Friday, October 31, 2014

Three from SCARY MOVIES : THE PACT, ANGST and REFLECTION OF FEAR

The annual Scary Movies series starts today at Lincoln Center. As they do every year they run a bunch of great old horror movies mixed in with new favorites. I’m going to try and get to some of the new films when they play (screeners were not available for review and I couldn’t make the two press screenings.) but since I’ve seen the old films already, many many times, I thought I’d write up the old films. I was going to write up each of the following three films as a separate review but found that while they are all good, I really didn’t have much to say about them.

THE PACT
Robert Clouse’s animals run amok film. One of Clouse’s few non-martial arts films (he directed Enter the Dragon) the film is a solid popcorn film of the drive in variety.

The film has the inhabitants of a small island being terrorized by a pack of wild dogs. As handled by Clouse the prospect is rather terrifying. Actually the film is one of the better animals run amok films that filled late 1970’s movie theaters. Its logical and well-reasoned, with a kick ass sense of how to create suspense.

I’m going to do something I probably shouldn’t and give you a warning, the ending, which I like has annoyed many people over the years. I’m not going to say what it is but I know some people who think the film fails in the final minutes. I’ve yet to meet anyone who really hasn’t liked it up to the end, but the end may bother you.

ANGST
This German horror film has a reputation as being a love it or hate it proposition. I know many horror fans never knew what to make of it. On the other hand the film engendered a great sense of love from others who still trumpet it as a lost classic. I’m not sure it’s a classic , nor do I think it’s trash, I think it’s an interesting film that gets points for trying even when it doesn’t quite work. Certainly what it was doing in 1983 hadn’t been done before.

The film follows an ex-convict who goes back out into the real world as gets the urge to kill which takes him from the city to a remote country house. Brutally graphic the film has tinges of style which lifts it out of the “you are there” genre.

As I’ve said the film has split audiences. Some people like the stylistic touches, some people don’t. I know many people back in the 80’s were shocked by the brutality, which by the standards of some films today isn’t all that shocking. (I see a lot of these things and know how far we’ve come). I don’t know what to tell you about going-the choice is yours based on seeing something off the beaten path and with a high level of nastiness.

REFLECTION OF FEAR
Back before Sandra Locke had a career that didn’t involve Clint Eastwood, she was making some really great films from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter to this film.

The film has little Sandra living in seclusion with her mother and pining away for her absent father. When Dad comes home with a new girlfriend in tow things turn deadly.

A flawed gem of a film, this is the sort of neo-gothic films that were turned out with regularity in the 1960’s and 60’s beginning with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and then moving onward through the cycle. I don’t think the film is scary so much as having a feeling of dread and being off. There is just something wrong about everything. Is it a great film, probably not, but it is good enough that when I saw it listed in the Scary Movies listing of films it got me to say “oh cool” out loud.

Definitely worth your time and the cost of a big basket of popcorn.

For details on these and all the Scary movie films go to the Scary Movies website.

Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936)

Tod Slaughter's second film is one of the best retellings of the Sweeney Todd story

Slaughter’s film is not the Stephen Sondheim version. While they both take their genesis in the same literary character who may have a basis as a real life rogue, Slaughter’s film strips the story down to barebones. Slaughter is Todd, the demon barber, who plies his trade for purely mercenary reasons. He takes his rich clients for all they are worth before taking their lives. His neighbor Mrs Lovett uses the bodies for her meat pies. Things are going along swimmingly until Todd falls for a young woman with a lover at sea. Despite his best effort to win her heart she will not warm to his charms and when said lover returns things go south real fast.

Somewhere between his more reserved early performances and his later scene chewing ones, Tod Slaughters Sweeney Todd is probably the quintessential Slaughter performance. It has him both as the great smooth talker who woos his clients, and the crazed mad man driven by lust and desire. There is a reason that when you mention Slaughter’s name this film springs to mind, even among Slaughter fans and that is this is the film where Slaughter gets his on screen performance exactly right. He manages to get across the tightrope of his performance perfectly. It’s one of those performances that sears itself into your memory and kind of obliterates all the other stabs at the role.

The film as a whole is good one. While probably not the best Slaughter film quality wise, there is something about it that makes it the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. While in some ways I like other of his films better, this is the one that I keep returning to. “I feel like Slaughter tonight…where’s Demon Barber…” This film is an old friend.

If you’ve never seen a Slaughter film and are unsure of some of the others, go for this one. If you’ve tried and disliked his other films but not seen this one, dive in. And If you’ve seen it, do yourself a favor and see it again…though if you want to see it under the best conditions do so on a dark and stormy night with all the lights out.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Amsterdamned (1988) Scary Movies

Dick Maas is an award winning filmmaker, that hasn’t stopped him from occasionally drifting down into the exploitation ghetto with films like Saint about a killer Santa Claus or The Lift about thinking elevators that kill their occupants (don’t laugh the film actually works). He’s also made A film called Amsterdamned, which is where I discovered him.

Amsterdamned is a great little thriller. Less horror film and more a thriller the film concerns hard boiled detective who pieces together that a bunch of random killings around the canals of the city are actually the work of a serial killer. The killer hasn't been discovered because he comes in and out of the city's canals when no one seems to be looking. The detective has to scramble to try and stop the mad man before he kills anyone else.

Way back in my video store days Amsterdamned was one of those films I was constantly recommending to everyone who wanted something they hadn’t seen before. They’d always come back and want another film like that. While I could recommend other good films, I couldn’t really recommend anything like it. Dick Maas’s films aren’t like anyone elses, or even his own since he jumps from genre to genre and style to style with the greatest of ease.

If I were to say what the film was like I’d have to say the German film called the Embalmer about a frogman wandering around the canals of a European city, but outside of the plot the two films are different since the embalmer is a moody black and white film that fits into the Krimi genre of the mid-60’s where Amsterdamned is high octane thriller with a great chase or two.

Say what you will about Mass and his films, there is no denying how good he is at staging a chase, all one has to do is look at any of his chases, say here or in Saint and you know he’s a master.

This is a must see when it plays this weekend at Scary Movies-and that goes for anyone who wants a great thriller and not a horror film.

Crimes at The Dark House (1940)

If you want to see Tod Slaughter at his most over the top and wildyy insane this is the film. It's based on the Wilkie Collins story The Women in White.

The film opens with Slaughter killing a prospector in Australia. It’s a gruesome killing, even by todays standards as Slaughter drives a spike into the head of his victim via the ear canal. Slaughter than steals the man’s money and a letter saying that his father has died and that he is now the Lord of the manor. Slaughter then assumes the identity of the dead man and heads off to take over the estate. Slaughter is completely out of his depth, but manages to run over everyone who is try to make sure he’s the right guy buy checking on a mole he supposedly has or being recognized by the woman with whom he is to have fathered a daughter. Unfortunately bluster only carries him so far and he soon has to start up his killing ways.

When I say this film is wildly over the top and completely unrestrained I’m not kidding. This film gets completely nuts as Slaughter chews scenery and behaves very very very badly. Why anyone puts up with the nonsense is beyond me. Actually what’s beyond me is why this never ended up on MST3K or Riff Trax since this film is funnier than it is scary. You really don’t have to make fun of it because it’s making fun of itself

Thinking about it this film is probably the litmus test for whether you like Tod Slaughter or not. If you can go with him here you’ll be able to go with him anywhere.

I love this film a great deal. It’s a perfect party film. If you like you horror tinged with (unintentional) humor see this film.

Point and Shoot opens Friday

Opening Friday is POINT AND SHOOT the story of a young man who went off and ended up fighting in Libya with the rebels. I saw the film at Tribeca where it wowed some critics but didn’t impress me much. The problem with the film, which has largely faded from my memory is that it’s very much about everything except the person at its center. Here is the the short piece I wrote after seeing at Tribeca

…the okay POINT AND SHOOT is the story of Matthew Van Dyke a young man with a wicked case of OCD and a burning desire for adventure. After traveling the world on motorcycle he ended up going to join the rebellion in Libya. The story of what happened is the film. A good but unremarkable film, the film seems like any number of other films destined for PBS. For me the film suffers from telling the story but never really letting us know VanDyke. When the film ended I felt I knew his story but not the man. I think its worth seeing but I can't suggest paying theater prices to see it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quiet in Odessa (2014)


Quiet in Odessa Trailer from dmitriy khavin on Vimeo.

