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Numbskull TV Stylistics Dilute a Serious Incident
Queasy mixture of right-wing sentimentality and fetishistic displays of incredible artillery destruction. As high velocity bullets evacuate cars, property, and humans, accompanied by gorgeous sound design, the presentation is in that insulting, shitty as all hell "CSI"style, with unwanted smash cuts, jump cuts, stutter-cuts, smash zoom-outs, unmotivated zooms, etc. This all intended to somehow enhance the scenes of people re-enacting one of America's most deadly and terrifying shootouts. The characterizations of the bad guys is almost Mack Sennett. As if casting two over-sized Eastern European heads wasn't enough, they have to scowl and leer and smack their lips. At least cinema's most notorious cop-killer Michael Madsen gets to play a saintly detective. On spectacle standards, the movie delivers in spades its volcanic gun battle, with at least 40,000 squibs and exploding cars providing scenery. The propaganda which follows, nearly rhapsodizing over the day when police get to carry machine guns, is childish--considering the movie's immature style.. Does the cinematic splendor of the preceding shootout deserve to have its day with police officers firing modified AK-47s?
Blood Relative (2017)
Ingredients Don't Add Up
Mob-thriller plays like a remodeled "Hit List", except for the chalky color schemes which transform the Bay Area into New Jersey and a smug, over-enunciating avenger who spouts proverbs in the voice of a perturbed home-room teacher. What kind of badass has to explain his badass past, and also use witticisms? A movie where you actually root for the "Death Wish" thugs over the vigilante is disappointing, especially when you have actors of Matt Monaco's caliber in the cast. These flaws, including numerous amateur performances, wouldn't be so pronounced if the actors weren't trapped in so many close-ups. The slick photography, throbbing synth soundtrack and San Francisco locales rescue all they can, and the movie's action has some surprises. But the CGI effects and martial arts segments are un-cathartic, lifeless and super rehearsed, including some thrown stunt punches I can't believe made it past a rough cut. Also, why is it in these movies nowadays, before men commit savage, premeditated violence, their girlfriends call them "***-hole"? Also hard to understand is the outfit of bumbling thugs and connected guys, who, even in upper management, are the last to hear about a street hit in broad daylight. Or a halfway house that allows its tenants to loiter on a front porch, drinking beer and insulting pedestrians. James Allen Brewer gives a notable performance as a frustrated member of what I think is director Michael Fredianelli's homage to the memorable hoods in Cassavetes' "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie". 2 potato sacks out of 5.
The Other Side (2015)
Nauseating. Maybe your reason to watch this movie is hillbilly lifestyles are interesting to watch. But to stomach the pretentious European director's style is a task. If you want to celebrate obese junkies engaging in real sex, pregnant strippers dancing after shooting dope, and racist gun nuts practicing maneuvers, it might be a diversion. Yet if you seek more than icky entertainment, there ain't no insights here. It's gutter anthropology/pornography which belches a sloppy, unclean carnival on screen as a dare to the viewer: Can you take it? Can you see beyond all the brain damage and gross sex and discharge, and still believe there's hope or meaning. The director is too busy fellating his own ideas, and allowing seductive camera-work to make squalor aesthetic.The movie's goal is to shock, then smear the viewer's faces with bullshit platitudes. Watch "The Wild & Wonderful Whites of West Virginia" instead.
Uncompromising and Sympathetic Dose of Madness
Not to begin with a dramatic over-statement, but why not? The "Redemption of Vincent Young" is director Michael Fredianelli's best work since "The Scarlet Worm."
Namely, because there is a superb cast. They listen, they achieve a warped chemistry, they create magic. This opposed to sermonizing embellished dialogue while trapped in master shots with no escape, Also, despite a nihilistic plot screaming for the Fredianelli signature massacre and suicide resolution, there is a balance of drama and poignancy--even if the latter gets very wet.
Most striking, aside from some unforgivable insect murders, there is rampant, orgiastic and liberating vulgarity involving sex, flatulence and doo-doos. Some of these moments sincere homages to Depth Charge, others elegiac and reflective of the depths of the human condition. No irony here. They carry their own symbolism, be it empathy toward victims of Turret's, or the eternal frustration of sex roles.
Maybe too challenging a movie for viewers uncomfortable with the suffering of 37 year old dysfunctional outcasts. But Fredianelli, himself, anchors the movie and puts to rest any notion he can't carry a comedy. The performance is bulgy with animation, yet gut- wrenching due to Fredianelli's many tics and outbursts. All truthful. Accuracy counts when portraying mental anxiety--whether it be punching pillows or surrendering to the company of hobos named Terry (an exceptional performance by James Allen Brewer). Equally impressive is Matt Monaco as a wise-cracking misanthrope who endures humiliation as a Chuck E. Cheese employee.
Lots of effective, improved production qualities to enjoy, with strong sound and montages, including some Hawaii decadence and unexplained drug and sex abuse. Movie's most penetrating question: are there really millions of borderline mentally retarded, upper middle-class Americans addicted to TV and video games? And if so, are they worth saving? Depth Charge rewards with 5 out of 5 potato sacks! Bravo!
