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The Undead (1957)
6/10
Dumb fun.
11 November 2019
This was an early Roger Corman quickie, the kind of movie that first made him famous in the 1950s. It's super low budget, with sets borrowed from other movies, and was shot in less than a week. And it shows. It's about a scientist who gets the awesome idea of picking up a prostitute from the streets and hypnotizing her, in an effort to get her to visit her past lives. Turns out Diana's past life was that of an accused witch in medieval times, and she's slated to be beheaded. However, the whole sending-Diana-to-the-past thing has altered the fate of her past life, and now her present-day life is in jeopardy! There are a few familiar faces in the background, such as Corman stalwarts like Dick Miller and Mel Welles. Oh, and Billy Barty plays an imp, although he has no speaking lines. But, like I mentioned, it's a cheap movie with an interesting plot but not enough effort or talent or skill to make it really work. I enjoyed the twist at the end, which is probably the best part of the whole movie.
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5/10
Invisible performance by Thomas Lennon, though.
11 November 2019
Before this movie, I'd never seen any of the 10+ Puppet Master movies (or Dollman, or Demonic Toys, etc.), but since this one is labeled a reboot, I figured that my lack of experience with the franchise wouldn't matter much. And it didn't. This is an alternately scary, alternately funny movie about, uh, killer dolls. Killer dolls that were created by a Nazi and are now being controlled from beyond the grave, apparently. The other movies go into this angle quite a bit more, but it's not crucial information for this movie. Tom Lennon plays a comic-book artist (and owner of a comic-book shop, of course) who returns to his hometown after a bitter divorce and moves in with his parents while looking for a new place to stay. He finds one of these devil dolls in his closet; seems his brother found it at a summer camp as a kid and it's always stayed in the house. Well. Edgar (Lennon) finds out there's a convention nearby that celebrates the otherworldly exploits of the evil toymaker, known as Toulon, and he decides to bring his doll with him so that he can sell it. But his is not the only doll at the convention, and soon the bodies pile up as conventioneers and other guests are disposed of in myriad gruesome ways. This is all good if you're particularly a fan of the gory-demise genre. Edgar and pals must find a way to stop the killing. So what's not to like? Tom Lennon, unfortunately. He's just miscast here, as he has more of a deadpan, quiet demeanor about him in really just about everything I've seen him in, and he doesn't quite have the gravitas to pull off the role. And, oddly enough, he seems to deliver his lines in a muted, almost muttered way, even though the other actors' deliveries are clear, crisp, and audible. I had to turn on the subtitles to understand.
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Blood Freak (1972)
1/10
Not so bad it's good.
30 October 2019
I watched this last night, on purpose. With a title like this, there's no chance it was going to be, you know, good, and I'm pleased to announce that indeed it was not. A biker falls in with a drug crowd at a turkey farm and eats some "treated" turkey meat, thus transforming into a turkey himself, as one does. It's a terrible premise, but at least it's a premise. The actor playing the biker, Steve Hawkes, also served as cowriter and codirector, and his comrade in writing and directing, Brad F. Grinter, appears uncredited as the world's worst on-screen narrator. (Because you need a neutral party to clarify why this biker suddenly has the head, but not the body, of a turkey.) What makes him so bad? Not deigning to memorize any of his lines; Grinter instead looks down at note cards every couple of seconds. If he were playing a man giving a speech, I might be okay with that, but he was a man telling the audience what's what, face to face (sort of). Anyway, it looks and is ridiculous, but it pales in comparison to the turkey head that poor Hawkes has to wear. It's ugly, sure, but it's so obviously a papier-mache knockoff, probably bought at a particularly nonselective dollar store. Or whatever would pass for one in 1972. The shoddy costume manages to distract the viewer from the purely amateurish acting and bottom-of-the-barrel script.
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Vox Lux (2018)
1/10
Poor effort all around.