Dmitriy Khavin's QUIET IN ODESSA will make you do something that's rare for any movie these days, and that is wish it was longer.  Khavin has fashioned a film that has so much going on that you'll want another 43 minutes to continue to hang out with some good people.

Begun two weeks after the May 2nd 2014 clash of pro-Russian (pro-Putin) and pro- Ukrainian forces in the city of Odessa the film documents a period of quiet leading up to the Presidential elections.  The violence, which only exists in the words of the people interviewed, was the first civil unrest since 1918. As the title says its a film about the quiet in a normally quiet city.

The film's initial focus is the city's Jewish community.  As the film opens we are in a synagogue and watch as a young man talks to us about the Jewish community in Odessa  and how many people have been returning to the faith after years in hiding. Living in a free country they feel they are able to come out in the open or connect with the faith of their parents and grandparents. From there changes and changes again into a discussion of what its like living in the city and the Ukraine and why people were willing to fight the pro-Russian forces to remain free.

I have just badly explained an absolutely wonderful film that is so full of life and magic I wish it was twice as long. This long short film does more in it's 43 minutes than most other longer films do. With in it's brief running time we get a whole world and a whole populace. We come to understand not only the place we are being told about but ultimately ourselves as well.

This is a film that isn't just about being Jewish, nor about being Ukrainian,... no, this is a film that is grander and more magical, this is a film about being human and being in love with a place that you live. This is not a film about just Odessa but about any city where people feel connected to the place and all of the people living there. This is a film about a place that people are willing to fight to protect their home and the people living there as well. The film also speaks loudly to anyone who has ever wanted to learn about or reconnect with the ethnicity of their family.

Director Dmitriy Khavin gets it right in structuring the film as a series of  opening doors or nested boxes. We start at the synagogue, then move to the family, from there we have the men in the steam bath, the reporter and the writer who moved there and finally the family in the self defense forces.  We start with a group of guys  learning about their religion and then it flows outward into bigger things, the families, the other residents, the emigrants,  and finally the fighters, all expressing the love of this place they call home. Through each door, or each segment we too fall in love with the city and the people that inhabit it.

One thing that impressed the hell out of me was that Khavin manages to say more about the rebounding Jewish community in Eastern Europe and the rediscovery of hidden Jews of their faith, than a full feature I had seen a day or two before.That other film it took 90 minutes to say what Khavin says the opening five minutes.

Another thing that Khavin gets absolutely right is the imagery. Odessa is not one place or one street or one anything, its lots of places and lots of people. We wander the city either as the families show off their homes or as the reporter wanders the city taking pictures. We see everything, the grander homes and the run down spots. Not only do we see it but we fall in love with it.

This is a great film.

Actually what I'd like it to be is a great feature. As good as the film is, it feels unfinished. The film has so many ideas floating around that there is more I'd like to know, especially at the end where the film deals with the family of self defense force members. They talk about what they do and they speak about protecting the polling places and then the film kind of just stops. We don't find out what happened in the election, or with the situation with pro-Russian forces I kind of get the feeling that Khavin had to leave the city before he had the whole story. Personally I'd love him to go back and tell us more.

Leaving us wanting to see and know more is a minor flaw as these things go, especially in this day and age when most movies leave one wanting less.

QUIET IN ODESSA is a great little film- GO SEE IT.

ADDENDUM:
In a brief email exchange with the director he said that he is hoping to get back to Odessa in 2015 and pick up with the same people, assuming that the pro-Putin forces don't make a move to take the city.

The World Premiere is Sunday, November 2, 7pm, JCC Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave, NY.
The screening will be followed by Q&A with one of the film's subjects, a member of
the Odessa Self-Defense Brigade and the film's director.
For Tickets and more directions go to the JCC Manhattan website.


The film will screen again at The Central Brooklyn Public Library on Nov 20 along with the director Dmitriy Khavin's film from 2012 The Territory.  For Tickets and information on that screening go the Brooklyn Library Event Page here.

Goodbye to Language (2014) or it's time for Godard to call off the joke.

I don't care what Godard did in the 60's and 70's the man needs to be have his editing suite taken away and he should be sent to a rest home.

Once there he should be joined by the cineastes, intelligentsia and self absorbed self important morons who have been championing his films of the last few decades. Either they need to admit their championing of his films has been a grand joke, or if they are genuinely rapturous about the crap Godard has been turning out then they should have their laptops confiscated and their fingers broken. These people can not be allowed to champion any sort of film when they clearly have their heads up their asses.

All of this brings me to Godard's latest- Goodbye to Language. Hailed by some as a great 3D film, the damn thing gave me a head ache and almost put me to sleep. I would have walked out but I was at the wrong side of the theater to escape.

There is no plot. Some gangsters run around shooting people, a dog wanders around, a couple wander around their house naked, except when they fart or shit while talking about the equality of all men (because then when it's clear all men are equal). There is talk of metaphor and other high ideas, all of which are cribbed from other sources. We watch clips from old films. And then after nothing happens we watch it snow while in a car and windshield wipers remove it from the windshield.

The truth of the matter this looks like the test reel of someone who just bought a new camera with some gangsters spliced in. If you came upon this film in your maiden aunts drawer you'd toss it in the garbage. That maybe the point, but at the same time it says really crappy things about the supposed great director that he's turning out such crap and asking us to pay for it. Personally I'd rather not pay my maiden aunt to see her home movies.

I completely understand that Godard is supposed to be a cinematic jokester, that this film may not be anything other than a joke, but his sense of humor has clearly escaped him like his ability to make a watchable movie.

As for the 3D- yes its clear that Godard knows how to arrange objects to exploit it (watch the way he angles a bench) but mostly its horrible and pointless- more so since he inter-cuts old movie footage which is flat. Other than one sequence where Godard fucks with the audience for a couple of seconds by having different images for the right and left eyes to look at there is even less of a reason for this to be in 3D then Guardians of the Galaxy.  (Thankfully the dual eye effects will prevent this from ever being shown 2D since there is no way to do that flat.)

Godard’s use of the 3D is not ground breaking. If you are saying it is then you haven’t seen enough 3D films nor understand the medium. The highlight is angling benches. The rest of the film looks exactly many any other 3D film I’ve seen including some an acquaintance shot for a local museum show in the 1990’s on the medium- no wait the museum stuff was better.

What a freaking joke that people actually think this groundbreaking.

Someone sitting behind me during the press screening was going on about how great the film was and how this was his second go through of this "amazing" film. Had he not left when the credits rolled I would have grabbed him when the lights come up and forced him to eat every word he's ever written so its erased from human existence before I bludgeoned him to death with the arm that he writes with.

Don't get me wrong I don't hate the film, its such a steaming pile of poo that it will be quickly be forgotten, I just hate that people keep letting Godard make films- worse I hate that they think his films are not shit.

While I don't wish anyone dead, I kind of wish Godard would die so that people can be objective about the crap he's turned out lately.

The film opens today at the IFC Center in New York. Avoid this one like the plague unless you are a self important mindless prol who has no idea what good movies or good cinema is.

Ticket of Leave Man (1937)

Wonderful Tod Slaughter film is less horrific and more crime drama with Slaughter playing a criminal known as The Tiger.

The film has Slaughter being hunted by the police since he is a very vicious criminal prone to killing at the slightest provocation. Slaughter is soft on a young singer in a garden restaurant.When she finds out that she has a boyfriend who is works for a bank, he switches his stash with counterfeit money  and has hi sent to prison.Then in his public guise as a good man who helps the unfortunate he conspires to get the man released and then to break him so he can use him as a patsy in a big robbery.