The Blind King (2016)
Unwelcome Talking Demons
Decent enough thriller has a father and daughter navigating a nightmarish environment surrounded by demons and other phantasms who never shut up. Why won't horror film-makers understand that evil is never scary when it talks? Despite ruthless online savaging of this flick and its acting, they obviously haven't seen most horror DVM from Lionsgate. Some good scares and distressing family dysfunction are what separate this movie from your average gorno nowadays.
The Nice Guys (2016)
Come On, Man, You can Do Better Than This!
An empty retro-actioner plotted to the gills and absent of memorable characterization. Gosling and Crowe do their best (subtracting one painful Lou Costello imitation) but are reduced to pantomiming chemistry-lacking oddballs, characters we'd be embarrassed to watch in the 1980s.
Maybe Shane Black wanted "Scarecrow" meets "The Last Boy Scout", crossed with an edgy episode of "One Day At a Time". But the $50 million to transform Atlanta into 1977 L.A. doesn't apologize for the zero behavioral comedy rewards, the very UN-70s choreographed and over-Foley'ed violence, and the director's signature: an annoying teenage girl. Here, providing more edge to the porno jokes. The movie just belches songs and sedans as if the costume and art departments never bothered to absorb a 70s movie, to see how they feel. The looks are just window dressing, with a few fun details. Like watching a teenager get thrown through a window. Luckily the wigs and facial hair surpass an Oliver Stone movie.
For a diversion, it could be worse. But with this much production value and a promising cast, it's a bloated fat ass in polyester, a disappointment. James Caan and Alan Arkin are not just missed--they are now official deities.
The Home Invaders (2016)
Close But Not the Best Cigar
Some beautifully evocative lighting, costumes, hair styles, and several impressive scenes convey the atmosphere of Film Noir in this throwback, and director Fredianelli (who also appears as a hilarious criminal lackey) gives a colorful performance, but the Wild Dogs staple of aggressively creepy, unrealistic characters too often derails a story buried beneath pages of exposition. This in a genre built on rapid fire characterizations and dialogue?
It doesn't help things that many of the East coast accents come and go with the cast. The slow pacing and huge gaps in conversation are also troubling when compared to characters in "They Live By Night" or "The Killers". Still, the movie has its share of period-breaking entertainment when it doesn't focus too much on pouty tough guys:
Inter-racial rape is featured during a robbery, which bucks convention. (And also provides some "ick" factor). One dirty parole officer says he's "going on hiatus", a man's hotel room comes with a staircase, and there's a nightclub cameo from "The Artist", last scene in the Scott Hellon film "A Decision to Choose to Ask Why". Also, we finally see a movie where a masked robber simply pulls off his mask because he "can't breathe with this thing on!".
Overall, the look and design of the movie has a lot going for it-- ignoring the CGI Tommy Gun bursts--and the sets are often exceptional, including a bedroom with a real safe and walls begging to be demolished. A bold attempt at a genre worth revisiting many times over.
Desert Mirage (2016)
A Turgid Romp Through Dysfunction
When a pathetic cartoonist is told by a professional to "stick with the custodial arts", such is the philosophy behind Michael Fredianelli's tawdry character study of a bulbous white sneaker- wearing loser: quit living. As if this weren't nihilistic enough, the movie's peanut gallery of sociopathic cartoon characters demonstrate equally shocking behavior and ideas, while others transform into unacceptable--but lovable--racist stereotypes. This isn't Frank Darabont, or even Joe Dante.
Luckily, the movie's grotesque, scatological humor hits more than it misses, this amidst the usual Wild Dogs gallery of despicable stereotypes. The spirited animation by Chad Kaplan complements the memorable characters quite wonderful. Fredianelli himself is superb as an alcoholic, spouse-abusing wreck who has some of the movie's best lines. He also enjoys an amazing stunt to the head, which looks like an out-take from Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs". Another father character is a surprisingly powerful presence despite rampant profanity. A young boy is the reincarnation of Gavan O'Herlihy, and a smug girl-next-door showcases solid comic timing.
The animated characters are funnier when they don't talk, with physical comedy here consisting of pulling pubic hairs out of their mouths, committing random violence, and discharging enormous amounts of unwelcome excreta. Kaplan's compilation of all the action is exciting and colorful. And a f***-load of work!
Lastly, the movie's ultra-violent finale (and philosophy) wouldn't be complete without a postscript: Quit living...and kill everybody in the movie beforehand. This solution to all the protagonist's prior mistreatment would be more cathartic if it weren't something already celebrated in other Wild Dogs films. Or if the protagonist weren't so worthy of mistreatment. There are lots of punishments worthy of such evil characters without breaking out the bombs, the machine guns, and the slow motion etc. Still, overall, Fredianelli's comedy is entertaining, fast, and disturbed.