16 October 2019
An astonishingly bad movie from start to finish. Well, almost. The first 25 minutes or so are pretty harrowing, as they center around a school shooting and set the stage for the remainder of the film, but after that there's very little to recommend. Vox Lux is about a girl who, after suffering a tragedy, goes on to become a hit pop singer. Natalie Portman stars as the grown-up Celeste and Jude Law plays her character's manager. Neither seems well suited for the role, particularly Portman (one of six executive producers of this mess), who just doesn't fit as a volatile musician. Here's a fun fact. The actress playing the young Celeste is British and makes no effort at an American accent (the movie is set on Staten Island, NY). This would be fine if the grown-up Celeste also had a British accent, but no. Instead we have a grating, nasally overdone approximation of a New York accent from Portman, who (it should be said) is not Meryl Streep when it comes to accents. The final half hour or so is wildly anticlimactic and feels pointless. As does the entire film, to be frank. A lot of this may be a by-product of the director (Brady Corbet) adapting his own screenplay; the turgid, overwrought narration (by Willem Dafoe) introduces plot elements and dismisses them just as abruptly. Oh, and if you're the kind of person who loves credits, you're in luck! The first ten minutes include the credits - all of them, it would seem - playing over the movie's lead-in to the school shooting. Now you don't have to wait 'til the end to see who helped with this monstrosity. If you want to see Natalie Portman play a haunted artist, see Black Swan instead. This dreck isn't worth your time.
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7/10
Nice work!
9 October 2019
I'm a bit of a sucker for horror movies that take place in churches or convents or other religious settings. Don't know why; guess it's one of those juxtapositions of dark and light, or something. I'll leave that to the philosophers. I do know that I quite enjoyed much of what The Devil's Doorway had to offer. It's about two priests in Ireland sent to a home for wayward women to investigate a statue of the Virgin Mary crying tears of blood. The older priest, Thomas, has been doing this sort of investigating for quite some time and is pretty sure the "miracle" is nothing but a hoax or a misunderstanding, but the younger priest, John, has more of an open mind on the subject. Conveniently for us, they record their investigation, as the movie is told in cinema verite' style, mostly through the lens of John's camera. Well, investigate they do, and it's not long at all before some really crazy stuff happens, such as the sound of children playing in halls that haven't seen kids since "the war" (the movie's set in the early 1960s). An evasive and combative Mother Superior does not help them do their jobs, either. Oh, and the mysterious, ever-dwindling, ever-descending hallways and tunnels beneath the buildings. What made this movie work for me was the atmosphere, as one truly feels in the midst of some terrifying, inexplicable events. Lalor Roddy (Father Thomas), Ciaran Flynn (Father John), and Helena Bereen (Mother Superior) give commanding performances, too, and the ending is satisfying yet brutal. About the only debit for this film is the "shaky cam" effect that one does typically get when wielding a heavy camera. Sure, it was realistic, but beware if you suffer from vertigo. Lot of whipping around and such.
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Brightburn (2019)
6/10
Lack of follow-through.
6 October 2019
Brightburn isn't a terrible good movie, although it does feature some well-staged action scenes. It's about a strange boy 'adopted' by a couple trying to have a baby. Of course, as anyone would know by looking at the trailers or even just guessing a few minutes in, this is no ordinary boy, 'born' on the same night that an apparent meteor strikes the small town of Brightburn, Kansas, USA. Fast forward to the kid's 12th birthday party, and he's beginning to really show signs of otherness, which adults chalk up to puberty and growing pains and the like. But Mom and Dad know differently, and although they've long warned young Brandon to stay out of the locked-tight trapdoor in their barn...well, I think we all know that all of us, especially Brandon, will find out what's behind that door, and it ain't gonna be a good thing. It's certainly not a good thing when people die grisly deaths, and somehow they each have a connection to Brandon. Coincidence? One issue I had with this movie was that the plot doesn't really explore in any depth the ramifications of Brandon's finding out his origins, other than to wow us with some amazing effects. Another issue is that none of the cast (even Elizabeth Banks, as the always-supportive mom) doesn't acquit itself very well. The adult actors show a lack of range, for the most part, and the kid playing poor Brandon is just kind of dull - a problem not helped by the scattershot plot. Some of these characters, by the way, make some astoundingly dumb decisions, and I don't mean in the horror-movie sense. Sometimes horror-movie characters will do something stupid, but you can chalk it up to their being terrified, in a panic, etc. But here, you'll see people doing things that just don't make sense, and it hurts the film.
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House (1977)
9/10
Scary funny!
