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The Next Three Days (2010)
The Most Successful Thriller In Years
Let me get one thing out of the way: I hate Paul Haggis! I found Million Dollar Baby to be overrated and Crash was cloying and manipulative - one of the worst Best Picture winners in recent history, and an unintended champion of homophobia. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed The Next Three Days. In my opinion, it is was of the most successful thrillers I've seen in the last ten years. I was literally on the edge of my seat during the majority of the movie. The Next Three Days isn't without its flaws - it is a Paul Haggis film, after all. The writing of the police characters is seemingly taken from the worst TV procedural clichés. And while Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks shine in the lead roles, some of the casting in the supporting roles seems off. Like the bizarre Tony Danza cameo in Crash, here we get Daniel Stern as a high- priced lawyer and Liam Neeson as hardened criminal. Still, the film's minor flaws don't detract from my overall enjoyment of the film. Put aside your hate for Paul Haggis and check out The Next Three Days.
Giallo a Venezia (1979)
Worth Seeking Out
Giallo a Venezia, also known as Giallo In Venice, has a reputation for being one of the sleaziest films produced in an already sleazy sub genre. Giallos, for the uninitiated, are Italian horror films known for their extreme violence punctuated by scenes of explicit sex. They heavily influenced the American slasher films of the late 70s and early 80s, but for the most part these American films were not as extreme as their Italian counterparts.
There are few death scenes in Giallo a Venezia but they are quite gory. There's an immolation, a graphic dismemberment, and the usual requisite stabbings. Giallo a Venezia does feature plenty of sex and nudity, but the bare bodies on display do further the plot. After finding a married couple's dead bodies on the Venice beach our main character, a detective, is baffled by the crime's seemingly lack of motive. We spend the rest of the movie inter-cutting between the detective working on his case and flashbacks of the deceased married couple. The film's flashback structure is unique telling the story of the married couple's last days before their death. Their marriage is, to put it politely, very rocky. The husband is a cocaine addict and frequently indulges in kinky sex to debase his wife.
While Giallo a Venezia may lack the social commentary of Lucio Fulci or the swooping camera-work and visual styling of Dario Argento, it is still a giallo that can comfortably stand on merits of its own. Unlike some other giallos that have been loving restored and even presented on Bluray, tracking down a copy of Giallo a Venezia may present quite a challenge. I had to settle for a sub par VHS rip.
This Movie Will Run Up Your Water Bill, You'll Want To Take A Scalding Shower Afterwards!
Manny Perez stars as Chuco, an ex-con released from prison after killing his wife. He tries to reconnect with his young son, Machito, who witnessed the murder of his mother and has been living on the streets ever since.
Set in Scranton, Pennsylvania this film will do little for the city's tourism industry. The filmmakers seem to have made a conscience effort to portray their city in an entirely different light than the Scranton seen on NBC's hit sitcom The Office. This city is not home to a motley crew of funny and quirky characters, but to gangsters, thugs, and lowlifes - a veritable Hell on Earth.
David Castro, as Chuco's young son, gives the role his all. He's too young to realize he should be phoning in his performance, saving his talent for a better movie. Throughout the film, Chuco feels entitled to his son's forgiveness; he doesn't do anything to earn that forgiveness, and actually ends up making the boy's life worse. Still, the screenplay wants us to root for Chuco - but only because he's the lead character, not because he redeems himself in any way or atones for his sins. Chuco is not a hero, he's an awful human being, but the movie excuses his behavior. Forged bills itself as a film about redemption - its not. The filmmakers are too lazy to actually ensure their movie has a point.
Kevin Breznahan, an actor best known for his bit roles in comedies, is an odd choice to play the film's heavy. With his helium-infused voice and fey demeanor, Breznahan is about as scary as a Teletubby. Margo Martindale, as Chuco's alcoholic mother, fares better. Still, one hopes she was actually intoxicated during her scenes; maybe she won't remember spouting out groaners like "A bitter tree can only grow bitter fruit!" Many scenes end with the lead characters staring dramatically into the distance, soap opera-like, searching for the profound dialog the script can not provide them with.