Hard Profit (2016)
Hard Profit : Gains & Losses
Promising script about a young couple sucked into a corporation's deadly misuse of funds unfortunately suffers from distracting low production values (muffled, on-camera mic sound and non-existent lighting) and acting which overwhelms the story.
The movie comes alive in exciting action set-pieces, especially a finale shootout which does the genre justice, and a memorable performance from Vanessa Leigh. Leigh's believable disbelief and breakdowns amidst characters becoming cartoons and betraying the seductive evil of their purposes is what grounds the movie.
So much on screen emoting disqualifies the movie from fitting into the Jan-Michael Vincent actioners of the 70s, which obviously this was modeled on. Inevitably, the good versus evil formula becomes more a behavioral platform for a lot of unwelcome crying and showboating. Additionally, the story becomes neglected and almost submerged.
The Aaron Stielstra soundtrack is a plus, with an equal amount of twangy electric guitar complementing the expressive, dystopia of synthesizer stingers and downright horrifying ballads of evil. This includes the movie's supply of corporate rock, which is an atrocity unto itself.
Overall, worth watching for a lot of great supporting performances (Ray Medved, Mike Dinsmore, Michael Nose') and one unlisted cast member who plays a spurned black employee. The script could have used some cutting and the plot reveals not so verbalized, but the white trash warriors and political content mesh well with the criminal plotting. So, it's not "White Line Fever". Director Fredianelli delivers as close a product as possible, just in need of some weight loss.
Hunter and the Hunted (2016)
Guts & Absurdity
This entertaining survivalist drama in a wilderness of malignant hillbillies is burdened with a few question marks. The biggest being, Are these hunters really friends? They bicker and mock- threaten like junior-high kids on a school-bus. Once ambushed by hicks, the adult behavior which follows is equally hard to believe.
Second, the movie's bizarre philosophical subtext embraces both nihilism and mass-suicide (after multiple homicides), and this supports some theory that people are evil in general and not kind enough to each other. So, this justifies killing people in the name of evil, which the movie summarizes at the end as juvenile delinquent forms of misbehavior--like tripping people in parks? I don't get it.
Nonetheless, the movie's many surprises include an amazing truck chase plus other moments of gritty, violent suspense. The Aaron Stielstra soundtrack is a boost to all the action, with its many synth/orchestral and hillbilly instruments complementing the atmosphere. The photography is also excellent--especially during the knockout chase and forest scenes and night exteriors. So are the special effects. Too bad the movie opens with distracting blown out exteriors where a lot of actors' brows are rendered eyeless and Neanderthal.
The sense of isolation is broken by a confusing mid-section where some female barflies visit, then vanish from the scene. This nearness of civilization depletes the movie of what could be a more menacing environment. Especially as the hillbillies, though rather confusingly characterized, are well-acted and freakish enough to warrant locking your doors.
Mostly good performances help keep the absurdity at bay, with Michael Fredianelli giving a believable, subdued performance as the one hunter who seems genuinely unsettled by all the mayhem. Excellent and extremely risky stunt work and dummy crushings provide even more punch. On an atrocity level, the movie delivers.
Without the intrusive and exposition-heavy finale--complete with a lengthy monologue which seems lifted out of another movie entirely-- the movie could dispose of its bloated philosophizing. The terrifying themes about inhumanity and civilization versus hillbillies qualify for a lot less incoherent exploration, even after the genius of "The Hills Have Eyes", "Deliverance", "Shoot", "Hunter's Blood", and the fantastic Richard Matheson novel, "Hunted Past Reason".
Still, Fredianelli's movie supplies great action and interesting new ideas. If only the climactic summary of all the on screen death wasn't weighted down with such a bludgeoning approach.
6 Bullets to Hell (2016)
A Superb Effort in Reviving The Spaghettis of The 60s
A welcome yet unimaginative take on your average revenge western, shot in Spain.
The script lines up a domino gang of killer-rapists to be exterminated by our hero. The authentic Tabernas and Almeria locations are beautifully captured in Olivier Merkx's cinematography and there is a cast of memorable faces. Most accompany decent performances and fulfill their roles. There are some well-shot action scenes, luckily free of any overly-clever gun- play of the spagehtti western genre. Directors Tanner Beard and Russell Cummings are also bold enough to include modern segments of atmosphere and surreal moods. These are the movie's highlights.
Lead Crispian Belfrage, as the protagonist, sports a strange accent and his early dirt-farmer scenes stretch credibility. He seems incapable of growing crops or doing much beyond hammering nails. This, until his wife's murder transforms him into a steely avenger.
The nasty gang of killers are exceptional, with Tanner Beard, himself, and his wretched crew filling the boots of earlier spaghetti hoods nicely--from Mario Braga to Lee Van Cleef. Both Aaron Stielstra and Ken Luckey are standouts.
The multi-artist score boasts an impressive Morricone song, but the original soundtrack pieces by Stielstra and others provide the movie some much needed depth and ominous atmosphere. Chris Casey also provides a thrilling action piece that deserves mention.