Moving like the wind this is as good as Slaughter films get with Slaughter not hamming it up too much, a pace that move like the wind and a plot that isn't completely contrived. This is just a good time with good and bad people.

An absolute must see both for Slaughter fans and for those who just like good thrillers.

(This one is a tad tough to find. I only found it in a 50 movie collection from Mill Creek called Night Crimes)

BTW- The title refers to someone who has been paroled- a ticket of leave means they have been released.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Magical Universe Opens Friday 10/31


"Magical Universe" Trailer from Wheelhouse Creative on Vimeo.
The wonderful Magical Universe opens Friday in theaters and on VOD. I saw the film last year at DOC NYC and really liked it. Its a great little film and worth your time- need proof? Here's my review from last year (which is quoted in the trailer above)

While on vacation director Jeremy Workman received a call from a friend saying he should stop by the home of a man named Al Carbee and ask him to see his art. Workman did just that on his way home to New York with the result that a years long relationship and familial bond formed between himself, his girlfriend and the artist in Maine.

When Workman met Carbee he wasn't sure what he was getting into. Carbee's home was a bit run down and once he was inside he found lots of fish tanks filled with guppies and lots and lots of Barbie dolls that Carbee used for his art which involved photos that were turned into collage. Workman cut the footage he shot that day into an award winning short. However over time the relationship deepened and Workman and his girlfriend became good friends with Carbee which spawned voluminous exchanges of letters and videos.Workman found himself documenting Carbee's life and art

I don't know where to begin. Perhaps I should say don't let the notion that Al works Barbies fool you, because it isn't fair. What starts off as look at a seeming crackpot artist turns into something strangely moving. Al grows on you. His art which at first seems weird, turns into something strangely compelling. The film by turns goes from a yuckfest at Al's expense into something moving. The film was not what I expected nor was my reaction to it. I know that when the film started I wasn't expecting to have been as moved by it as I was.

The film is kind of a weirdly akin to Resurrect Dead:The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles and Realms of the Unreal, in that all three films deal with outsider art and weird preoccupations with other worldly things. The big difference is that here we get to meet the artist face to face and in those two films they remain off screen.

Despite the fact that some bits of this film run a little too long (there is a bit too much of Al's videos for my taste) this is a really good film. Actually it one of the real surprises of DOC NYC and perhaps the film year. Rarely has a film that I was kind of sort of interested in so pleasantly surprised me. I like to be pleasantly surprised.

If you have nothing better to do I recommend you get to the IFC Center on Friday and come to know Al Carbee and his Barbies.

Curse of the Wraydons (aka Strangler's Morgue) (1946)

I'm a huge Tod Slaughter fan. To be certain his films are far from truly great but they are almost always fun. Sadly, even for a Slaughter fan this is a tough slog. Its not Slaughter's fault, rather it's everything else

The plot of the film is a convoluted mess having to do with the Wraydon family, cursed with insanity; a killer with an ability to leap to great heights; spies trying to get the goods on the British military, weird experiments and various romances. Almost all of it loops back to the main villain, the Chief (Slaughter)

Based on the play Spring-Heeled Jack or The Terror of London by Maurice Sandoz this is probably Tod Slaughter's most stagy and awful film with the sequences playing out as if they were tableaux or as if they were from the  early days of sound. While I understand the British film industry was hampered by the recently ended Second World War this is just point and shoot filmmaking. Its painful to watch.

Truth be told this is a really bad film. I should probably have run this during the Thanksgiving Turkey's week but I wanted to warn any of you dabbling in Tod Slaughter to stay the hell away from this turkey. Its all talk and digression and little action and forward motion.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Horns (2014)

A very dark fable and heart breaking romance of the highest order. Its a glorious film that doesn't take the easy route and is so much more satisfying for it.

First bit of business this is not a film for the kids, there is sex, violence, darkness and fuck is said about 800 times.

Daniel Radcliffe play Iggy an unremarkable young man in pretty much every way except for the fact that he has a the best girl in the world Merrin. Ig’s world is blown to hell when Merrin is found murdered and his statements are misconstrued as guilt. As the whole world turns against him, Ig doesn’t know what to do. Things get weird when Ig begins to grown horns, which everyone kind of ignores-except that the horns force the people around him to hell him what they really feel.

More fable then horror story, this semi tragic romance with humor is one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. A wonderful adult delight is exactly the sort of fairy tale that people don’t do any more. I loved this film which is brimming with all sorts of idea, emotions and even humor.

To be honest I don’t know what to say about the film, not because I can’t, I can wax poetic about the film and if you’ve talked to me over the 8 weeks since I first saw the film you know I will go on at length about it, to be honest it’s become one of my favorites of the year, but at the same time I don’t want to tell you anything about the film, I don’t want to wreck the emotion that the film generates, I want you to gop out and just see it, knowing as little as possible. I want you to be like the people around me who laughted and cried and bounced with delight during the course of the film. While I will say that the film has one of my most favorite moments of the year involving the use of the song Personal Jesus, I won’t say anything else.

I do have to say that director Alexandre Aja who has gone overboard with violent nattiness in previous films such as High Tension, manages to hit the right balance here. While there is some nastiness in the film (some of this is not for the squeamish) it’s done at the right time and the right way.

If you want an adult fable and down mind the dark, leave the kids at home and go see Horns, one the years biggest surprises.

The film opens Friday in theaters and can be had on VOD now

Face at the Window (1936)

When a bank is robbed the last thing the watchman says is that there was a face at the window. The banks gold depsoits are stolen by a fiend known as the Wolf and the bank teeters on the verge of financial collapse.  Enter Chevalier Lucio del Gardo (Tod Slaughter) a rich man offering to put his gold fortune into the bank. Chevalier has eyes on the bank and on the bankers daughter. She has no eyes for him, but to the poor teller who has vowed to catch the Wolf

Hoary over done melodrama that is funny for all the wrong reason but yet manages to be completely compelling-thanks to Tod Slaughter who nods and winks and over plays it to the point you'll be booing and hissing him from your couch. That no one suspects Slaughter is ludicrous since he is is dripping with evil from the first frame.

The solution to the film, involving the ability of electricity to allow completion of the action started before death is a laugh and a half, but at the same times shows you what we were thinking as a civilization 130 years ago when the source play was written.

This is exactly the sort of film they don't do any more because no one would believe it and because if anyone tried they would never play it straight since they would figure no one would believe it.

To be completely honest this is the sort of film that you need to watch on a dark and stormy night with the lights off and a big bowl of popcorn sitting in front of you. Its the sort of film that you put on to drive out the outside world and to disappear into another time and place  The perfect thing to do would be is to get another Tod Slaughter film or two and make it a grand night at the home cinema

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Nightcap10/26/14:Tod Slaughter week starts tomorrow, Lincoln Center's Scary Movies starts Friday, The Pink Panther, a must see at DOC NYC and Randi's links

Halloween is Friday and usually we take a stab at running horror films but this year we’re going to do something else. This year we’re going to take a look at a large portion of the output of the late great Tod Slaughter.

Slaughter was a barn storming actor who toured all through England with dark melodramas. These were the sort of things that got the audience to boo and hiss at his vile antics. Slaughter was always the bad guy, he chewed scenery mercilessly (trust me you’ve never seen scenery chewed until you’ve seen Slaughter do it) and he seemed to relish it. Slaughter fell into films thanks to the British Quota system. Since producers needed films to fill the quotas imposed by the British government they looked for projects that they could turn into quick movies. Since Slaughter was a known quantity with a repertory of “classic tales” (The Face in the Fog, Sweeny Todd) they scooped him up and turned the plays into films. Todd then split his time between the cinema and the stage.

Slaughter’s output of films was relatively small. He only did about 15 features and a about 6 shorts. I’ve never run across any of his shorts but I have most of his features. They are dark and creaky classics that are all perfect for curling up on the couch with. If thought of the Universal horror films make you warm and fuzzy, Slaughters films will make you completely rapturous. While there are no monsters there are good guys and bad guys but there is the dark and stormy mood that pervade the Universal films in spades.

