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The Most Visually Striking Werewolf Film Ever Made, 5 July 2015

A teenage girl (Sarah Patterson) in a country manor falls asleep while reading a magazine and she has a disturbing dream involving wolves which appears to take place in the woods visible from her bedroom window.

How is it that after so many years as a horror fan, this title has escaped me? I may have vaguely heard of it, but certainly never saw it or had any reason to seek it out. Gee, I wish I had known about this much sooner.

While the narrative is not very straightforward, and at times a bit confusing with its story-within-a-story structure, it is such a great blend of horror and fantasy. Horror fans get the werewolf, the gore effects, and some really cool transformation scenes. Fantasy folks get vibrant colors (especially red), and very dreamlike atmosphere.

David Warner and Terence Stamp both have smaller roles, but add a bit to the picture that only they can. Angela Lansbury has a bit bigger role, though it is not one of her more flattering.

As far as the so-called "wolf cycle" of the early 1980s goes, this has to be among the top three released at the time, perhaps second only to "An American Werewolf in London". Truly art in motion.

Pin (1988)
Kept Me In Suspense..., 5 July 2015

In this low-budget descendant of "Psycho", Ursula and Leon are sister and brother, living alone, save for a large wooden puppet they call "Pin" (for Pinocchio). When Ursula starts hanging around with new boyfriend Stan, Leon and Pin take action.

What drew me to this film was Terry O'Quinn, who has never (so far as I'm aware) made a bad film. And although he is more of a secondary, supporting actor here, this film is no less good than anything else he has done.

What makes this film good is its relatively slow pace, building the suspense, waiting for the moment when all heck will break loose. And, for first time viewers, there is the mystery: is Leon crazy or is Pin truly alive and only willing to open up to specific people? (The answer was not what I expected.)

I, Madman (1989)
A Different Kind of Slasher, 5 July 2015

Virginia (Jenny Wright) works at a used book store and is into horror novels when she discovers an engrossing book from an estate sale. It is called "I, Madman" and it is about an insane doctor (Randy Cook) who cuts off people's noses, ears, and hair and puts them on his face to please a girl he likes.

This film never achieved a wide audience in its day, which is unfortunate, and is not as well remembered as the other film featuring the collaboration of Randy Cook and Tibor Takacs, "The Gate". But maybe with the new Scream Factory release, this will change.

The movie is a lot of fun, with all the slasher touchstones, plus some excellent cinematography that brings out a variety of lights, darks and vibrant colors (particularly in a flashback scene). Even early on, we have some visual cues to "Nosferatu" which were clearly intended: the mad doctor who looks like Max Schreck, and the hotel employee going up the stairs following his own shadow...

The special features on the Scream disc really show how much work and love went into this. A short (roughly ten minute) behind-the-scenes feature has Randy Cook explaining how he had to act, apply his own makeup, and also be responsible for the animation. So after hours on set, he would still be up until two in the morning working on making the creatures fit the scene just right. It is impressive and shows a real dedication (no wonder the man has three Oscars).

If that alone was not good enough, there is also a full commentary track with Cook and interviews with various people involved with the picture. Scream has taken a better than average slasher film and made it one of the must-own Blu-rays of 2015: any horror fan will delight in seeing (and hearing) how films such as this are made.

A Bit Dated Now But Still Important, 2 July 2015

An in-depth look at the torture practices of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, focusing on an innocent taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed in 2002.

Writing this review in 2015, the material in this film are already a bit dated. The movie came out in 2007, at a time when most of those involved were still in office. It made for a powerful indictment because a finger was pointed right at the very people responsible at the top of the chain.

Now the film has a bit less of an impact, because most of these people are gone -- retired, and will never be in any office again. But have we ever really done anything to fix the problem? No, not really. And with a history of CIA tactics going back 50-60 years, are we to think they have stopped now, simple because Bush was replaced by Obama? Seems naive.

Rush (2013/I)
I Don't get It, 2 July 2015

The merciless 1970s rivalry between Formula One rivals James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda.

This film has spent the last few years on the IMDb Top 250. And I have no idea why. The characters are not deep, the cinematography is muted and not all that enjoyable. The plot is basically just two men who want to beat the other in a race. This is nothing all that innovative. Ron Howard has been involved in this sort of film since 1976's "Eat My Dust" (which is more enjoyable).

Clearly there is something I am missing, but this has to rank up there with all those Indian movies for the most over-rated on IMDb. And, when you are talking about IMDb, most of it is over-rated.

Prisoners (2013)
Intense Abduction Thriller, 1 July 2015

When Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman)'s daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve had been making films for years, but probably achieved his biggest success with "Incendies" (2010), getting recognized by the Academy for a foreign film. This was his followup, a much more commercial venture, and probably even more widely seen. Somehow, despite the great performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Jackman, the only nomination it got was for Roger Deakins' cinematography (which is a given -- as of 2015, he has had 12 nominations).

Christopher Orr wrote, "Ethical exploration or exploitation? In the end, I come down reservedly on the former side: the work done here by Jackman, Gyllenhaal, and especially Villeneuve is simply too powerful to ignore." He does raise a good point, however, about the thin line. The violence is intense, and understandably earned the film an NC-17. But is it justified to show this level of violence in order to explain the characters? Perhaps.

Incendies (2010)
Dark Roots, 1 July 2015

Twins journey to the Middle East to discover their family history, and fulfill their mother's last wishes.

Many of us, sooner or later, get interested in our family history and want to know our roots. Do we have a famous ancestor, or do we have connections to an Indian tribe, or maybe something else completely unexpected. Often, the journey is fascinating and can spark a real interest in history and a connection to our fellow man.

Sometimes the journey is not so good. Many of us have Middle Eastern blood in us somewhere. Go back a hundred generations and we can trace our path just about anywhere. And the Middle East, as a whole, is a great place... but this film shows what can happen if the path goes askew.

Drive (2011/I)
The Dangerous Ryan Gosling!, 1 July 2015

A mysterious Hollywood stuntman and mechanic (Ryan Gosling) moonlights as a getaway driver and finds himself trouble when he helps out his neighbor (Carey Mulligan).

This film has a great supporting cast with Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and more. Together, they really light up the screen and turn a better-than-average crime film into a real spectacle. Maybe not as great as first made out to be, but even after the hype, still a solid piece of cinema.

Mulligan really needs to get bigger. She had a brief spike with "An Education", but already (2015) seems to be fading back into obscurity. Someone rescue her, cast her as the lead in your next film. Get her a few Oscars, please!

The Long-Term Romance Part Three, 30 June 2015

We meet Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna.

Although I have to say I like this installment less than the first two, it certainly has its place. I feel like the first two were more philosophical, and there was something about being set in earlier years that offered more appeal. We did not have mentions of using Skype (though, that is reality these days).

But this was necessary, because we needed to know: will they survive, or will the relationship grow cold? We get many answers about the last several years of their lives... and yet, I have to wonder if Linklater is open to a part four (or five or six)?

Fellini's Best and Most Bizarre, 30 June 2015

A series of disjointed mythical tales set in first century Rome.

I have seen a handful of Fellini's work, certainly the better-known ones. And while I have not seen them all, I will go on record as of now (2015) and say this was his best work. The costumes, the use of color, the strange, exotic world of Rome where actors use flatulence for humor.

This is unlike anything you have even seen. Not as colorful or exotics as "Donkeyskin" and not as depraved as "Caligula", this is still a Rome where debauchery reigns. Impressively, although homosexual acts and relationships play a central part, there is practically nothing explicit (male or female) in the film, and can easily pass as PG.

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