Lionel meets his musical hero, Frankie Fontaine (also Young), and gets knocked out while changing the fluid in his white stretch limo. First they're seen performing "Come Back Jonee" for an energetic crowd as Lionel's opening act, then they join Young in the studio for a rendition of "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" with Booji Boy on vocals. Only a few minutes of the ten-minute jam session
that was in the original cut is included here, though, which explains why this "director's cut" is eight minutes shorter. Bad form, Neil.
|Wednesday, August 17th, 2016|
|All right, you children of the night. This is the moment you've all been howling for.
Having run the Howling series for The A.V. Club
, I have now witnessed the depths to which a werewolf movie can sink -- namely, to the gaping abyss that is 1995's The Howling: New Moon Rising
. This is why I can be inclined to go easier on an aggressively mediocre one like 2010's Neowolf
than I would have just a few months ago. Made by French director Yvan Gauthier, who was so proud of the finished product he chose to be credited as Alan Smythe (not Smithee as the IMDb incorrectly states), and based on an original story by producer Alessandro Di Gaetano (of Project: Metalbeast
is the kind of film that opens with an anonymous couple leaving a club to have sex in the parking lot only for them to be interrupted by a very hairy creature (guess what) which slaughters them both. Then, and only then, do Di Gaetano and co-writer Michael January bother to introduce their protagonist.
That would be Tony (Michael Frascino), an aspiring rock singer/songwriter driving cross-country to get back together with his girlfriend Rosemary (Heidi Johanningmeier), a college student whose studies in Gothic literature and botany come in handy when she begins to suspect her wayward boy with the wandering eye has fallen in with the titular band of ravenous werewolves. Of course, it takes a while for this to happen because it takes a while for anything
to happen in Neowolf
with the notable exception of Gauthier's (or his editor's) rush to get to the sex scenes, of which there are three within the first half hour. It's during the third one that Tony is bitten by Neowolf groupie Paula (Megan Pepin) because if Eurotrash bandleader Vince (Agim Kaba) had done it that would have been a little too gay, and when he comes to the next morning in his motel room with an enormous hickey on his neck and evidence of their tryst on his phone, Rosemary springs into action, Googling Neowolf because "something weird's going on" and "the energy wasn't normal." Her best friend Kevin (weak comic relief Ryan Ross) is skeptical, but she hits the jackpot when she finds What Neowolf Doesn't Want You to Know.com, a website put up by Romanians for Truth which asks, "Is it a coincidence that the band's tour has been followed by a long line of mysterious killings or something more heinous?" Also, Vince apparently "only looks Pretty on the outside," which is funny because I think he looks much hotter after he wolfs out (as far as anybody does in this movie, which isn't very).
Coming to the only logical conclusion -- that her strung-out-looking boyfriend is in danger of becoming a creature of the night -- Rosemary consults with her literature professor (Sevy Di Cione), whose accent is such that he referred to "Dr. Jakyll and Mr. Hyde" in his first lecture, and nursery owner and self-proclaimed "crazy old loon" Mrs. Belakov (a slumming Veronica Cartwright), who conveniently grows wolfsbane (referenced in every story Rosemary can find about "werewolfs," as she calls them) and resolves to help save her boyfriend. Kevin, alas, isn't able to pitch in because he becomes werewolf chow when Vince gets a little bite-y while going down on him, a cringe-worthy moment that simultaneously brings to mind Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left
and Lowell Dean's WolfCop
. And it all wraps up with an unearned tragic ending stolen wholesale from David Cronenberg's The Fly
. Okay, I've convinced myself. Neowolf
is beyond mediocre. It's actively terrible.
|Tuesday, August 16th, 2016|
|People don't usually care what happens two floors above or below them.
In 1975, J.G. Ballard published High-Rise
, a scathing dystopic fantasy set in a microcosm of society that systematically breaks down when the power structure collapses. Now, four decades on, director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump have brought his apocalyptic vision to the screen, keeping it firmly in the time period when it was written. At the start of the film, a detached narrator informs the viewer that "for all its inconvenience, Laing was satisfied with life in the high-rise." A bold claim considering its inconvenience includes being virtually cut off from the outside world, without electricity or running water, and having to scavenge for food and other essentials. Such was not the case, though, when he moved in three months earlier -- just in time to bear witness to the shit clogging up the trash chute.