Director Will Wedig's previous credit was the zombie-flick 'Rise of the Dead.' Wedig should have continued working in the horror industry, a genre more forgiving of bad writing and poor direction. By tackling a serious drama, Wedig seems to have bitten off more than he can chew. In a truly tasteless bit of editing, the father's dalliance with a local prostitute is inter cut with a scene of the young boy whoring himself out to the town pedophile. Wedig fills the movie with some obvious symbolism, straight out of screen writing 101. The father and son are rebuilding a car at the same time they're rebuilding their relationship! In another scene, a man, sacrificing his own life, outstretches his arms and adopts a Christ-like pose. Get it? Throughout the movie you can literally feel Wedig nudging you in the ribs, making sure you don't miss any detail in his multi-layered "masterpiece." At a running time of only seventy-two minutes, Forged is barely feature length. The needlessly constant use of slow motion only serves to pad out the film's scant running time. Still, by the time the end credits roll, you'll have spent too much time with these characters and with this film.
Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)
A sexploitation flick that's risen to cult status based on its lurid title alone, Bad Girls Go To Hell is a time-capsule of sixties' sleaze. Don't expect Doris Wishman to inject any feminist subtext into this misogynist genre. This was Wishman's first roughie, a sub genre focusing on titillating the audience with male violence perpetrated against women. Sadly, this trend of equating sex with violence continues to be prevalent in pornography today. Wishman, like fellow exploitation director Russ Meyer, shows considerable skill as an editor. However, Bad Girls Go To Hell is a technical mess. The threadbare plot focuses on a housewife who flees the police after murdering her rapist. Why she doesn't claim self-defense for the quite justified killing is never explained. The housewife, played by Gigi Darlene, is quite a beautiful woman. She carries herself with grace and poise, seemingly unaffected by Wishman's leering camera. There are numerous salacious shots focusing on Darlene's buxom form, but most of the nudity appears in the first ten minutes. After that, the film relies more on her meager acting talents. The movie ends with an "it was all just a dream" coda, explaining away some of the more bizarre and unrealistic moments. The strongest moments of this film, a lesbian subplot, appears to have been cut to ribbons by outraged sensors.
Liquid Sky (1982)
One Of The Last Midnight Movies
Liquid Sky is set against the 80's punk scene, with most of the main characters working as avant-garde models. If the movement had been as bizarre as what is depicted in the film, I have no doubt it would still be around today. For a film with such a low-budget, the acting is surprisingly good. Anne Carlisle (who also worked on the script) plays dual roles. She stars as the main character, Margaret, a small town girl who moved to New York City seeking fame and fortune. While Margaret realized her dreams, life as a successful model seems joyless and empty. She has a monologue near the end of the film that is truly heartbreaking. These moments of cinematic magic occur when terrific acting meets terrific writing. Carlisle also plays Jimmy, a gay male model who serves as Margaret's antagonist. Paula Sheppard is perfectly cast as Margaret's girlfriend, a lesbian drug dealer. ...Then the aliens show up. While the special effects are a constant reminder of the film's 500,000 budget, they do possess a certain rough charm. The aliens themselves are never seen, and their spaceship is roughly the size of a dinner plate. Sometimes the film is shot from the alien's point-of-view, a cheap effect achieved by polarizing the film stock. What turns Liquid Sky from a mere curiosity into a cult classic is the deft direction of Vladislav Tsukerman. He creates a rich sense of mood and character through the use of unexpected and original camera angles and framing. With the help of some precise editing, he juggles a myriad of characters and subplots that don't converge until the end of the film. The overall effect is interesting, never disjointed. Admittedly, the downstairs heroin addict is given too much screen time and he has little to do with the overall plot (despite the fact that his drug of choice provides the film with his name.)
Red State (2011)
Red State Isn't Worth The Wait
As a fan of Kevin Smith's I was looking forward to Red State. However, the film is a disappointment and I can not recommend it. What should be a simple story of a Waco-like siege on a group of religious extremists is borderline incoherent due to a number of tonal shifts. It almost feels like three different screenwriters, working independently of each other, wrote the beginning, middle, and end. While the acting is sublime, particularly the performances by Michael Parks and John Goodman, they are wasted on such an uneven script. Other fine characters, like Stephen Root's conflicted police chief, are introduced and then quickly cast aside. Much has been made of funny man Kevin Smith branching out and making a serious horror/thriller. While he succeeds in creating an arresting visual style, due to his direction and taut editing, he should have collaborated with another writer that understands the genre better.
After Last Season (2009)
Like Nothing You've Ever Seen!
After Last Season destroys the cinematic language and creates it anew. It's so different from anything I've ever seen before. One could describe it as daring and original if it weren't so shockingly inept.
The dialog is beyond boring - most of the conversations between the characters are about the weather or directions to places they visited off screen. At no point in the film does the writer/director try to entertain his audience. If nothing else, I admire his commitment to banality.
Unlike 'The Room' or 'Birdemic' this isn't a "so bad it's good" type of movie ... this is an endurance test!