3 October 2019
This was such a unique treasure to watch. A group of Japanese schoolgirls travel to a country house owned by an aunt of one of their number. The girls' names indicate their personalities and predilections - Gorgeous, Fantasy, Melody, Prof, Sweet, Kung Fu, and Mac. Gorgeous hasn't seen her aunt since she was a little girl, and the aunt herself has been living a secluded life since her betrothed went off to fight in the war. She's certain he will return, since he promised, and so she waits. The girls quickly find out that all is not well with Auntie and even less so with the house, which is really quite sincerely haunted as all get out. A version of Ten Little Indians ensues. The effects in this movie are simple, elegant, and practical, and most importantly they are wildly inventive (death by mattresses?) and comically terrifying. And yes, I do mean that in a good way; consider this a comedy-horror. The fright scenes are intentionally over the top and delightful to watch. Fun fact: nearly everyone in the movie (and certainly all of the schoolgirls) was an acting novice - but you wouldn't know it from this lost masterpiece, which was largely unseen in the USA until 2009 or so.
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Wonder (I) (2017)
9/10
Nearly flawless.
4 September 2019
This movie really blew me away. On the surface, it looks like pure Oscar bait, doesn't it? Kid with facial irregularity struggles to find himself when he attends school for the first time. Seems like the kind of movie to tug heartstrings. And yes, it does. Of course it does. But this movie isn't just about Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), it's about everyone in his life. And I don't mean it's about the people in his life and how they react to him or that their lives completely revolve around this wonderkind (pun intended). It's about how their lives are affected, sometimes in quite subtle ways, thanks to the attention paid to Auggie. Tremblay himself gives a grounded, loving, and mesmerizing performance as Auggie, better than even his performance in Room, but he's not the only star on the screen. Izabela Vidovic, who plays his older sister Via, is stunning in a strongly written, emotionally packed role. You see, people love Auggie, and they want him to be happy. And sometimes, when someone in the family has special needs...well, the others in the family are moved aside, unintentionally, so that Auggie can best deal with the hurdles life throws at him. This isn't neglect by any means - it's just a sort of reality. And Auggie, being all of ten years old, doesn't comprehend that other people aren't just sacrificing for him but that their personal growth is being shunted, because people don't know (from his perspective) the troubles he has. Having said all of that, this movie still could have devolved into a slew of treacly lumps of well-meaning banality, using Auggie's impairment as a shield or at least an umbrella covering and overshadowing everyone. And it doesn't. This isn't a disease-of-the-week movie. This isn't about Auggie's parents doing all sorts of research to find a 'cure' for their son. Because at its core, Wonder is about humanity and compassion.
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6/10
Vote upright!
14 August 2019
There's a disclaimer at the outset of this movie warning that the content is guaranteed to offend just about everyone. Here in the 21st century, one should heed that warning. There are all kinds of offensive racial and sexual stereotypes that would have naturally raised hackles in 1975, let alone in the present. The movie is about the campaign (fictional) of Linda Lovelace, known mostly for starring in the seminal '70s porn movie Deep Throat, for president of the United States. Lovelace is nominated by a group of six walking caricatures (representing millions of people each), including a really butch lesbian, a really effeminate man, an actual neo-Nazi, a token black, a Chinese man (not played by an Asian, of course), and a Catholic priest. After being convinced by her (literal) Uncle Sam to run for president, Lovelace embarks upon a nationwide tour, giving speeches and hopping into bed with as many helpful young men as possible. Now, in case you're still uncertain about this movie's virtues, there is definitely no reason anyone under 18 should be allowed within 100 yards of the film. There's nudity and sex, although there isn't much violence. But, seriously - she's a porn star playing herself, so there's naturally some softcore scenes thrown in to get the attention of male viewers. If the rampant sex doesn't put you off, then maybe the over-the-top characterizations will. Among the cast are Mickey Dolenz as a near-sighted bus driver, Art Metrano (Police Academy) as a sheikh, Scatman Crothers as a pool hustler named Super Black (!), Kennedy impersonator Vaughn Meader as a lusty preacher, and Joe E. Ross (Car 54, Where Are You?) as a dirty trickster in politics. Like some other movies of the late 60s and early 70s, the major theme here is of chaotic wackiness. As the lead, Lovelace is fine playing herself. There's not much plot, there's a ton of offensive material, and nudity abounds. But if you see it in the right frame of mind, perhaps viewing it as an artifact of its times, this isn't a terrible film. (For a fun bonus, check out all of the protest signs near the beginning of the movie. Pure genius putting the AA people next to the AAA people.)