As the audience's identification figure, Dr. Thomas Laing is something of an enigma, but the fact that he's portrayed by Tom Hiddleston goes a long way toward making his opaque behavior understandable. Ensconced in his well-appointed flat on the 25th floor (out of 40), Laing is in the perfect position to act as a go-between of sorts between Mr. Royal (Jeremy Irons), the building's lofty architect with a grand design for creating "a crucible for change," and those on the lower floors who don't appreciate getting the short end of the stick. Among them are rabble-rousing television documentary filmmaker Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) and his heavily pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss), who have a poster for the anarchic comedy Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment
in their apartment and one of Che Guevara in their bedroom in case there was any doubt about their political leanings. Then there's Charlotte (Sienna Miller), the sexually available single mother one floor above Laing who likewise gets caught in the middle when the rabble gets roused.
Early on, during one of the film's few jaunts outside the high-rise's confines, Laing gives a gruesome demonstration at the medical school where he teaches. "As you can see," he says, working on a human cadaver, "the facial mask simply slips off the skull." Unsurprisingly, that's not the only mask that slips once the aptly named Royal's order descends into chaos, with those from the upper floors forming raiding parties to ransack the supermarket on Floor 15 and those from the lower floors staking their claim to the swimming pool on Floor 30. All the while, Wheatley and Jump's editing rhythms become more jagged and Clint Mansell's score takes on an unsettling quality, with a key assist from Portishead's electro cover of ABBA's "S.O.S." Rescue is far from certain, though, and looming on the horizon is the specter of Margaret Thatcher, one of whose speeches is deployed in the film's closing moments. And to wrap it all up, how about The Fall's "Industrial Estates"? Yeah, that'll do fine.
|Monday, August 15th, 2016|
|He's got the advantage. He can hear you.
Following in the silent footsteps of Wait Until Dark
, which famously starred Audrey Hepburn as a "world champion blind lady," comes Hush
, in which Kate Siegel plays a world champion deaf woman caught in a scenario that also takes a few pages out of The Strangers
's playbook. Directed and edited by Mike Flanagan, who co-wrote the script with Siegel, Hush
unfolds entirely at a single location -- the proverbial isolated house in the woods where author Maddie Young has retreated to work on her second novel, the ending of which is vexing her. More pressing matters come to the fore, however, when she's targeted by a masked man (John Gallagher, Jr.) armed with a crossbow and more than happy to toy with what he believes is a helpless victim. As the situation develops, though, Flanagan and Siegel have cause to show how resourceful both of them are.
Circling back to Wait Until Dark
, just as that film climaxes with a sequence set in total darkness, thus putting Hepburn on the same footing as her tormentor, Flanagan chooses key moments to cut out the sound, leaving a low, throbbing hum on the soundtrack to replicate how Maddie hears the world. And while Gallagher's anonymous killer isn't as much of a talker as Mr. Roat (indelibly portrayed by Alan Arkin), they both have a definite sadistic streak, reveling in the agony they put their respective victims through. The key difference is Roat wanted something tangible from his. All Gallagher wants is to see his squirm for as long as possible before he delivers the killing stroke. Maddie has other ideas, though, and being a writer she can visualize how each will go (south, for the most part) before deciding on the one course of action that might allow her to survive her ordeal.
|Sunday, August 14th, 2016|
|Nothing is ever learned for long.
In 1988, Monty Python's Terry Jones published Attacks of Opinion
, a collection of editorials he wrote for the Guardian
. It's one of the few Python-related books of that vintage that I never picked up -- with the exception of Jones and Michael Palin's children's books, I treated the bibliography at the back of Kim "Howard" Johnson's The First 200 Years of Monty Python
like a shopping list -- but its existence proved Jones had more on his mind than merely making people laugh. In 2004, he returned to the political realm with Terry Jones's War on the War on Terror
, and now he's taken on its adjunct, economics, with the documentary Boom Bust Boom
, which places the 2008 financial crisis in the context of other bubbles through the ages. In addition to presenting the film -- much as he would one of his sundry history shows -- Jones also co-wrote it with Theo Kocker, a professor in risk management at the VU University Amsterdam, so one can expect the theoretical side to be accurate. And he co-directed it with his son Bill Jones and Ben Timlett, who first collaborated on Monty Python: Almost the Truth
and apply a similar aesthetic here. Employing animation, puppetry, and songs alongside interviews with prominent economists and actor John Cusack, Messrs. Jones, Kocker, and Timlett take their best crack at making sense of the crisis in the 70 minutes they allotted themselves.