I don’t know why the films never played much in the US. To be honest until the advent of home video I never knowingly ran across Slaughter or his films. I ran across his films in the dollar bargain bins and being a cheap bastard I picked the few I could find up. When I saw the couple of films I found for a buck or two I then had to hunt down the rest and then went to places like Sinister Cinema in order to get the remaining titles. The weird thing was that when I first started looking for films IMDB only listed a hand full of the films. Slowly over the years the list grew from 6 titles to the 21 that it now lists.

If you’re wondering if you’ve ever run across any of Slaughters films just ask yourself if you ever picked up one of those large collections of old movies on DVD- you know the ones like 50 Mystery or Horror films for 20 bucks or less? If so then odds are you’ve got a bunch of his films.

Over the next seven days we’re going to wax poetic about Slaughter and his films. We’’ll be hitting some of the biggies (The Demon Barber of Fleet Street akaSweeny Todd, Face at the Window, Murder in the Red Barn) and some of the lesser ones as well. Keep reading and hopefully you’ll get inspired to watch a few during this spooky time of year.


Tod Slaughter on stage in 1926
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Lincoln Center’s Scary Movies starts Friday, Halloween and runs until November 6. The series is its usual mix of old classics and new releases, and including a documentary on the Marlon Brando Island of Dr Moreau focusing on the film’s original director Richard Stanley.

This year our coverage is going to be spotty. I have two posts ready to go, One on the wonderful thriller Amsterdamned because I’m a huge fan of the film and it’s director Dick Maas. The other post are three capsules on the other three older films The Pack, Reflections of Murder and Angst. Two of the three films are great little poisoned confections.

As of now I’m not certain how many more we’ll get to. Press screening were too close to the New York Film Festival and I couldn’t get off from the day job. I do have a ticket for Lost Soul, the Moreau film, but I’m not sure what I’ll get to beyond that since I’m seeing John Cleese speak and Hubert read (more on that next week)

For those of you with the ability to make the screenings details on the films and schedule can be found here.
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This past Thursday John and I decompressed from the craziness of the New York Film Festival and the upcoming DOC NYC by going to Lincoln Center to catch the Film Comment Select double feature of Return of the Pink Panther and The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

 I’m not going to do a real write up of the films (though I will say the comedy is hysterical, while the linking material is poor). I will say that the night was a great deal of fun with raffles, trivia questions, trailers and a featurette on the making of Return. Best of all was listening to the audience laugh with rotating members seeming to gasp for air.

I had a blast and John did too. It was one of those nights where you have a great night with a great friend and barely say a word because you’re laughing too hard at what you’re watching together.
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I've seen close to 20 films that  will be playing at DOC NYC this year so far and there are a lot of good ones. Actually they're all good or great with no stinkers anywhere among them.

Run as part of the BAM Puppets on Film series and a co-presentation with DOC NYC was  I AM BIG BIRD, which is about Carroll Spinney who plays Big Bird and Oscar. I'll do a full review closer to the festival- largely because I'm looking at a draft piece I need to go over again- but the long and short of it is the film is one of the best at DOC NYC and of the year. It will move you- no one at the BAM screening wasn't crying at some point-so bring tissues. Also Spinney and his wife will be there so thats a bonus since that means Oscar the Grouch will be there too.

You have one shot at seeing it and you must take it.

Pictures from the BAM screening are up at Tumblr.
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This week in addition to the Tod Slaughter films look fornew release films as well as titles from the Lincoln Center Scary Movies series.
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and now Randi's links

The World Clown Association thinks scary clowns are not funny
Alan Moore's Million Word Novel
"Lost" Albums
Secret casualties of Iraq's abandoned weapons
Back Stage at Disney 1983 (and a young Tim Burton)
Sphinx from the original 10 Commandments have been unearthed
Pronouncing  Shakespeare
Evil Vinyl
Pink Panther goodies
Lost Episodes from At Last the 1948 Show have been found

Raise the Titanic (1980)

When Clive Cussler wrote the novel of Raise the Titanic we were still something like fifteen years from actually finding it. There was a few less between the film version and the discovery of the wreckage. For many people, including Cussler there is a feeling that the film should have been dropped down on to the lost ship.

I on the other hand love the film a great deal, always have. It was a love of the film that got me into Cussler’s books. Cussler is one hell of a yarn spinner and even if his tales frequently fall into too fantastical to be true, they are rip roaring yarns

The plot of Raise the Titanic has the government creating a new weapon to fight the cold war with. The trouble is that the only known power source is a highly rare element that was is under Soviet control. However it’s discovered that a large deposit of the mineral had been mined by some American back in the earlier part of the 20th century and brought to the United States. Actually it made it as far as the Titanic and it’s maiden voyage. Desperate for the mineral the US government asks Admiral Sandecker and his NUMA organization to go looking for the ship and if possible raise it. Intrigue of course follows as trouble shooter Dirk Pitt is called into action.

This ain’t high art, it’s high adventure. Yes the special effects aren’t the best, NY TV film critic Stewart Klein said the underwater stuff looked like it had been filmed in a bath tub, but they are serviceable. The trouble was Star Wars came to town and raised the bar to an incredibly high level. People wanted hyper realistic effects, unfortunately this was before computers and no one had really worked out how to do the underwater stuff so it looked properly spectacular. It’s a minor flaw, but it’s not fatal unless you are going to be a movie snob.

I know the film, which was slowly starting to get a better rep when the ship was indeed found, thus wrecking the film’s premise of finding it intact. I know the film fell off the face of the earth for a while in the aftermath, but it’s slowly coming back simply because it’s a good film.

That the film works it’s simply because it’s a good yarn. It grabs you and pulls you in. The film’s structure of having a crisis and then needing to do a series of impossible things to solve it is near perfect. First our heroes have to find the ship then they have to try and raise it, and of course there are complications. Its just the sort of popcorn film you’ll want to curl up with on the couch.

Of course that the film works is due to the plot which is a gas, and the cast which is great. Richard Jordan is a great Dirk Pitt. He’s clearly a strong presence and capable of leaping into action. He’s so good that he remained in my brain when I was reading the novels. Jason Robards is a great Sandecker, radiating the right amount of stern control. I also like David Selby as a scientist brought into help Pitt. He maybe a stuffed shirt to start but Pitt manages to loosen him up.

This is a great great film. It’s the perfect thing to relax to.

Sadly Cussler hated the film so much that he refused to allow anyone to make a movie based on his books for decades. It wasn’t until he became heavily involved in the making of Sahara (which he also hates) that Pitt returned to the big screen for the last time. Sadly Cussler’s argument against both films is that the wrecked his carefully crafted stories. No offense Mr Cussler, I’m a fan, but let’s face it your plots are ludicrous in the extreme. They could never work anywhere but on the page unless they have you prose to speed us past the bullshit. There is only one of your novel’s that I’ve read that wouldn’t have to be changed (INCA GOLD) because they are so silly you can’t see them in a real world setting without falling over laughing. Honestly that as why I gave up on them around the time of VALHALLA RISING

See Raise the Titanic and have a good time

Saturday, October 25, 2014

We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!) (2013)


We first meet Bobo, sitting sullenly in the corner of her mom's rambunctious 40th birthday party. Awkward and androgynous, she's appealing and out of place. This is not a a world she wants to be a part of, but you immediately want to be a part of hers.

It's 1982 in Sweden and everyone keeps telling Bobo that "punk is dead." Bobo knows different. Punk isn't a genre of music. It's a feeling you have in your heart.

Lucas Moodysson's We Are the Best!, based on his wife's, Coco Moodysson, semi-autobiographical comic, Never Goodnight, is the punk-rock movie you didn't know you wanted but absolutely needed. It's one of the few movies that gives absolutely respect to the inner life of girls. There is nothing here that makes fun of them. They are treated as the absolute forces of nature that they are.