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Bone Tomahawk (2015)
7/10
Facial hair versus ashy skin
12 August 2019
Bone Tomahawk (what a great title!) is a real genre mashup, horror and western - the likes of which you've probably not seen before. The action is light until the final third of the film or so, bu the tension that steadily mounts in the first two-thirds will have you jumping at bells jingling and other startling sounds. Seems a prisoner, a deputy, and the doctor charged with removing the bullet from the prisoner's leg have all vanished over the course of the night. The sheriff (Kurt Russell) sets out to find the trio, aided by his backup to the deputy (Richard Jenkins), a learned man with a predilection for killing Indians (Matthew Fox), and the doctor's husband (Patrick Wilson), who's nursing a bad leg. The lone Indian in their tiny western town is pretty sure who did the kidnapping, based off an arrow found in the jail, and he's of the opinion that it's a group of cave-dwellers - troglodytes. As the sheriff and his posse search, tensions mount among them, and the leg of the doctor's husband acts up time and time again. What they do find when they finally come upon the cave holding the captives and their intimidating captors isn't quite the run-of-the-mill stuff you'd find in an old Western, and that's where the action, terrifying and fleet but so satisfying, kicks in. Bone Tomahawk makes hay out of the long trek to find the trio, and the tribulations of life on the trail, particularly as the men run low on provisions, is expertly told and lends a true sense of realism to the proceedings. Aside from that mounting tension, the first half is pulled together wonderfully by Russell and by Jenkins as the addled backup tin star. Jenkins steals the movie.
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Toy Story 4 (2019)
8/10
Freedom for the toys!
7 August 2019
I enjoyed Toy Story 4, which is sort of like saying I like to breathe. It's nigh impossible to dislike Pixar's flagship series after 24 (!) years of laughs and heartstring-pulling. Now, along with most people I figured that Toy Story 3 was the end of it all, as Andy goes off to college and the toys wind up with another kid, named Bonnie. But oh, no! There are more feelings to be felt. Bonnie, then a toddler, is now entering kindergarten and is very anxious. Woody sneaks off to her orientation and watches sadly as Bonnie interacts with no kids and appears to feel excluded. Left to her own friend-making devices, she constructs a new friend all of her own, a spork with googly eyes, pipe-cleaner hands, and popsicle-stick feet named, uh, Forky. And by putting her name on his feet, Bonnie gives Forky life. So now we have an all-new toy, one who has never been a toy before (he insists he's trash, as his components were fished from a trash can). Woody sees how much Bonnie needs her new toy, as sort of a security blanket for the stress of kindergarten, and he's determined to make Forky understand his lot in life and his importance to Bonnie. Along the way, Woody has a chance encounter with a figure from his own past - Little Bo Peep, who appeared in early Toy Story films but who has been gone for some time. Bo has it going on, living the life of a "free toy," i.e., one not belonging to any kid - even though that's (apparently) what most toys want. Woody's been someone's toy forever - is this something he wants as well? This movie presents a bit of a crossroads for Woody (less so for the other toys), and as with special messages in the previous films, it is wonderfully handled and expertly expressed. First, let me look at the good stuff, of which there's plenty, from this movie. The voice actors are, as usual, pitch perfect - and it's nice to hear Annie Potts back as Bo Peep. Key and Peele are along for the laughs, and Christina Hendricks, Tony Hale, Keanu Reeves, and Ally Maki are each wonderful additions; everyone feels like a natural fit, not shoe horned into a role. Then there are the inevitable action scenes, some of which are copied from previous TS films and others that are brand spanking new. Very well done; if this were a live-action movie, I'd be praising the choreography. Also, despite the contemplative, life-affirming lessons presented by the plot, the story never stagnates, and the toys learn on the fly (as opposed to learning after deep inner reflection, I guess). Now, the only slight downside for me was that this, again the fourth effort in the series, doesn't quite match up with the others for pure sentimental grandeur. It's not that the plot is trite; kids should love it for the same reasons they loved the other movies. It's just that it feels as if we've been led to the emotional precipice more than once in the toys' journey, and the journey (even with its inevitable strong payoff) doesn't pack the same punch as the first one. And that's about the extent of it. For me, the best movies have several scenes where I hear a sentence like the following in my head: "This is why I love movies." There was one such scene in Toy Story 4, which is one more than most movies but fewer than the first t three in this series.