On the whole, I'd say they do a good job of explaining and being entertaining at the same time. And Jones doesn't impose himself on the material or feel the need to pull any stunts to make his points. In fact, the closest thing to that -- a visit to Monkey Island in Puerto Rico -- is undertaken because of the research there into primate behavior as it applies to the exchange of money for goods. Another nod in the direction of Michael Moore-style muckraking is the comparison between Herbert Hoover's 1928 State of the Union address and the one George W. Bush delivered in 2006, but instead of drawing a straight line between the stock market crash of 1929 and the sub-prime crisis of 2008, Jones and co. wend their way through other examples of speculative euphoria, including the Tulip Mania that gripped the Dutch in the 17th century and the South Sea bubble that took hold of the British the following century, which failed to prepare the experts for the crises to come. To keep things from getting too academic, they occasionally throw in clips from Life of Brian
and South Park
and songs ranging from Queen's "A Kind of Magic" to "We're Forever Blowing Bubbles." Most damning of all, though, is when they use the words of neoclassical economists to show how misguided they are, and how Alan Greenspan's push for deregulation paved the way for a global meltdown that any economist worth their salt would have seen coming if they were up on their Hyman Minsky. Of course, there's a reason why he's dubbed "The Forgotten Economist" and his books were all out of print when the housing bubble burst. Nobody likes a realist when the market is up.
|Saturday, August 13th, 2016|
|You will see things few have ever seen. Magical things.
As much as I carp about the unevenness of horror anthologies, I still wind up watching plenty of them for whatever reason, most commonly because they're streaming for free on Netflix. That's how I got to see this year's Holidays
, which crams eight shorts all tied to a different holiday into a 105-minute package. As many opportunities as this creates for variety, though, it's surprising how much thematic overlap there is between the individual segments. Two are about unusual pregnancies, two revolve around girls with long-absent fathers, two feature unassuming serial killers... The biggest name director, Kevin Smith, doesn't fall into one of those, but his "Halloween" segment has next to nothing to do with the holiday it's ostensibly set on apart from setting up one of the most groan-worthy puns ever. Beyond that, it's the heart-warming story of three cam girls (one of them played by Smith's teenage daughter, Harley Quinn Smith) who take revenge on the manipulative creep who lured them to Los Angeles. The other outlier is Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer's "Valentine's Day," which opens the film with a look at an awkward girl who's so in love with her swim coach she goes to extreme lengths to procure the heart he needs for his transplant.
Taking the rest in order, Dracula Untold
director Gary Shore's Dublin-set "St. Patrick's Day" is about a painfully single schoolteacher who becomes pregnant thanks to the intercession of one of her students. At the risk of spoiling this one, I appreciated that among the procession of pagan snake-worshipers that gather to dance with her offspring is a man in a white hood. The others, meanwhile, favor animal heads, which only partially prepares the viewer for "Easter," for which writer/director Nicholas McCarthy engineers a nocturnal meeting between a theologically confused girl and the Easter Bunny. (Well, an
Easter Bunny.) Sarah Adina Smith's "Mother's Day" takes the prize for the most pointless entry, and Anthony Scott Burns's "Father's Day" is most notable for casting sitcom dad Michael Gross as the estranged father of a girl who is shocked to find out he's still alive. Skipping over "Halloween" -- and a few other prominent observances that the producers chose not to pursue -- the film enters the home stretch with the Jingle All the Way
-esque "Christmas," starring Seth Green as a harried father desperate to get his hands on the season's hot toy, a pair of VR glasses that show the wearer more than they would ever want to see. And director Adam Egypt Mortimer, working from a script by Kolsch and Widmyer, wraps things up with a most eventful "New Year's" for a lovelorn kidnapper who learns the hard way why a 96% match on an online dating site may not be the best choice for him. A mixed bag overall, but it must be said there are much worse things on Netflix.
|Friday, August 12th, 2016|
|Maybe it isn't so bad.