Overall, a movie that is fast and exciting, yet remains too unwilling to adopt a more imaginative story. This doesn't free it from its many cliché's. Still, check it out!
Anger of the Dead (2015)
Redeemed By Acting & Sharp Visuals
Horror movies today survive on effects budgets and the number of graphic deaths on screen--unfortunately. But bad acting is death. To see bad acting in a film of any genre is death, this because the audience immediately doesn't believe the behavior they're seeing. Luckily this movie doesn't discount that important fact.
Here, the cast is very strong and they assist the mediocre story past its dubious outcomes and character motivations. The zombies who run rampant are eclipsed by a cast of humans more messed up and nasty than most. Aaron Stielstra (as a demented, sadistic warlord) is not to be forgotten, as are attractive leads Roberta Sparta and Marius Bizau, both lending gravity to the usual doomed zombie escape- plans. Desiree' Giorgetti is memorable as the movie's damaged mute prisoner.
Despite some melodramatic music pieces and the fact that the protagonist seriously lacks Mommy skills--due to the script--the movie has an excellent pace and is beautifully photographed. Carlo Diamantini's makeup is to be applauded, as well. Some dodgy locations may bewilder viewers accustomed to seeing familiar American sights, but the overall nightmare-fantasy quality to the movie will hopefully silence continuity geeks. Geeks who should be grateful for the acting, rather than squealing about occasional weird-looking license plates.
Overall, a strong and vivid flick. But without its equally vivid cast, may not have survived exile to the Walmart bin. Check it out!
A Welcome Effort In A Plundered Genre
Finally, a much-abused and disgraced genre is given some respect. And ZM2 creates effective suspense without compromising on shock value and copious, disgusting gore. Sturdy performances (especially Dan van Husen, Aaron Stielstra, and Andrew Harwood Mills) mark this a WWII horror-thriller which supplies more than screaming and unwatchable characters who behave with minimal logic. The moody, superb cinematography and production design only complement the project. A worthwhile effort which will please fans of gritty war drama and splattery spectacle alike. Directors Ristori and Boni deliver. Bullseye.
Cross Cut (2015)
Director Michael Fredianelli's loony, abstract comedy *splrrrrches* off the screen and throws enormous caution to the wind. This hopefully liberates the movie from post-modern geeks, yet may alienate fans of Fredianelli's linear dramas about rape and characters who subjugate one another to copious amounts of abuse with no redemption in sight. The director does include one on screen sandwich being made for film professors still seeking academic tenure through Fredianelli's work.
Some flaws threaten to break the momentum--bad acting, unforgivable and unlicensed repetition of Miles Davis on the soundtrack, and a middle section which suffers from pace and sound issues; likely the result of breathtaking stolen locations, from the frozen tundras of northern California to Vegas. But the movie's last half blossoms with hilarious new faces. There's also a 3rd act plot development which promises (and delivers) laughs and shocking, cathartic violence along the lines of "Exterminator 2". Aaron Stielstra provides the original funk score sopping wet with gurgly beats, bass lines, and squishy melodies commonly associated with sea beasts. Fredianelli, himself, is memorable, tragic, yet hard to watch as a swindled actor--as are Maralynn Adams and Jeremy Koerner. Truly funny moments come from Matt Singer and Shauna Richardson as desperate casting personnel, with Mike Dinsmore and Vanessa Leigh creating gut-wrenching horror as an acting duo who receive undue celebration. Still, it is the presence of the film's canine protagonist Martini who induces the most teardrops. This dog sustains as much on screen cuteness as any 1970s Disney mammal, and erases most unclean devotion to computer animated garbage like Finding Nemo.
Fredianelli's often clever camera-work supports the movie's cheerful design, while startling climate change lends considerable dramatic impact to the finale and Fredianelli's attack on filmmakers in general. Here, the satire is more pointed and not so tantrum-like. Furthermore, the always welcome doo-doo humor carries symbolism worthy of Tarkovsky and simultaneously packs plenty of lovable grotesque detail in its sound design.
A delightful, imaginative (and vulgar) romp. In this viewer's opinion, Fredianelli's best comedy since The Minstrel Killer.
Something's Gotta Give (2003)
Bilge Water from the Bottom of the Rom-Com Boat
The equivalent of porn, except here the bouncing buttocks and close-ups come in the form of privileged, disgusting old people yuppies who behave like hormonal teenagers, struggling with their sex and relationship issues. To see Diane Keaton play such a twitchy, desperate, unintelligent woman alongside Jack Nicholson's creepy 60-something lech--who is supposed to be cute--then expect the audience to celebrate their whiny asses falling in love? Enough to make teenage girls commit suicide at the thought of getting older. A wretched airplane movie that confirms that director Nancy Meyer is not only anti-female but the Antichrist.