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Afflicted (2013)
4/10
Stop shaking the camera
6 August 2019
This lethargic, uninspired take on a rather overdone topic might work if you really identify with the leads. And if not, then you might be in for a woefully dull time. Derek (Derek Lee) and Clif (Clif Prowse) are embarking on a year-long trip around the world, with the added difficulty that Derek has an inoperable brain tumor. Derek has long been the adventurous one between them, and Clif is an amateur documentary filmmaker, so it's an apropos team-up. Clif can not only watch out for the safety and health of his longtime friend, he can also document the heck out of their trip. In fact, all of their friends and family, and really the entire world, can track the duo's travels via the frequent updates on their website. But in early in their trip, during a visit to a nightclub in Paris, something happens to Derek that causes his body to undergo an interesting and unwelcome transformation - but not before making him deathly ill. That's probably about as much as I can reveal about the plot without giving it away. The story is told to us mostly through the lens of the ever-present cameras held and worn by Clif, although there were a few instances in which the audience appeared to get a (literal) different perspective. Probably the best part of Afflicted is the special effects usage. The movie looks good, and there are some decent scares, particularly given the small budget. But too often the scares are of the jump variety, another trope that's been beaten to death for a couple of decades. But as far as I was concerned, those effects were the only high point of the movie. The plot feels, like those jump scares, to be really overdone, and the characters come off as intelligence deficient, to put it kindly. That characterization isn't helped by the rampant overacting, particularly by Lee. And I can't tell you how many times you'll hear the sentence, "What are you TALKING about?" because I stopped counting. But I could relate to the question.
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6/10
A divot in the director's career
5 August 2019
It's not peak Tarantino, and that's the biggest flaw of this movie. Whole 'lotta nothing happens for more than two hours, leading to the kind of violent denouement that we'd expect from the auteur. In fact, if you didn't know Tarantino wrote and directed this, you would be none the wiser after watching the film. It's set in the fall of 1969, shortly before the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders in Hollywood, and it (mostly) follows the travails of a has-been TV actor named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton used to be the star of a show called Bounty Law, a western in which his character is sort of an antihero, but the show ended its run when Dalton wanted to strike out for the presumably greener pastures of movies. Now he's kind of washed up, working as a guest star on current shows as the bad guy. Meanwhile, his buddy Cliff is sort of Rick's gopher, his own career derailed by his actions on the set of The Green Hornet. Completing the trio - although separately - is actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), wife of director Roman Polanski, who lives next door to Dalton in the Hollywood Hills. Much of the movie has to do with everyday life for these three in 1969 Hollywood, and there are a ton of movie references - sort of a Tarantino hallmark. But as Dalton, Booth, and Tate go about their lives, nothing really stands out as...well, interesting or full of any meaning for the audience. What probably was meant to be a lot of little scenes leading up to a fantastic conclusion was really a bunch of vignettes. The casting is as eclectic as we've come to expect from Quentin Tarantino, but the script doesn't really make use of anyone save for DiCaprio. Pitt and Robbie aren't given a lot to do other than look pretty, and talent like Al Pacino, Brenda Vaccaro, Damien Lewis, and Bruce Dern are paid very short shrift. The whole thing feels like imitation Tarantino and is definitely not among his best work. This is a dull movie, even with the "revised history" slant it tries to present.