The reserved Bobo and her more antagonistic friend, Klara, decide to form a band on whim -- mostly to show up a few jerky teenage boys that made fun of them. Despite not being able to play instruments (or know anything about music), they decide to write a song about how much they hate gym class. In the process, they befriend the talented but conservative Hedvig.

The three girls' friendship is at the core of the movie. They are all open and sweet, and the three young actresses (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne) bring a natural quality to their roles. Some scenes feel improvised and the chemistry between the three is a delight. Even when they come into conflict over boys (stupid boys!), it is such a minor part of their journey. The band is the most important thing! It's so refreshing to see a movie that celebrates female friendship in such a way.

There is sweetness at the core of this movie -- all three girls come from loving families. While Bobo's parents are separated, they both still care about her. Klara's family is wild but supportive and while Hedvig's family is presented as being a bit more uptight, her mother just has her best interests at heart. The lack of conflict grounds the movie. The girls don't really have much to rebel against, no, but that makes them feel real and honest. Maybe there are bigger problems than gym teachers, but these girls are fighting against what they know to fight against. I'd be excited to catch up with them in a few years.

This is a kind-hearted movie that shows the power of girls to change their worlds. I am not 13 but I still want to go start a band now. It's never too late to be a punk.

Sahara (2005)

I'm a big fan of the Dirk Pitt novels. I've read most of them even when they were awful because the interaction of the heroes was always so much fun. For me any success of film adaption was going to rest on how well Dirk and Al were cast and played. Aside from Al being a bit too goofy the film makers have found the perfect casting in Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahan, these two are destined for screen team greatness if author Clive Cussler allows there to be another outing.

The two-fold plot has Pitt looking for a Civil War Ironclad in the African desert while a doctor tries to find the source of an unknown epidemic that is beginning to kill people. The two stories of course collide as our heroes must step in to first save the doctor before saving the world at large. Its a rip roaring slam bang adventure of the sort they don't make any more.

This is the type of movie that you go to get away from it all. Its not heavy or earth shaking, but its wonderfully distracting. Go see it. If you can give yourself over to it you'll have a great time.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Decent One (2014)

When I got the press release I was fascinated with the prospect of seeing a kind of cinematic autobiography of Heinrich Himmler. The idea of taking his words and linking it up with photographs and footage sounded like a home run. When I finally saw the film this week toward the end of it’s New York Run I found the film to be more a curio than anything else.

The film is based on recently rediscovered journals, letters and other papers which had been raided from the Himmler home at the end of the war by American Soldiers which had never been turned over to the proper authorities. Taking the written material (which also included material from Himmler’s wife, daughter, father and mistress) the film weaves together a loose narrative of Himmler’s life.

I’m going to do something the film doesn’t do and that is explain things, and say that Himmler was one of Hitler’s high command. He ran the SS, the police and became the Ministry of the Interior. He was one of the minds behind the Final Solution and he eventually killed himself after being captured by the British.

I lay that out because despite an occasional inter title the film never truly explains who some people mentioned are or when or where we are in connection to the war or to events in Himmler’s personal life. There is a point a point where context of the letters disappears and we’re just left with words and images. Yes they build up to a very surreal sensation at the conclusion of the film, but they never quite have the punch they should have.

And the end of the film packs a punch. The buildup of Himmler’s words about being a decent human being and how despite it all he is a good man while we witness the death and horror he wrought is extremely fucked up. Yes I knew he was a monster going in. Yes I knew he thought he was a great guy but to see, to really see the disconnect is frightening. Talk about going into the head space of a monster, this is it.

Ending aside this is an okay movie that’s for a specialized audience of people interested in the war or the holocaust, as witnessed by the space audience in the screening I attended which was entirely men well over 60 (myself excluded.)

Amateur (1981)

In director Charles Jarrott‘s second espionage film from 1981 (the other is Condorman) John Savage plays a CIA cryptographer whose fiancé is killed by terrorists in a hostage situation. Wanting revenge h, blackmails his bosses into sending him into the field to get the men responsible only to find things relating to his fiancé and her killing are not all that clear cut.

Made at time when John Savage could open a film, before he became a stalwart character actor, The Amateur is a tense little thriller made more so because Savage isn’t a superman. Very much not an action hero, or at least what we think is an action hero Savage plays his role very much as a character that could be you or me. He is not the unflappable Liam Neeson in the Taken films, he’s just this guy. I know some people who don’t like the film because Savage isn’t the super-agent, but for me that’s what makes the film work, this could be anyone. He bumbles his way through his self-imposed mission. He makes mistakes, gets in over his head and yet somehow he still manages to carry on.

Actually I think one of the reasons that the film worked then and still works today is that the film was made at a time when the world was locked in a cold war and the idea of spies keeping the world safe was viable. The movies cat and mouse games were mirrors of what was going on in the real world. Nowadays the idea of spies has been replaced by the notion of electronic surveillance, but back then people were needed on the street and being a spy was a dangerous thing. Also, as I said above we expect our spies these days to be super men of action. In recent films everything is tied to computers, danger comes from the double agent down the hall not from the spies somewhere in the city. In this old school film there is a sense that anything can happen and that danger is everywhere and anyone could kill you.

I really like this film and if you ask me it’s time to pull it off the shelf and dive back behind the iron curtain. 33 years on this film is best described as a lost classic (though admittedly the term classic is a loose on). This is one of those great films that are best viewed on a rainy Saturday from the comfort of your couch and with a big bowl of popcorn on your lap to deflect any stray shots

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A few words on WHIPLASH (2014) New York Film Festival 2014

JK Simmons at the NYFF press conference for WHIPLASH
WHIPLASH played the first weekend of the New York Film Festival and began it's theatrical run. I know we've said a few things on the film, but I thought I'd say a few more.

The film has a young drummer named Andrew going to a big named music school. He catches the eye of a legendary teacher who brings him into his jazz band and then begins to torment the young man mercilessly.

Darkly funny and very tense psychological drama/thriller WHIPLASH is based in part on director/writer Damien Chazelle's experiences in a high school band mixed with those of some of his friends. Its a film that questions the drive to be the best and ponders the need to beat greatness into people. While I'm not sure what the film ultimately says about either subject, I do know it's a fine and compelling film.

JK Simmons is a shoe in for an Oscar nomination as Fletcher the foul mouth teacher from Hell, Sweet one minute, violently abusive the next  he is your worst nightmare of a teacher and then some. While you understand, on some tiny level, what he's going for, his methods are of course highly suspect.

While I never cried nor had the chills that several of my fellow writers claimed to get as a result of the film I did have a good time.

Definitely a film you want to see, especially if you want proof that music can be nastier than football.

Condorman(1981)

Long before Michael Crawford became the original Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical, and before his ego was popped by his tampering with Dance of the Vampires, he bounced around in light family films. One of these is the Disney film Condorman which was based on a novel by Robert Sheckley.

The plot of the film has Crawford playing a comic book artist who insists on reality. He won’t put anything in his comics that won’t actually work, to that end he is constantly building contraptions that leave him broken and bruised. Through circumstances he ends up drawn into an espionage plot and working for the CIA- who are crazy enough to fund his wild gadgets.

This is one of those clunky live action films that Disney turned out with regularity in the late 70’s and 80’s when they seemed to have all but forsaken animation. They were a mixed lot with some being classics and some being best burned and forgotten with the ashes entombed in an unmarked grave. Actually Condorman is a combination of the best and worst Disney has to offer.

The problem with the film is it’s very much a kids film. When I saw this film when it hit theaters I thought it was pretty good. I liked the silly everyman vs spies plot. I couldn’t understand why people hated the film. A few years later and a couple more miles under my belt I fell in hate with the film. Things played really stupidly and outside of the gadgets I hated it. However I saw the film again recently and while I don’t love the film, I no longer hate it.