An enormous, agricultural-sized pile of hobo discharge. It proves that Mr. Zombie is a proud pioneer in the genocide campaign to destroy the already hospitalized horror movie genre, this with an obnoxious cast of buck naked women and other victims who simply die on screen for over 90 minutes. The back-story involving Michael Myers as a product of cartoonish white trash (and a pet-killer) removes all levels of terror and suspense from the original film's biggest unanswered question. Why does the kid started killing people in the first place? Because his Dad called him a queer? Unwatchable and insulting. The only scary element to this movie is the grade-school protagonist's nauseating presence.
The Wedding Date (2005)
Wretched Insult to Female Film-Makers
My journey into Rom-Com Hades is a short one so far, but I've seen enough of the genre to determine this movie the worst. To begin with, the movie's premise and nauseating characters are bad enough for their insulting lack of charm or logic. Dimwit Debra Messing hires male gigolo Dermot Mulroney for $6000 to accompany her to a family wedding, but it gets worse. Do male gigolos even exist, excluding jail-bait for homosexuals in sexual tourist spots in Tangiers or Thailand? Whatever. Every repellent bridesmaid, jilted ex, bumbling parent, in-law, etc. embody bug-eyed cartoons with awful clothes and mannered acting choices. Messing's hair is the putrid color of Orange Crush. Who designed this flick, anyway? In fact, the whole movie shares one color scheme, which seems to be Flight Attendant Uniform, and this best epitomizes how the movie's smallest details make its biggest flaws even worse. Add the rip-off locale of England (to remind audiences that, hey, "Four Weddings & a Funeral" took place there!), and it's not enough to distract one from all the other cliché's on screen. Lots of Michael Buble on the soundtrack and the obligatory Motown hits to keep the honkies in the Cineplex entertained—yet without unsettling them with music that sounds too much like actual negroes—and I'm sure the studio thought they had a hit soundtrack as well. They even afforded to buy a Maroon 5 ballad to stick into the movie's one sex scene! Lines of dialogue include, "I'd rather fight with you than make love with anyone else", and Mulroney looks so exceedingly uncomfortable in this swill you can almost forgive him. Almost. But not once his character falls in love with Messing's charm-less, spas of a 9 year old girl masquerading as a 20-something female (and the audience's object of sympathy). This another failure on the script's part, as I don't know how any woman could identify with Messing's creepy brat. The final insult the movie delivers: it was written, directed and produced by women. If this doesn't set back the dignity of both sexes a century or more, I don't know what could. Horrific.
Killer Joe (2011)
Far From a Friedkin Disappointment
"The director of 'The French Connection' is back in the Trailer Park Again", reads the tagline. One thing is for sure, Hurricane Billy pulls no punches (or kicks to the face, or sexual assaults) in this demented family biography, based on Tracey Lett's play, that, despite its overwrought, pulpy treatment as a film, features extremely realistic white trash. Compared to the pretentious, slumming of David Lynch into these territories, Lett's script (and Friedkin's direction) expose what is truly believable behavior behind the pit-bulls and linoleum walls of your average white slum. Performances across the board are great, but unfortunately, the extremity of behavior, especially during the movie's NC-17 climax, tends to overshadow the characters. Matthew McConaughey is compelling (and well-dressed), but his psychosis is far too transparent compared to Jim Thompson's sicko Lou Ford in "The Killer Inside Me". Brit newcomer Juno Temple is so befouled and unappetizing here, playing a pre-adolescent sex object, she looks sticky to touch. Thomas Haden Church should win an award for Worst Facial Hair, this compared to your average 13 year old Mexican gangster, or an indie rocker. Friedkin still manages to manipulate (see: brutalize) an audience like a pro, but one hopes that at his age, he's doing it sincerely and from the kindness of his heart like the good old days.
An Unapologetic Rhapsody in Dementia
NAPLES NEVER DIES
IT SHOOTS! "Unapologetic, brain-damaged hysteria" would adequately describe this new crime-comedy from the writer-director Aaron Stielstra. To call it post-modern would grant it bogus intellectual stature, to call it indie or punk lumps it in with more noisy, humorless, and pretentious cinema—though it is noisy. There is no real story worth following, nor are there answers to any questions. Stielstra is determined to ignore narrative coherency, which he announces at the beginning of the movie in a title card, and move right on with the characters. Luckily, the acting in the film is excellent and this rescues the movie from being just a dysfunctional shout-fest, as evidenced in earlier Stielstra films.
A disfigured Gus Benedict (Aaron Stielstra), returns from the first film, a victim of a botched suicide attempt. His mission is to wipe out the crime community of a hick town in the American southwest. We don't know why, and Benedict's "Exterminator"-style disposal of the bad guys seems more a familiar habit than any symptom of rage. Meanwhile, a corrupt FBI agent (Mike Malloy) and a white supremacist group Anal Pride (the movies most hysterical concoction)conspire to carry out as many of the script's double-crossings as they can before Benedict reduces them all to piles of bloody pulp. Enough plot.
