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Tilt (2017)
"Falling Down", the Next Generation?, 24 April 2017

An unemployed documentary filmmaker (Joseph Cross)'s behavior becomes increasingly erratic in the months after his wife becomes pregnant.

This film is something like the next generation answer to "Falling Down". A man is stressed out by his life, and it manifests itself in ways that are not really helpful to society. However, whereas Michael Douglas simply became increasing violent, our protagonist here also seems to be heading in a direction of mental derangement, and the viewer may not always be able to predict what will happen next. This subtle difference is what would make "Tilt" a so-called "genre" film, but "Falling Down" not so much.

What also makes the protagonist interesting to watch (and really, this is essentially a character study) is his own inflated sense of self. He goes through the struggle and stress of compromise with his wife, and this is really laid bare when he confronts another man and asks that man about his single status. We are then informed that a dichotomy exists: marriage or freedom. Our protagonist chose marriage, and therefore (under these limited guidelines) sees that he has forfeited his freedom.

And his ambition may be ill-placed. While he is certainly knowledgeable and passionate about his film deconstructing the fallacy of the "American Golden Age", he also seems to have delusions of being the next Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn. He is ironically convinced that there is great commercial value in anti-capitalist material. And while that may be true, the ideas of America's "war profiteering" or "evolved propaganda" are already out there. He would be adding a whisper to a scream. (Does the viewer recall Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story"? Even with Moore's sizable influence, it had little impact.)

Then there is the Trump connection. While this inclusion of the 2016 election cycle makes for a perfect counter-balance to the anti-establishment views of our subject, it has the unfortunate side effect of making the movie sort of dated. Will it have the same impact five years from now? Though it brilliantly have me wondering if it was filmed in "real time" or after the fact, given its early 2017 release. When our subject says "the day of the blustering angry white man is over", was this scripted with the knowledge in mind that Trump had won, or still at a time when that decision was unexpected?

"Tilt" was screened at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Though it may not have been the best of the "midnight" offerings, it is still an excellent film. Anyone drawn to character studies or overtly psychological movies is encouraged to seek it out. Most likely, it will have either a wider release or appear on demand by the third quarter of the year.

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A Defining Film of 2017, 22 April 2017

Two brothers return to the cult they fled from years ago to discover that the group's beliefs may be more sane than they once thought.

This film is more clever than it first appears, because it operates on at least two levels. On the surface, it is a taut, well-crafted horror story about a (possible) "death cult". We have some mysterious rituals, a missing husband, and seemingly silly camp activities that may – or may not – have a darker purpose.

Some of this is vaguely alluded to in the opening quote from H. P. Lovecraft, and further still during the lake "reveal". The scare quotes here are just because what is revealed at this moment is entirely up to the imaginations of the viewer. A certain Lovecraft story may provide a guide, or it may be merely a coincidence or red herring. But once the big reveal comes, everything goes dark, and the suspense truly becomes horror.

The subcutaneous level is focused on a theme: the truth of religion, either this one or religion in general. Though this film really only explores the reality of one (fictional) religion, it does make us wonder: what if some religions we find strange are actually right? With so many religions in the world, it is certainly possible that one or more are correct. And if the strangest ones might be right, we ought to question our own beliefs: do we believe correctly? With so many choices, it is hard to say for sure.

Though this deeper meaning may not have been intentional, it nevertheless exists and makes the film even more interesting. The filmmakers previously had a hit with "Resolution" (2012), but all signs point to "The Endless" being an even bigger success. The film played at Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, and will no doubt be seen by a wider audience throughout 2017.

Mario Bava's Glorious Debut, 21 April 2017

Archaeologists investigating some Mayan ruins come across a blob-like monster. They manage to destroy it with fire, but keep a sample. Meanwhile, a comet is due to pass close to the Earth - the same comet passed near the Earth at the time the Mayan civilization mysteriously collapsed. Coincidence? As the story goes, director Riccardo Freda intentionally dropped out of the production early on in order to allow his cinematographer (Mario Bava) to take over and get his first film under his belt as director. Whether this is accurate is unknown, and ultimately neither of them ended up taking credit, the director being some pseudonym. What makes this historically important is that, of course, today Bava is celebrated and Freda is much lesser-known. Though he have to credit him for "The Horrible Dr. Hichcock" (1962) and "The Ghost" (1963), both starring Barbara Steele.

Now, "Caltiki" is not a perfect film. Most noticeably, the film or camera used did not allow for a high amount of contrast. Some scenes, particularly the darker ones, make it hard to see exactly what it is we are supposed to be seeing. But this is made up for with the ingenuity of the slime monster. Even knowing that it is "tripe", it still has a very effective appearance and the growing / splitting movements are quite good. Even the makeup on Max looks great, far better than Italian horror films are often given credit for.

Dune (1984)
A Real Joy, 20 April 2017

A Duke's son leads desert warriors against the galactic emperor and his father's evil nemesis when they assassinate his father and free their desert world from the emperor's rule.

The general consensus is that this is not a good movie. But the general consensus is apparently wrong, because it has a decent rating on IMDb. And, in fact, it is a very enjoyable film and a great adaptation of the novel. On top of that, Lynch was great with his casting choices. Brad Dourif? Perfect! And even Sting.

The version I watched ran just over two hours. Another version runs longer than three hours. Whether this would be even better or be too much is not known to me. I would certainly be interested in checking that version out.

Believe the Hype, 19 April 2017

A determined young woman and a damaged occultist risk their lives and souls to perform a dangerous ritual that will grant them what they want.

"A Dark Song" is already being praised as one of the best horror films of 2017. While it is always good to be skeptical about such hype or buzz, especially when it is coming out of the film's own PR machine, in this case it just so happens to be true. This film is bound to make it on to many best-of lists for the year.