I think that the film works not so much because of Crawford (who can be really annoying) but because of the rest of the cast, particularly the lovely Barbara Carera and Oliver Reed. They give the weight the film needs and manage to keep things grounded even when things get overly silly. Of Course the weird gadgets, from boat to folding wings are really cool, and it’s neat whenever they make an appearance.

I should point out that the film’s gadgets are proof that superhero films of the real comic book variety don’t work. Seeing the gadgets, especially ones that are made to be real world practical proves just how impractical they are. If you want to see why Wolverine doesn’t wear yellow spandex in any of the X-men movies this film will clue you in.

If you have kids of a certain age or like amusing road accident films, I’d give this film a shot. Its not great, but at the same time it’s a great thriow back to a time past.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pondering CITIZENFOUR (2014)

I technically missed CITIZENFOUR at the New York Film Festival. The film premiered on the last Friday of the Festival but I was too beat to see it so I saw it early in the morning two days later, at a press screening on what was technically the last day of the festival. The screening, 930 on a Sunday morning was lightly attended, The reaction when the film ended was silence, which is typical for a press screening (you know you've got a hot film if there is applause).  As I was talking to the PR rep in the lobby the other critics coming out described the film as interesting.

I'm mentioning the reaction to the film for a reason. If you were following the media reaction to the film on Twitter or elsewhere after the first New York Film Festival screening you would have thought the film was the second coming of Edward Snowden with talk of people being moved and an extended standing ovation.

For those who don't know the film is the story of how Edward Snowden contacted filmmaker Laura Poitras and began the release of material through her and her friend Glenn Greewald. We see the exchange of emails that lead to the meeting with Snowden in Hong Hong and we watch as he is forced to flee to Moscow. There is also a great deal of discussion about what exactly the government and other governments are doing in collecting data.

My reaction to the film is that it would be a great hour long documentary if it wasn't stretched to two hours.There is no way around it the film is too long and ultimately too unfocused to hold your attention.  Part of the problem is that while the film is nominally Snowden's story the film branches off into other directions.We follow some of the ripples the Snowden material caused. We watch as the Guardian tries to handle how to release some of the information and we watch as Brazil gets annoyed at US spying. There is also a random sequence of a speech given by the Security Head of Occupy Wall Street about how linking everything together allows the government to track us. The material is in theory on point but is just throw together instead of being linked together.

Its interesting stuff and each bit should be a film of it's own, The trouble is here its tiny bits of material that kind of comes and goes and isn't all that well formed as anything other than cinematic declarative statements or headlines. There is no meat beyond the bit.

The real problem is that the focus of the film, or what we've been told is the focus, Edward Snowden is only in the film for a certain amount of time. We only really see him sitting in a hotel room talking about code keys, what the US government is going to track him, and a little bit about the revelations. We don't really get any sense of the man as a person or even why he did what he did beyond feeling obligated. There is no sense of the man or his life. Worse after a certain point he disappears as he goes to Russia after which we get a brief glimpse of him at the very end talking Greenwald in a hotel room in Moscow. (Aslight digression, I'm amused that exchange we see is done via handwritten notes which see part of before they are then destroyed, however they hold them up to each other, and the light, so we can see the writing through the paper )

Its kind of interesting, but for me it kind of felt like they only had so much material, despite being with Snowden for many days, and had to stretch it out. I understand that the Snowden didn't want to talk about his family and such at the time, but now much of that is public record, why not include it?

The filmmakers solution to filling time is to repeat things. Points are gone over again and again.I got bored, especially at how much material is repeated as points are beaten home. I mean do we really need the full  take of Greenwald's Brazilian testimony since it repeats everything we've seen?

The real problem with the film is that there is nothing new here other than the revelations at the end of a watch list and new leaker. Everything else in this film is stuff that you know if you've been watching the news since Snowden appeared. Even the story of Snowden's travels have been so documented that there is no tension. 

What amazes me is that the revelation of the US government tapping phone lines and collecting data is really considered shocking since its well known that they were doing it going back for decades. There were even news stories about the government getting scared because when cellphones were becoming popular they had to find ways to continue their surveillance which they couldn't do, at the time, if it wasn't on a landline. Even the trunk line to Europe was supposed to have been tapped. Everyone applauds Snowden for the release, rightly so, but this shit has been going on for decades but most people were never curious enough to see. 

I've gotten into several arguments/discussions about the film and it's importance. People are telling me that the film is important for any number of reasons, largely having to do with the revelations it brings together. But I can't really agree. 

For me the film isn't important because it has too much stuff that doesn't belong. There isn't much beyond the basic revelation, which I'm guessing everyone knows going in.The film has too much other material in it that just distracts from all of the central points. We don't need much of the other non-Snowden material. And the film suffers from not saying much beyond the government is tapping and recording everything. 

And?

Nothing.

In other documentaries, such as several of the HBO documentaries on what is going on in Russia, say on Pussy Riot or the hunting of homosexuals,we see something beyond the one person telling us about what is going on. We actually see something beyond the statement.

Okay yes this is a film about Snowden  and his release of documents, but the film starts throws the net wider, to Brazil, to the Hague, to Occupy Wall Street, but it doesn't show us why they should be in this film. Why are we everywhere but with Snowden?

Actually why don't we really get to know him? I mean the  most we get about him in person, is his worrying about his girlfriend, and watching him shave and style his hair. Is he that bland or is he something else?

What bother me most about any positive reaction to it, is that those cheering it on will be happy that some one is revealing how their rights are being chipped away at, however very few of them will do more than cheer. They will get angry and talk to their friends, but they will go home and do nothing. They will not take up the mantle of Snowden and actually do anything. If this were truly a great film, it would move people to do something, instead of letting other people make the sacrifice for their liberty. 

This film doesn't go far enough.

Is CITIZENFOUR a bad film? No but it is, as I think it will be seen once some time passes, to be an unremarkable one.

Take a Hard Ride (1975)

Take a Hard Ride had me when I saw that it starred Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Lee Van Cleef. What thrilled me even more was the discovery that the film was jock full of great character actors including Jim Kelly as a half breed native American martial arts master.

Yea the film is a great deal of fun.

The plot of the film has ex-con brown agreeing to take the payroll to the ranch of his dying boss. It’s a long trip and 86,000 dollars back at the end of the 19th century is a lot of money. Instantly everyone is out to bushwhack brown, and Van Cleef wants him for the bounty on his head. Needing help Brown ends up tied to fred Williamson, a gambler who wants the money but will only promise to remain loyal until Mexico. As bad guys give chase the good guys battle each other as well.

Looking like an American western despite being very much a spaghetti western- the film was shot in Spain and has the signs of post production audio work. There is a maturity and a dark edge that is  unexpected in "American" Westerns (I'd love to tell you about a couple of twists but I don't want to ruin them), the good guys are a lighter shade of grey than the bad guys and even so some of the bad guys are rather black.

The film works for two reasons. First the action is amazing. The shoot outs are spectacular. As I implied earlier things don't go the way one expects, people die unexpectedly and how things play out is rarely what would come to mind.

The second reason is the great cast of characters. Jim Brown's lead is the moral center and because he's such a straight arrow it allows the film to be grounded so that we accept his battles with gambler Williamson, or some of the strange characters that are in orbit around him, such as Jim Kelly's mute half breed kung fu expert. No it makes no sense but it is a great deal of fun.

I really liked this film a great deal. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

1000 Times Goodnight (2014)

Juliette Binoche plays a war photographer who is injured while covering a female suicide bomber group and ends up too near an explosion when the bomber denoates. Brought back home after time in the hospital her family life collides with her work life as she is forced to choose between her children and husband and the life she knows.

This haunting film grabs you from it's opening moments as we watch as Binoche photographs a group of female bombers preparing one of their own for an attack, Its a filmed in a manner that makes what she is photgrpahing a kind of mystery and it  pulls you in to its embrace almost from the first frame. The result is a film that will get in side your head and your heart and stay with you.