What should satisfy B-movie aficionados and lovers of John Waters and Paul Morrisey is the sordid subject matter and damaged people on screen. For fans of powerhouse action-thrillers of the 70s and 80s (directors like James Glickenhaus, John Frankenheimer at his worst, or black-action masters like Arthur Marks, Ossie Davis, Barry Shear, plus the comedy of Rudy Ray Moore), there is the irreverent crime-movie action. For all its technical flaws (and there are many) and lapses into buggy-eyed, no-mans-land indulgences, the film does have a vision. And though it is apt to lose audiences over its manic style, it's no less punishing or manipulative than an Oliver Stone movie bloated with its own self-importance.
Also noteworthy is the exceptional jazz-funk score that wears its influences of Herbie Hancock, the DeAngelis Brothers, and Lalo Schifrin on its sleeve while delivering some unique grooves and surprising synthesizer compositions. Stielstra has scored many excellent soundtracks in the past decade, from westerns, like "The Scarlet Worm", to controversial horror such as Michael Fredianelli's shocking "The Minstrel Killer". But here the music possesses more maturity and imagination. Not to mention, subterranean melodies and squishy sea- beast cacophony.
Lastly, without gushing too much about a movie that has received a criminally small amount of screen-time--this before being banned in Poland and the Arctic Circle--one must applaud the supporting cast and their dynamic performances. For the amount of execrable bad acting visible in both Hollywood blockbusters and popular television these days, its refreshing to see such a spirited ensemble both embody the dementia in the script and characters, and suffer such awful deaths with little dignity.
The Scarlet Worm (2011)
A Western That Fights Dirty
Director Michael Fredianelli's western shows a lot of guts to present characters this unlikable, yet still insists you empathize with their ickiness. Of course, none of this would be achieved with B-movie actors, and, luckily, the principle cast here is exceptional. One look at the plot, involving an unstable gunfighter who trains a young killer to rid a town of its delusional brothel-owner, dismisses any idea that the subject matter is going to be modest, and the actors evoke the kind of natural weariness and cold-blooded fury often "corrected" in more conventionally moral westerns. Most of the graphic, stylized content here comes in the form of gargantuan, spurting gunshot wounds and a lot of buck-naked prostitutes. Screenwriter David Lambert allows his often sociopathic characters to speak in dialogue both realistic and humorous, and with leads like Aaron Stielstra (as the shootist Print) spaghetti western veteran Dan van Husen, and the commanding presence of Montgomery Ford on screen, there's more than enough brooding on screen to sustain both sarcasm and menace for the film's 90 minutes. The vivid cinematography gives a blighted look to the many seedy locales, this despite a low budget. $25,000? A western made for that today in Hollywood could barely improve on an interiors-only moral fable like Randall Heller's "Tolerance". Again, the film-makers overcome most production obstacles, though in a few places the pacing is draggy. But considering the plot deals with a talkative villain (van Husen) who co-stars alongside so many other talkative villains (Print even has his own deranged voice-over), the action-packed gunfights and ass-kickings make up for it. Solid soundtrack by Stielstra features traditional folk music as well as demented instrumentation, both creating the proper ambiguity and dread which support the movie's ending. Film also features great cameos by a jellyfish and a giant sow.
The Fear of God (2011)
Murky Catholic Thriller Has Spirit, But...
Director Michael Fredianelli's religious thriller about a pizza delivery boy framed for a series of murders wants to be many different things: a taut thriller about mysterious evil and a killer running amok, a character study of a conflicted young man dealing with increasingly hazardous circumstances and personal conflicts, and, lastly, an action movie. While it tries to fulfill its tri-fold mission statement, unfortunately, in many areas it fails.
What mostly defeats the otherwise professional-looking production is a script populated with unbelievable characters. So many of Kenny Kitagawa's surrounding co-workers, random strangers, dick-head bosses, scumbags, girlfriends, customers, a hobo, etc. are composites of each other. All equally aggressively hostile, insulting, cartoonish, and often inexplicably violent to Kitagawa's harmless young man. Ironically, the very evil boogeyman who is committing the murders and turning Kitagawa's life into a nightmare seems practically harmless compared to the co-stars. And he's offscreen for most of the movie.
The bloody murders themselves I couldn't comprehend just what they signified or what they were meant to convey. And this carries into Kitagawa's struggle with his Catholicism. Fredianelli's casting of an Asian-American (Michael Nose) as the troubled Kenny is an interesting choice, but is mostly unexplored, thus rendering one scene of Kitagawa's dad running after him, identically explosive and angry at his son (joining the rest of the cast), flat. Other lines of dialogue, addressing the same issue in he movie, like "How's that Catholicism thing working out for you?" don't help things either.
It's possible to put the writing aside and enjoy the movie as a suspense/action vehicle. Nonetheless, the lengthy scenes of dialogue and exposition, (one involving a porno film-maker is excruciating) throw a lot of irritating questions into the mix, one of the chief offenders: "Why does everybody in this city eat overpriced takeout pizza? Especially down and out ex-porno stars and junkies and hobos?" Luckily, there are moments of conflict and violence that are effective, and a standout car-chase at the end is a sharply edited and dramatic. Other action highlights include a hair-raising close-range shootout in a kitchen and a terrifying stunt sequence involving a rabid homeless man and a speeding vehicle.