Enough time has passed since I watched The ABCs of Death
that I only remember a handful of its segments in any kind of detail. I suspect the same will eventually be true of the 2014 follow-up, creatively titled ABCs of Death 2
, but at least I can take comfort in the knowledge that there's nothing as egregiously off-putting as "F Is for Fart" on display here. Among the small army of directors enlisted to take part, I was familiar with the work of seven, and their segments tended to be the ones that grabbed my attention. And one or two more impressed enough that I can easily see myself seeking their stuff out. Such is the case with E.L. Katz's "A Is for Amateur," which starts things off with a bang and nearly justifies the whole enterprise all by itself.
Taking the filmmakers I know in order, Julian Barratt's "B Is for Badger" is an amusing portrait of a conceited television presenter (Barratt himself, who should be familiar to viewers of The Mighty Boosh
) whose report from a supposedly abandoned badger den in the shadow of a power plant goes gorily awry. Animator Bill Plympton's "H Is for Head Games" isn't much more than a ramped-up redo of his classic short "How to Kiss." Larry Fessenden's "N Is for Nexus" is like a miniature version of 11 Minutes
set in New York City on Halloween about a doomed rendezvous between a couple dressing up as Frankenstein's Monster and his Bride. Rodney Ascher's "Q Is for Questionnaire" explores the pitfalls of scoring too high on a free intelligence test. Juan Martínez Moreno follows up Game of Werewolves
with the split-screen short "S Is for Split," which proves Brian De Palma isn't the only director who knows how to properly use that device. Vincenzo Natali's "U Is for Utopia," meanwhile, makes plain the notion that all utopias are secretly dystopias in disguise. And Steven Kostanski's "W Is for Wish" (written by his Astron-6 cohort Jeremy Gillespie) shows what happens when the premise of a toy commercial becomes all too real for a pair of boys.
Of the others, there are a few with premises too dumb to think too hard about, and one -- "P Is for P-P-P-P Scary!" -- that barely even has one. It's just a trio of escaped convicts, two of which have prosthetic proboscises and stupefying stammers, wandering around in a void. And while I applaud the attempts to address such hot-button issues as gay rights and the Israeli/Arab conflict, the only segment with a political point to make that makes it well is Julian Gilbey's "C Is for Capital Punishment," which delineates why it's best not to take the law into one's own hands. Or if you're going to, make sure you have the right axe for the job and that it's sharp and you know how to handle it. Vigilante justice doesn't have to be messy.
|Thursday, August 11th, 2016|
|You have been naughty.
Funny story. Last month I ordered Michael Dougherty's Krampus
from Amazon because they had a good deal on the Blu-ray. What they shipped out, though, was a DVD of 2013's Krampus: The Christmas Devil
, which is not what I would call an acceptable substitute. To Amazon's credit, they owned up to the mistake and sent the correct Krampus
right away, but since The Christmas Devil
wasn't sealed (another black mark), I decided it would be fun to give it a spin before returning it.
I was wrong.
Filmed in and around the small town of Edinboro, Pennsylvania, this cut-rate Kringle counterpart was the abnormal brainchild of co-writer/producer/director/editor/cinem
atographer Jason Hull, whose name actually appears eleven times in the painfully slow credit crawl that tacks ten minutes onto the slender running time. Of course, I would expect nothing less from a multi-hyphenate who got his start as associate producer and location manager on 2006's Curse of the Wolf
, one of the worst werewolf films I've ever had the misfortune to see. It's in good company, though, because hooves down, this is the worst Krampus movie I've ever seen. (Granted, I have yet to see 2015's Krampus: The Reckoning
, but that subtitle is sufficient to deter me.)