Watching the film for review late at night I found myself realizing almost instantly that I was not really in the head space to deal with the film. My defenses were down I knew that if I continued on the film was going to haunt me. Drawn in by the beauty of the images, the subject matter and the killer performances I stayed all the way to the end. That night I dreamed of the film all night waking up several times as I found that my dreams were not my own but a replay of the film. Over the next several days I could feel the film hanging around the edges of my psyche even as I watched other films and went through the dull grind of my life

While the plot of one woman forced to choose work over family is explored on an amped up and very dangerous level, this is also a story that will force you to reflect on whether your job is devouring your own home life and whether or not you need to change your life..

I'm not too sure what to say about the film except that it will move you and affect you. I am very much of the opinion that a good film is one that provokes a reaction and a great one is one that provokes a strong one and under that criteria this is a great film. See it and be haunted.


New Gulliver (1935)


Early film from legendary Soviet filmmaker Aleksandr Ptushko is a blast and a half. To be honest I have no idea how the film is as a film, but as eye candy this film is way cool.

The plot of the film has a bunch of student campers setting sail in a large boat they restored as their yacht. They land on an island and while resting one of them begins to read Gulliver’s Travels. As the story is read one of the kids imagines himself in the story, fighting pirates and then in Lilliput and elsewhere.

The film is an amusing romp. Its very much a kids own sort of adventure with the story playing out as a kid would imagine it, the early pirate sequence is wonderfully silly. Yes the film turns political. There is talk of the man mountain being evil and there is talk of a workers revolt, but it's more a distraction

The real joy however is the huge scale animation that blends the human actors with some marvelous models. I love the great characters of Lilliput. How the hell did they do this on such a huge scale. I’ve never seen animation done this level before. The fore ground is animated, the background is animated, real life and what appear to be toys are mixed with the animation models. I have no idea how they did it.

It’s amazing on a level I can’t describe. I mean how much work did they put into this? How long did it take to do it? Wow doesn’t do it justice.

If you want to see true movie magic you must see this film. Seriously it will blow you away.

Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

Ph.d Student  pays an Alzheimer's patient and her daughter money to allow them to film them for several months. Almost instantly it becomes clear that something is wrong beyond the diagnosis, and that her trouble might be something more demonic.

Found footage horror film is very hit and miss, even by the standards of the sub-genre of horror. There are some genuine chills in the film but it's undone by some technical issues and some decidedly fiction film camera work.

The chills in the film come in from two things. The physical performance of Jill Larson as Logan and the small  "caught on camera moments" lift the film up from the the middle of the pile it dwells in.

Larson as Logan is amazing. The moments where she goes demonic is truly frightening. She chills with just a look. The performance is made stronger by the makeup and lighting to use to deepen the horrific. Its her performance that makes the film come alive especially in the final half hour where the movie goes completely batshit crazy.

And its the small moments that send the chills. The odd look, a weird thing that can't be explained, say Logan wandering into closet and disappearing, or perfectly framed image on a computer screen say more than most of the dialog scenes. The devil is in the details , or in this case the demon is the odd shot with several images, being some of the most messed up horror images I'm run across all year.

The biggest flaw of the film is the fact the film wants to be found footage but ultimately isn't. Cameras are placed in places they never would be-I mean multiple surveillance cameras in a hospital room? Things are filmed that never would be, no documentary filmmaker would wander around the way these people do and more importantly who would let them film much of what they do? It doesn't make sense.

This would have been soooooo much better as a straight on fiction film since there is  is no reason for it to be found footage. The story doesn't call for it, the budget doesn't require it and the scenes as written don't play out as found footage.

I'm disappointed greatly in the film because when the film works, and it does now and again it's creepy as all hell, with one WTF moment near the end of the film that had me murmuring to myself.

Opening today on early EST and it hits DVD on November 4

Monday, October 20, 2014

Force Majeure (2014)

Award winner at Cannes was shown at Toronto as part of a special screening. I think it's a very good film

The film has a couple and their kids going on a ski holiday. Its one of their rare times together so the family is really excited. Things however get mess real fast. Sitting outside at a restaurant having lunch the second day they witness a controlled avalanche that almost crashes into the resort. The kids freak out. The mother tries to protect them and the father flees. This sends ripples through the clan and their friends as it soon has everyone thinking and dealing with what "happened"

This drama is decidedly less dark then you's expect. Yes, there is darkness kicked up, yes weighty issues are raised but there is abundant humor as arguments take surreal turns or kids toys come crashing in to break the mood.  Despite weaving a great deal of tension at times, the silliness of life is always there.

I really like this film a lot. It's decidedly not run of the mill and the right side of quirky. Its a film full of great characters and funny lines-and some truly amazing visuals- this is an absolute must see on a big screen where you can take it all in and the ending can be seen to be really freaky.

On the downside the film does kick up a few too many threads that go nowhere-the discussion about affairs seems to be from another film, and the film kind of ends twice, once in a cliched sort of way and the final one in a WTF was that sort of way. On the  upside any down side doesn't matter since the characters and the sense of life make up for it.

Definitely worth the time of anyone who doesn't want to see the same old same old.

The film opens Friday

300 Rise of the Empire (2014)

Not so much a sequel as the story of events before, during and after the events depicted in 300. We see how the Persians moved to war and then were ultimately beaten back the the Greeks.

Focused on Greek General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) and Artemisia (Eva Green) the film follows as the  pair circle and crash into and around each other as they try to maneuver their sides in the escalating series of sea battles.

Let me great a couple of things out of the way:

First this film is historically inaccurate. For example Aretmisia fought but she wasn't a great admiral, she had five ships under her.  There are other things that didn't happen as well, but I can't discuss them without revealing plot points. While I know this is a historical story, they changes keep it compelling.

Second thing this is a really good movie. To my mind it's much better than 300. Yes its done in the same way with everything rendered via a computer, but the film is more concerned with the story then just the visuals. There is a lot of story here and ir carries you along.

If there is a problem with the film, beyond the over abundance of slow motion blood and body parts is that there is almost too much story. If you add into all of the flash backs this film covers decades, its almost too much. There is so much story that it's almost diametrically opposed to the first film.

Watching the film I had a blast and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves action and doesn't mind the blood

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nightcap 10/19/14: Final thoughts on the New York Film Festival, DOC NYC is coming and Randi's links



The New York Film Festival ended last weekend and I’m still tired.

I had a blast. It was month of good films and good friends.

For those keeping score the best new films I saw were
BIRDMAN
SILVERED WATER SYRIA SELF PORTRAIT
WHIPLASH
NOFICTION DIARY
QUEEN AND COUNTRY
LOOK OF SILENCE

The almost on the best list and would be if I didn’t hesitate for a second list
FOXCATCHER
BLUE ROOM
MEASURES

And somewhere in there should probably be THE KING AND THE MOCKINGBIRD on the technicality that it hadn’t officially been released in the US before

The worst films are
MAPS OF THE STARS
GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE

My one wish coming out of the festival this year is that next year the selection committee can make some of the selections more exciting going in. Yea the films were largely very good to excellent this year, but what I’d like is more premieres, more big or important films closer to their world premieres. Too many films had played in multiple festivals elsewhere before landing in New York- that’s all well and good, but it kind of kills the excitement when people are telling me how they saw a film at this other festival or another (even the Surprise screening screened elsewhere-with the result that the audience deflated when they realized what it was).

Additionally the festival has to stop taking films from past directors. Just because they had a film previously doesn’t mean they deserve a slot this year. At least a quarter of the main slate films were returning directors, as were a high percentage of other films. There are more and better films out there then some of the films that were made by NYFF alumni. Being a past presenter shouldn't give you an automatic slot. Make a good film then you can be screened.

Forgive me for bitching but this is the New York Film Festival, one of the premiere events for a half century, they need to be more of a stepping off point for world cinema not "the best of the rest" collection it's become.