Performances are decent throughout, with only a few cast members handicapped by their inability to do much beyond harangue and name-call and act like childish pests rather than adults. This does guarantee a certain amount of catharsis in seeing many of them die ugly deaths, especially a brilliant miner's pick-axe assassination in a suburban carport. Standouts are Nose', here managing to overcome what could be a whiny bore whose plight nobody in their right mind would care about, and Aaron Stielstra as a zealot hobo with no economic sense. Also realistic and effectively troubled by the movie's 3rd act is Veronica Valencia as a woman caught up in more than a mere confrontation with evil but a sudden domestic nightmare.
Movie's soundtrack by Aaron Stielstra is properly chilling and accompanies the movie's many strong montages and quieter moments of dialogue with ease and, oftentimes unleashes shrieking John Carpenter-esque shocks.
Overall, the subject matter is an enviable load for Fredianelli to take on in what could have been a flimsy slasher with some mumblings about faith and internalized hate. But to dilute the themes of religion and to one-dimensionalize the outcast stature of a young man in dead-end job, victim to unforeseen criminalization by a killer who, himself, make little sense in his justifications for killing, is a disappointment. The combination of Fredianelli's film-making techniques and his skill at furthering a difficult story to deliver excitement and the movie's best moments of well-paced action and throbbing 80s soundtrack work, definitely doesn't detract from the man's ability to make a solid A-budget thriller. Still worth a watch for its surprises and the efforts made to deliver a B-movie with more than conventional cinematic homicides, a la Brian DePalma, or an exploitation pic.
Harsh Times (2005)
Uncompromising Inner-City Thriller
Brutal, exceptionally acted inner-city thriller obviously confused audiences upon its release due to the moronic trailers advertising the movie as a cop flick. No, this is a major departure from the archetypes in writer-director David Ayer's OTHER inner city thriller "Training Day", and the results are nihilistic as all hell. This raw character study of one of the most damaged war veteran characters to grace the screen since Travis Bickle drove a cab, William Devane wielded a hook, and the lovable cast of "Welcome Home, Soldier Boys" laid waste to an entire hick town, is uncompromising material. Christian Bale is both painfully American in his sociopath portrayal (though he speaks fluent Spanish,) and chilling in his contempt for his own future and the future of his unlucky East L.A. homeboys whose lives he disrupts over a period of several rampaging days of drug and alcohol abuse, random violence, and, eventually, total destruction. I almost feel bad for the blunt-smoking and fun-loving gangster wannabes who waddled into this movie, expecting some good times and some cathartic heads busted. Yes, there's hip-hop on the soundtrack and Eva Longoria appears for some multiplex catcalls--and there's plenty of on screen dope-smoking, as well--but once Bale loses control and things turn bleak, the movie's descent into Hades not only supplies Bale with one of his most challenging--and unsympathetic roles--but manages to create an unsettling portrait (yet not make any statements) about post-traumatic stress syndrome and those unlucky enough to both suffer from it and witness its often nasty outcomes. Great supporting cast, and the movie's finale involves one of the most startling, beautifully filmed death scenes I've seen in a while; at least in its documentation of exactly what kind of damage a Street-Sweeper shotgun can do.
Vampires Survive San Francisco Yuppiedom...And Each Other
Blurbing a vampire movie is as challenging a task as expecting fat Harry Knowles to attend a premiere without supplying 3,000 live chickens, six salad bars, and at least eight wedding cakes. Because I hate vampire movies. Director Michael Fredianelli lays on the obligatory necrophiliac cum erotic atmosphere and the polarized color schemes of your average Cure fan-club, but, unlike most noxious vampire flicks, there's some humor--likely a big curiosity or flaw to most vampire movie fans. There's also good supporting performances and some beautiful yet uneven photography. The movie's clothed sex scenes are left unexplained. As far as the vampirism as addiction/sexual compulsion themes go, I ain't buying that bullsh-t and never have. It was a cool metaphor about 56 years ago, but I think Abel Ferrara already covered it in "The Addiction". Or Kathryn Bigelow in 1987's "Near Dark", for that matter.
The movie's male and female protagonists, sort of thwarted-by-vampire-time-warp-lovers, search for each other in deviant San Francisco while struggling with their groggy identities. Yet the two are more interesting for their flaws. Griffith (the content therapy-patient blood-sucker) is obnoxious and a male chauvinist who smirks at his date, "you got a bit of a paunch", and Maggie (the bewildered therapy patient bloodsucker) must be cinema's first slacker to bite innocent humans and also talk like a vampire who smokes too much dirt-weed. Both Fredianelli and Kat Reichmuth, as the doomed couple, are glamorous and appealing, and the flattering photography renders them vampire print models straight out of a San Francisco in-flight magazine. Still, the script asks a lot: Griffith earns a six-figure salary as senior editor at The Chronicle yet he's barely at work, and his office resembles more the headquarters of an arts weekly. Maggie lands a caretaker who works at an offscreen homeless shelter, and yet we don't get so much as one vampire hobo? This far-fetched room-mate relationship only becomes more humorous as Maggie starts to impose more and more on her host, eventually becoming a pest. Even after she bites the guy, he lets her back in.