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The Circle (I) (2017)
2/10
Obnoxious, condescending, and childish
4 August 2019
Wow, just wow. A total bomb from start to finish. Emma Watson plays Mae, a tech-savvy youngster stuck in a crappy job doing bill collections via phone. Her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her an interview at The Circle, a big tech company that seems to be an amalgam of Facebook and Google. Needless to say, Mae gets the job. The campus at The Circle would be straight out of science fiction if it weren't for Google's real-life campus - a sort of mix between a college (where no one seems to have classes) and an adult Chuck E. Cheese. There's everything from hot yoga to Quidditch, plus private concerts with acts such as Beck. It's not just a trendy work environment, it's a bleeding edge of hipsterism. The Circle itself is a be-all kind of company, much like Google is, trafficking more in ideas than in material goods. It's run by Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), a stand-in for Steve Jobs, who oozes personality and whose mantra is that sharing is caring and who holds weekly "dream meetings" with the entire campus to put forth his new ideas. Naturally, Mae is head over heels for this new job, since it's such a pleasant environment in which to work, and even more so when she learns she can add her parents (Bill Paxton and Glenne Headley) to her insurance - which means that Dad's MS treatments are covered! Doesn't matter that her customer-approval score is "only" 84, they like her! And she likes it there! Bailey's new idea is called SeeChange, an initiative to create and deploy tiny camera all over the world so that there are no secrets. Raise any alarms? The cameras come in different colors, so they can blend in almost everywhere! And they'll collect data, relentlessly relaying all of it to Circle HQ for analysis. Crimes can be stopped! People can be helped! The world will prosper! Unlike the audience, Mae and the rest of the staff don't see any problems with this approach. The staff meetings, incidentally, are unbelievable - pep rallies for the boss? For a place that seems to pride itself on innovation, there doesn't seem to be an inquisitive mind in the bunch. It's all awesome to them, especially when Bailey tosses the cameras out into the crowd. It's more of a cult, really. At one point, Mae has a video chat with her mom and notices a homemade chandelier in the background, made by Mae's friend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane). After the call, Mae messages everyone in The Circle (they're very, very big on social networking) and plugs Mercer's work. Turns out to be a bad idea, because he finds himself labeled as a deer killer and receives death threats. Whoops. This doesn't deter Mae, though; she still believes wholeheartedly in Bailey's ideas. Later, she helps come up with a new initiative herself that allows people - using the many SeeChange cameras - to find someone in the world. This can't possibly be used for bad, right? Shenanigans ensue. All of the red flags that popped up would have been recognized by even the dumbest staffer, so it makes zero sense that Mae doesn't grasp what's going on - and what's to come. The bad guys are broadly, broadly written, and every plot point seems equally obvious and ridiculous. There's no good reason for the story to progress past the first half hour or so - there's so much dumbness. And Watson, Hanks, and Gillan, plus John Boyega as a master programmer and Patton Oswalt as the company's CEO, are woefully one dimensional. It certainly feels as if this movie wouldn't have been made if it weren't for the star power involved; but here, rather than talented actors raising up a bad script, they merely sink with it. This is terrible.
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8/10
Tortuous, surreal classic.
1 August 2019
This Spanish-language mind bender was remade a few years later by Cameron Crowe (with Tom Cruise), but for my money you can't beat the original. A pretty boy-slash-playboy Cesar (Eduardo Noriega), a proud practitioner of one-night stands, meets cute with equally pretty girl Sofia (Penelope Cruz) at his birthday party, even though she arrived at the party with Cesar's best friend Pelayo. He's instantly smitten, and he and Sofia spend the entire night at her house, talking. As he's departing, though, he runs into a slightly off-balance ex, Nuria (Najwa Nimri), who's been stalking him (can't take no for an answer) and who offers him a lift back to his house. A car crash ensues, and next thing poor Cesar knows, he's in a mental institution, wearing a mask to cover his injuries, and accused of murder by the cops, with only sympathetic psychiatrist Antonio willing to listen to him. Cesar has dim memories of what's happened to the women in his life, and to himself, and he finds the line between dreams and reality being blurred to the point of obliteration. What's worse, it seems to him that Nuria has taken Sofia's place and identity - although to everyone else, she's always been Sofia. Confused yet? It makes some sense when you watch it. This movie was absolutely riveting throughout, and it's all told through Cesar's perspective - so the audience is also unsure what's real and what's a dream. Did Cesar commit murder? Is someone gaslighting him? Is he on Punk'd? Just an amazingly well-told story that had me on edge right up through the final, ambiguous scene.
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8/10
See this one!