The plot, such as it is, revolves around defective police detective Jeremy Duffin (co-writer/executive producer/assistant director/set decorator A.J. Leslie), who's been obsessed with catching the Krampus ever since he narrowly escaped its clutches as a naughty little boy in 1983. With the blessing of his gruff captain (second-billed Richard Goteri, who's been in some real movies), Jeremy recruits two of the force's finest for a Krampus hunting trip that ends with one of them getting his face stomped in, the other bludgeoned to death, and the captain demanding Jeremy's gun and badge because that scene (one of only three Goteri gets) is mandatory. Meanwhile, Krampus gets his marching orders directly from Santa Claus (Paul Ferm, who gets the "introducing" credit), and wouldn't you know it? Jeremy's darling daughter has been bumped to the top of the list -- and for good reason as we eventually learn. Also meanwhile, a child rapist (top-billed Bill Oberst, Jr., who likewise has been in real movies) is on the loose and out to get Jeremy -- through his family if need be. By the time Hull, Leslie, and co-writer/executive producer/assistant director/set decorator Darin Foltz transformed Krampus into a catchphrase generator, I was more than ready for it to be over, so I was pleased when the credits rolled at the 73-minute mark. I fear what's to come, though, since they've already wrapped the sequel, Krampus: The Devil Returns
, due out this fall. Maybe this time they sprung for better-quality rubber monster gloves.
|Wednesday, August 10th, 2016|
|I thought this was supposed to be a comedy. That was the most horrifying thing I've ever seen.
Two years after his Ingmar Bergman simulacrum Interiors
, Woody Allen made his first genuine drama with 1980's Stardust Memories
has its serious moments, but I would still primarily classify it as a comedy.) Channeling his inner Fellini, Allen uses every trick in his arsenal and, along with cinematographer Gordon Willis and editor Susan E. Morse, forges some new ones to tell the story of depressive director Sandy Bates, whose studio is freaking out because he just delivered his most downbeat, arty, and frankly uncommercial film after a string of well-received, hugely successful comedies. While the nervous executives (whose ranks include an uncredited Laraine Newman) exhort him to soften his ending and his scatterbrained secretary (an uncredited Louise Lasser) fails to keep his schedule straight, Sandy heads off to a film retrospective where he is to be the guest of honor, fielding asinine questions (occasionally alongside his frequent co-star, played by his frequent co-star Tony Roberts) and fending off his overzealous fans. What Sandy has on his mind the most, though, are the various women in (and out of) his life.
Foremost among them is troubled actress Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling), his one-time leading lady both on and off the screen whose emotional instability spelled doom for their personal and professional relationships. She is so much in his thoughts, in fact -- as evidenced by the fact that she's the subject of the first of his many waking reveries -- that Sandy doesn't blink when he finds her counterpart in neurotic violinist Daisy (Jessica Harper), who's there with her husband, a screenwriting professor who, like most of the weekend's attendees, wants something from him. Lastly, there's his current lover, Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault), a Frenchwoman with two young children who represents the kind of sane, stable woman he's resisted settling down with all these years. Even when Isobel comes out to visit him, having been summoned by the overwhelmed Sandy, it's Daisy that he takes to a repertory screening of The Bicycle Thief
that just happens to be playing in town, and she's also the one with him when his car breaks down and they come upon a gathering of UFO freaks who are indistinguishable from the ones at the film festival just down the road. It's telling, though, that he's all alone when he has his close encounter with the aliens who tell him how best to serve his fellow man. Naturally, this is another one of his fantasies, as is his paranoid delusion that he's been shot by one of his crazed fans, which eerily predicts John Lennon's assassination just a few months after the film's release. The subsequent reveal that Sandy won his Academy Award for literally playing God -- in spite of his voice being dubbed -- is perhaps the best joke in a film that hasn't been too concerned with making them. Just goes to show that Allen wasn't as convinced as Sandy that the road to profundity could only paved in portentous pronouncements.
Incidentally, for those keeping score at home, Stardust Memories
was the film I watched exactly ten years ago
when I decided to start posting reviews of the movies I watched to my LiveJournal. Now, 3,624 reviews later, I've circled back to the one that started it all. I hope I did it justice this time.
|Tuesday, August 9th, 2016|
|You've got a lot of killing ahead of you. Good luck.