Once the supporting cast of Maggie's unlucky room-mate, a lycanthrope-haired yuppie named Jan, Griffith's bourbon swigging psychiatrist, and a geekish club DJ enter the scene, the rather transparent plot benefits from the acting. Other small roles are memorable, a confrontational, knife-wielding victim at a bus stop and an awesome storekeeper.
Production-wise, the vignetting becomes annoying, especially during the scenes involving the movie's mystic sorceress and her cat.
Impressive flashback scenes offer not only costuming and change in locations, but highlight a beautiful woman actually buried alive and emerging from soil.
There's plenty of decent characterization scenes between the two vampires, especially during their "courtship" over the necessity of killing. It's just too bad the vampires don't meet up earlier in the story, as their conflict is interesting and suspenseful without the build-up.
An excellent chase and murder scene in a newspaper office works well, though the film suffers from some missed opportunity gore that would otherwise satisfy your average Fangoria fan. Another fist-fight between Jan and Griffith is properly bone-crunching and satisfactory, mostly because the room-mate's smarmy character, despite all his generosity (and hair), is due an even more cathartic demise than the buggy-eyed DJ guy.
Music score sounds like some 1979 disco-era Giorgio Moroder, with a few synthy stingers and groans thrown in for good measure, but is mostly redundant. It definitely doesn't live up to the film's haunting opening theme.
Lots of great noirish lighting and striking exteriors are sometimes awkwardly coupled with scenes that, let's just say, contrast. Poor stunt coordination mars what should be a shocking scene of violence involving the vampires' final confrontation, more because a three-foot stake isn't the most concealable weapon. Still, John Carpenter would be proud of the movie's bleak twist ending, and possibly David Cronenberg, as well, considering it mirrors the climax to his "Rabid". Overall, a must-see for vampire fans, at least those who like to see some unique twists applied to the usual melodramatic stereotypes.
Brooklyn Rules (2007)
Curiously Unmoving Tale Of Stale Brooklyn Characters
Underwhelming, uneven Brooklyn saga about three boys coming of age in a surprisingly contemporary-looking Brooklyn--which is supposed to take place in the 80s--comes complete with an obligatory (and unwelcome) voice-over and empty performances. For all the male-bonding on screen between its three leads, one grows nostalgic for the freshness and humor of "Pope of Greenwich Village", "Mean Streets", or even an episode of "Hardcastle & McCormack". Subplot involving Freddie Prinze Jr., as a college boy trying to woo WASP princess Mena Suvari from across the East River, fails as Prinze Jr. evokes none of the charisma of the similarly challenged John Travolta character in "Saturday Night Fever". In fact, none of the movie's characters are interesting, with Caan an unlikeable, midget pizza-head to Prinze Jr.'s cute doofus, and this further dooms the movie's attempts at mixing mushy sentimentality and scenes of punctuating yet distracting violence. Also, the movie's t.v. style of editing, with its curious lack of master shots, never allows the actors to achieve any authenticity within its dialogue scenes, and this deflates the film's never-ending attempts at humor. Lots of accessory-after-the-fact, 80s pop culture scenery and name-dropping in the script are unnecessary, and, considering the fascinating disbanding of organized crime during the movie's time period, it's too bad the subject matter isn't in a better film and one not so steeped in cliché's. I won't even acknowledge the film's blatant quotes from "Goodfellas" and "Godfather". Hasn't every movie made about the most peripheral of characters related to mob activity already strip-mined the genre? Alec Baldwin brings the film some much-needed gravity. Scott Caan's impersonation of his father leaves one marveling not
The Men's Club (1986)
Noxious Account of Male Inferiority
Easily the worst movie of the 80s, but mesmerizing due to its incredible cast--excluding a twitching, geekish Craig Wasson--hopelessly marooned in a movie of so little depth, it might as well have taken place in a children's swimming pool. Too many artificial moments to name, all of them succeeding in characterizing its male characters as nothing less than lechs, dumbasses and brutes. But that doesn't stop director Peter Medak from indulging in scenes of squirm-inducing intimacy with the scumbags. Roy Scheider even engages in an unbelievable threesome with two prostitutes in front of a roomful of people, then later the trio dances to dixieland jazz(!). Blatant highlights of unintentional hilarity include Harvey Keitel telling Richard Jordan to shove coffee up his ass, a Treat Williams monologue about beating his date for eating his dessert in a restaurant, David Dukes chain-smoking and twitching non-stop for 90 minutes, and the movie's execrable soundtrack of some of the worst yuppie soft-jazz this side of a Dave Grusin concert series. When compared to similar, theatrical tales of male angst, the superior "Boys In The Band", "That Championship Season", or practically ANY Cassavetes film, this one stenches something awful.