What makes the film brilliant is its two main characters, who we (the audience) are never quite sure about. We have a woman with ambiguous motives and purposes, and this uncertainty only adds to our curiosity and the film's suspense. Even when we find out why she is involving herself in the occult, we are only given half-truths, and more layers are left to be unpeeled.

In contrast, we have a dubious leader for this cross-dimensional experiment. C. S. Lewis famously said that Jesus was either the lord, a liar, or a lunatic. While this man is no savior, the same three categories could apply to him. For much of the film we do not know if he is a lord (authentic), a liar (charlatan trying to get money from a mark) or a lunatic (someone who thinks they have powers but clearly does not). This uncertainty is what drives us to keep watching, to see if he can deliver on his promises... and how, along the way, we see how shady he just might be.

The dark, ominous score is perfect, and for a film with a modest budget we still get some creepy effects (such as a dead dog). The creators made a film the way a film ought to be made: within the boundaries allotted without over-reaching or stretching yourself too thin.

Most of all, the praise should go to the excellent writing, which not only provides the two great characters, but really captures the occult. Not that I claim any real knowledge of black magic or the dark arts, but everything here is done so well, so convincingly that it seems like it could be real. And that is about the highest praise a script or fantastic film can receive.

Works Great as Exploitation, 19 April 2017

The San Francisco area is beset by a series of seemingly random murders without motive or pattern. The police are taunted by phone calls and letters. Could the maniac be the violent truck driver, or the seemingly mild-mannered mailman, or even a cop?

This film has come to be known largely for its historical value. Allegedly, producer-director Tom Hanson made the film not so much to try and make a good movie so much as he wanted to call attention to the killer. His plan was to screen the film in San Francisco and assume the real killer was vain enough to attend. The screening indeed happened, but if the killer attended no one knows.

The quality of the film is not particularly good. The sound in particular is rather choppy. In retrospect, some have said the quality was never the point, it was merely intended as a trap. Even if that is true, let us not dwell on the poor quality. Besides the sound, the picture is no worse than the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis. In fact, in many cases it is better and the acting is far better than a Lewis film. Appropriately, "Zodiac Killer" had been released by Something Weird Video, the home of many Lewis films, for the DVD.

And now, Something Weird has partnered with the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) to bring a Blu-ray to the masses! We get a new 4K scan from the only surviving 16mm blow-up elements. There is a commentary track with Tom Hanson and Manny Nedwick, as well as interviews with Hanson and Nedwick. Liner notes and director Tom Hanson interview by Chris Poggiali. And even a bonus movie, the rarely-seen "Another Son of Sam" (1977) with a new 2K scan from a 35mm theatrical print.

Arguably, "Zodiac Killer" did not need a 4K scan. When you are dealing with a film of this quality, whether the scan is 2K, 4K or anything else probably makes little difference. But that nitpick aside, this is definitely a cult film that should be seen. It has all the elements of exploitation that genre fans love, and it is about time it gets a wider audience. Senseless murder? Yes. A mailman being harassed by a nosy older lady? Yes. A real tragedy exploited for a film? Yes.

Love... or Ants?, 19 April 2017

The Leiningen South American cocoa plantation is threatened by a 2-mile-wide, 20-mile-long column of army ants.

So, this is a strange juxtaposition. For the first half of the film, it seems to be about a man who refuses to accept his mail-order bride. So we think this is going to be a story where thy either learn to love each other or not. Charlton Heston is not particularly likable in this first half, as he is sent a beautiful woman who is ready to be his assistant and he is not the least bit thankful.

Then it switches to the plot described above. And it is interesting because his is really a drama. Maybe a touch of adventure, just because it's in the jungle. But this could easily have been a "creature feature" and it never goes in that direction. Somehow it avoids being a genre film even with such material.

Carol Reed, 19 April 2017

A butler working in a foreign embassy in London falls under suspicion when his wife accidentally falls to her death, the only witness being an impressionable young boy.

Carol Reed is one of those names that people don't know. Sure, film buffs know, but the general public not so much. And this is a shame because I would argue that "The Third Man" is possibly the greatest movie ever made. "Fallen Idol" is not quite on that level, but not terribly far behind.

What really makes it great is the kid. I can't say he's the best actor or the most enjoyable character to watch. But it is interesting to see the world through his eyes. Can he distinguish fantasy and reality? And if not, when his word is all that can save (or convict) his friend, what is he going to tell the police? It is a very clever story.

An Excellent Murder Mystery, 19 April 2017

When the head of a medical clinic is found asphyxiated in his garage, the father of a one of his brain-dead patients becomes the prime suspect.

This was my first exposure to Inspector Morse. I suspect it will not be my last, as a few more have made their way on to my list of things to see. What made this a good story, besides the excellent detective work, is the series of twists and turns.

Now, anyone who knows how murder mysteries goes will expect a few curve balls. It is far too easy to go after the local bookie for a murder -- surely the real answer is much more complicated. Which makes this such a wonderful story, because along the way the detective and the bookie develop a friendship while still maintaining a cat and mouse attitude. This is an excellent script.

Decent Cast, 18 April 2017

A white-trash mom is visited by three ghosts intent on showing her a path to a brighter future.

This film was watched as part of Eric Roberts Appreciation Day (April 18), and Roberts plays the Ghost of Christmas Present. As far as all the many different versions of this story are concerned, this is not the best one. Not even close. In fact, it is a wonder why they keep making such films at all with the story being done to death.

Despite this, the cast is pretty decent. These may not be A-listers, but Roberts is a known face ,and even Taryn Manning probably has her following. Maybe this is worth watching once around Christmas time, but I doubt anyone is going to make it a Christmas tradition like they would with "Scrooged" or "Muppet Christmas Carol".

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