And while I’m making a wish list the selection would get more daring- I mean really daring. No offense but outside of Asia Argento’s MISUNDERSTOOD the festival wasn’t daring. Every choice was safe and not confrontational. The Festival should be rattling cages, it should be going into going in new directions and picking up new directors. Why can’t the festival do another midnight series-yea I know it’s a union thing, but do a midnight series in the afternoon. The answer that the Film Society does things like Film Comment Selects and Scary Movies at other times doesn’t cut it, those are series are self-selecting- the festival casts a wider net and showing some of those films would get them greater attention.

If you want my unasked for advice on how to correct this change out the selection committee. Some of the people seem to have been there forever, time to get new eyes and uncalcify the group. If not expand the group to include a rotating cast of characters who will bring new eyes. And if you do that don’t go to the same old same old- get some of younger film writers and bring them in, get people not in the old boys secret handshake film club and let them choose- and have them do so from their hearts and not their heads- let them pick what moves them, not what is going to look good for the festival.

As for me time to go through withdrawal and rest up for next year….

PS
If you want proof that film critics and writer can be full of themselves watch the BIRDMAN Q&A above and listen as the panel is stumped by several questions which are either not about the film or make no sense.
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And heading on to other festivals, DOC NYC has announced its schedule and put tickets on sale. It’s a killer festival and we’re going to wade in as best we can . Not only am I doing coverage but also John, Hubert and Mondo are wading in….

…but that may not be enough since they are running 152 films across multiple screens in 3 locations. I think on the weekend 6 films will be running at the same time. It’s insane.

I know we’ll have reviews of a good number of the films, but I can’t say how many, but way over 30.. I know I freaked the PR staff out with my personal requests. If we don’t beat last year’s coverage it won’t be because we didn’t try, it will only because the scheduling defeated us.

For details on all the films including tickets go here.

(And yea the stuff is good I've seen a couple already and have a favorite or two-so get tickets)
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This week more random titles with a whole slew of new releases thrown in for good measure
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And now some links ala the Great Randi

Gaudi's cathedral 
Rarely seen images of Chaplin
20th Century's Greatest Composers
6 hours on Blah Airlines
The annotated Star Wars

Violets (2014)

Jim Vendiola's VIOLETS is small scale subtle piece of horror that the director says is based on true events. While not a film of overt scares it is one that will creep you out.

The film concerns two women, what their relationship is is not explained in the film. Its clear either they are either near incestuous sisters or lovers.  Time passes. They clean houses. They go to the botanical garden, they eat their meals from cans. Then one day they put their plan into action.

I can't tell you any more, I don't want to ruin the film for you since this is a film that not a lot happens but yet a great deal does.

The film works because Vendiola manages to create a mood and a sense of the world askew, from the opening electronic riff that is heard several times threw the film, to the twinning of the the two women, the use of silences and the stark, almost bare visuals this film wonderfully creates a world that is off.

I love the look of the film. I love the starkness of the women's world. There are huge open spaces even in their confined apartment that give us a sense of emptiness. Just how empty their world is is revealed in several of the final moments which kind of flip the emptiness on it's head.

Curse you Jim Vendiola, you've made a film that is damn near hard to discuss unless you're doing so with someone who's seen it.

While I like the film a great deal there is one niggling question that keeps me from calling it a truly great little film - then again it could be me over thinking things. Sadly it's not something I can discuss, lest I wreck a bit of the film for you. However niggling question or no this is a really good, nay near great little film, that is worth your time and the effort to see it when it plays near you. (The film is currently under consideration at a number of festivals for the 2015 season. and it will appear online next year)



"Violets" Teaser (2014) from Jim Vendiola on Vimeo.

Curse of the yellow snake (21963)

Story of a cursed jeweled snake that when has the potential to make the possessor invincible. The snake is hidden in a burial crypt in a pagoda in Hong Kong. When thieves try to steal it, killing someone in the process, the owner knows that a great evil is in the land. Sending his son to London to marry, despite his protest of wanting to stay and find the men behind the attack, the battle for the snake heats up. In London the son meets his half brother, a rich man who is half Chinese, who has designs on the snake. The battle between the brothers becomes a struggle for control of the world.

This is a yellow peril story that is more akin to a Fu Manchu story then the mysteries that are the norm in the Edgar Wallace series. Actually it isn't surprising since Wallace was the man who came up with the story for King Kong, so a tale of high adventure is right up his alley.

This is a very good little film, not just because it breaks with the conventions of the rest of series, nor just because it's a ripping yarn, but the film is unique in that while all of the characters are likable, most of them are not wholly nice. Our hero is roguish and almost rakish, his father is willful and clearly possessing a past of darkness, his brother is charming as well as villainous, the heroine is at times almost mousy, her sister a bit too self centered, and the girls' father is a shady business man who will do anything to keep himself afloat including offering up the girls. No one is spotless, except perhaps for the hero's antique loving friend. It's an interesting group of people and it makes the film have a great sense that anything can happen at any time.

More than worth a bowl of popcorn and a soda.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Foxcatcher (2014) New York Film Festival

Foxcatcher is a great film. It’s a film that perfectly lays out a certain headspace and forces its audience to live there for two hours.

The film is the story of Mark and Dave Shultz, two gold medal winning Olympic wrestlers who get hooked up with John du Pont, a billionaire who wants to train wrestlers for the glory of America. du Pont’s plan relies on getting both of the Schultz brothers to come stay at his Foxcatcher estate. Mark agrees to come and try and get his brother to join them. Unfortunately Dave doesn’t want to come being happily settled with his family. What transpires is a story of madness and murder.

The big talk about the film is about Steve Carell and his chameleon like performance as du Pont, and while he is excellent creating a cypher of madman, the real talk should be about Channing Tatum as Mark and Mark Ruffalo as Dave. Tatum is amazing and if there is any justice he’ll get a nomination over Carell since he makes Marks‘s pain of just being alive tangible. You can feel his pain in a way few performers have ever managed to express. It’s a performance that takes Tatum out of the good looking actors who don’t do much into the realm of being a real actor who doesn’t need his looks to get by.

Mark Ruffalo as his brother is scary good. Bulked up to play Dave with a balding head of hair and full beard I didn’t recognize him for about 15 minutes of screen time. He is like Tatum, scary good.

The film is in some ways a mediation on events. Some details are not spelled out, we are just observers of what the film shows us. Details of events before the events in the film are lacking. The film also takes a few (possibly unfortunate) short cuts to show us the decline of the characters. It all creates a head space that is both other weirdly and deeply disturbing.

Its clear early on that Mark is looking for something more. We can feel the desperation in his life. We know why he jumps at the chance to work with du Pont. Likewise its perfectly understandable why Dave doesn’t want to go. He’s happy in a house and a home and a steady gig for the first time in his life.

As for du Pont, it’s never clear what his motivation is. He’s a man who has everything and yet is still chasing something. He’s a man who wants to make his own way in the world but has no real clue how to do it. We can guess some of what he’s up to but not all of it. His world is big and shiney and full of very empty spaces.

I fell into the film. There was something about the way it presents it world that intrigued me and pulled me in. I was willing to go with it along for the ride, where ever it took me. I was willing to forgive any bumps in the narrative because it was genuinely making me feel something, discomfort, curiosity and fear. For me the strengths of the film all came together into a glorious whole that doesn’t feel or act like any other film.

And what I love about the film is that director Bennett Miller doesn't give us answers. He throws it all out there and lets us make up our own minds. Its a brilliant move that most directors wouldn't have been ballsy enough to do.

I know some people have been less generous to the film despite the Oscar buzz. Two friends after the New York Film festival screening were bemoaning the film’s flaws and short cuts (the depiction of drug and alcohol use for example). I didn’t like them either but I was okay with them. They didn’t pull me out of the very powerful spell of the film.

I’m on record as saying this is the first film I saw this year worthy of the Oscar buzz. I need to correct that, this is the second one since I saw Whiplash two weeks earlier and that too is worthy of Oscar praise. Either way, first or second, this this is one hell of a movie and one of the ones at the top of 2014’s cinematic medal stand