The more I see of Astron-6's work, the more I like the collective cut of their jib. What I especially appreciate about their films is they don't outstay their welcome. If one of their ridiculous ideas can only sustain itself for an hour plus credits, then that's how long the film will be. And yes, that is the precise length of 2011's Manborg
, which director Steven Kostanski co-wrote with fellow Astron-6er Jeremy Gillespie. Together, they concocted a throwback to the unapologetically derivative sci-fi/action films of the '80s -- in particular, the wave that followed Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop
-- with their story of a soldier shot to pieces on the battlefield of a future war with the forces of Hell under the command of the villainous Count Draculon (Adam Brooks). Following his heroic death, the nameless soldier is put back together with all kinds of cyber enhancements and rebooted as Manborg (Matthew Kennedy), a literal killing machine whose lack of an owner's manual makes it a challenge for him to figure out how his peripherals work.
Before he's able to get properly oriented to his new identity, Manborg is captured alongside martial artist #1 Man (Ludwig Lee, who shares the fight choreography credit with Kostanski), and they're forced to fight for their lives in an arena overseen by the traitorous Dr. Scorpius (Brooks again) and a hideous demon in a comically immobile latex mask known as The Baron (Gillespie). Their fellow human combatants: a hot-headed Aussie named Justice (Conor Sweeney) and his sister Mina (Meredith Sweeney), who is somehow not Australian. She is, however, the unlikely object of The Baron's desire, which leads to some of the film's most hilariously understated moments as he awkwardly flirts with her and chastises himself later for his failure to make any progress. For the most part, though, Kostanski and Gillespie go so far over-the-top with their gags that some can't help but land. And Kostanski gives his stop-motion animation chops a workout bringing various demons, robots, demonic robots, and robotic demons to life. I look forward to seeing what he and the rest of the Astron-6 crew cook up next.
To bring Manborg
up to something approaching feature length, Astron-6 attached the fake trailer for Bio-Cop
, an extreme body horror film written and directed by Kostanski in 2012. Prefiguring the group's subsequent stab at the giallo with The Editor
, the same year produced the neo-giallo short Yellow
, which first came to my attention courtesy of krimi/giallo aficionado Leonard Jacobs
. With its masked killer -- clad in the requisite leather gloves and long coat -- Yellow
hits many of the genre's visual signifiers, and even squeezes in a direct quote from Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou
. Its slender running time prevents director/editor Ryan Haysom and his co-writer, director of photography Jon Britt, from delving too deeply into any of their characters, though. Probably just as well considering how much slippage there is between them, but I can understand why some have come away from it feeling like there's something missing. Perhaps we'll get to see what it is when Haysom graces us with a feature.
|Sunday, August 7th, 2016|
|The seventh son of a seventh son has a certain tradition to uphold.
In 1965, nearly a decade after playing the strong-chinned hero in Forbidden Planet
, Leslie Nielsen starred in a television pilot called Black Cloak
about an occult investigator in 1890s San Francisco who is consulted by the police on their more unusual cases. When the pilot didn't get picked up, Universal released the hour-long story theatrically as Dark Intruder
, but it's tantalizing to imagine what would have been if Nielsen's Kolchak forbear, Brett Kingsford, had solved more than just the one supernatural mystery. For his first outing, writer Barré Lyndon and director Harvey Hart provided Brett with a horribly deformed creature with claws that is slashing his way through the city and courteously leaving an ivory carving of Sumerian origin at each murder scene so the police will know they're connected.
As Brett quickly discovers, the connection between all of the victims is antiques dealer Robert Vandenburg (Mark Richman), a friend who's due to be married to socialite Evelyn Lang (Judi Meredith, who also popped up in The Night Walker
) -- that is, if he isn't undone by the dizzy spells and blackouts he's been experiencing of late. In the course of his investigation, during which he sometimes has occasion to wear a disguise, Brett checks in with police commissioner Harvey Misbach (Gilbert Green) and looks up other occult authorities. He hits the jackpot, though, when he and Evelyn crash Robert's appointment with self-styled "mantologist, psychometrist, seer" Professor Malaki (Werner Klemperer), who receives clients dressed in a hooded cloak that obscures his features. (Hmm, I wonder who he could be...) That said, the most helpful member of Brett's retinue is his midget manservant Nikola (Charles Bolender), who's able to operate unnoticed due to his short stature. Had Black Cloak
gone to series, I'm sure he would have been given more to do.