31 July 2019
A naval officer has a dream of a military transport plane with eight passengers (including a woman) being beset by poor weather conditions and equipment malfunctions and then crashing into a mountainside in Japan. He relates this dream, somewhat reluctantly, to a group in Hong Kong leaving the next day for Tokyo. First, their plane is changed at the last minute - and the new one matches the one in the man's dream. Then, two soldiers, who had missed their transportation back to their base, are added to the manifest, making eight! Sir Michael Redgrave plays Air Marshal Hardie, on board the plane, which is also carrying a governor (Ralph Truman) and civilian attache Owen Robertson (Alexander Knox), who's making his first-ever flight. As their journey progresses, many aspects of the flight appear to be aligning with those in the dream, and terror grips everyone as they attempt to stave off disaster. This gripping drama of what should have been a routine flight is mesmerizing, not the least for the expected classy performances of Knox and Redgrave. The whole aspect of superstition (and how those 'medieval' Chinese put too much stock in it) rears its ugly head and gets into the minds of everyone, including the pilots. Imagine being in a small plane at about 10,000 feet and looking outside to see ice on a wing, and it's breaking off. Well, better than it staying on there (and adding to drag and weight), but it still doesn't look too comforting! This is one heck of an electric suspense thriller, and it had been on my 'to-see' list for decades.
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6/10
More fun than a stake through the heart!
30 July 2019
Even better than the original, which was pretty fine in its own right. This sequel to the so-called Blaxploitation classic concerns the resurrection of Prince Mamuwalde, aka Blacula, by a voodoo cultist who's trying to take over his group after the death of their leader (his mother). Opposing said cultist is the priestess Lisa (Pam Grier). Do you think Blacula just exacts revenge on the part of the son? Naw, son! He's out for himself, same as always. He gets the idea that the lovely Lisa can use her voodoo magic to put Blacula's soul to rest, but of course Lisa is a little reticent about that option. The bodies keep piling up, because of course Blacula has no compunction about bleeding folks dry. This movie is an example of how good genre pictures could be in the early 1970s, even with (or especially with) a modest budget. This was an early role for Grier, who has gone on to make a boatload of entertaining films, and although her acting is kind of raw here (to be fair), she shows quite a bit of charm and personality, traits that would be on better display in later movies like Coffy. Still, how often to you get to see a black-themed horror movie without it devolving into nonsense (Scary Movie, A Haunted House, Paranormal Movie)? The answer is not often. The atmosphere is haunting and feels authentic.
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6/10
Not dull, but that doesn't mean it was uniformly entertaining, either.
30 July 2019
I found this movie to be uneven and oddly paced, although it does feature some fine performances by the two male leads. Tyler (Charlie Plummer) is a Boy Scout and part of a fine, upstanding, church-going family. But he's slowly come to believe that his dad Don (Dylan McDermott) might be the infamous Clovehitch Killer, a man who terrorized the town ten years ago. Don is a Scout leader and a pillar of his community, so surely he's not a deviant and a murderer, right? The evidence might suggest otherwise. It's really a lot of fun to watch Dylan reconcile what he's discovered with his necessarily conservative, suppressed worldview. I mean, it'd be one thing if someone a little more wiser in the ways of the world were to find this stuff out, and it's a whole other thing for someone like Dylan, whose community is very straitlaced. Helping Dylan reconcile these two opposites is the town pariah, Kassi (Madisen Beaty), your standard girl from the wrong side of the tracks who's long followed and researched the Clovehitch Killer. But is the killer (named for his preferred type of knot) dormant, or is he planning to kill again? The answer won't surprise you. I did have some issues with the movie. First, it felt like the characters came off as mildly irritating, whether it was the joking, "just kidding" mentality of Kassi or the super-religious, overbearing stance of Tyler's mother (played very well by Samantha Mathis). Second, the final act of the movie just lost me, as the plot took a sharp turn into the land of unforeseeable but implausible - so although the ending wasn't very predictable, it also wasn't satisfying and left me cold. There was, I'll point out, a neat little narrative trick in the second act or so that is very well done (by director Duncan Skiles and writer Christopher Ford) and more than held my interest, only to jettison said interest a few scenes later as the denouement approached. Still, a high-quality performance from McDermott key role as Tyler's All-American Dad.
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Skidoo (1968)
6/10
Let your freak flag fly!
26 July 2019
This late-60s artifact has to be seen to be believed. It was, sadly, Groucho Marx's final film, but he's still pretty good in it. I think this was a little bit unfairly maligned when it came out - perhaps audiences weren't ready for the craziness. In a nutshell, Jackie Gleason plays Tony Banks, a retired hitman. Tony is married to Flo (Carol Channing), and they have a blonde-bombshell daughter Darlene (Alexandra Hay). Tony is paid a visit by two messengers, a former coworker named Hechy (Cesar Romero) and his son Angie (Frankie Avalon), who have a job for Tony on the behalf of their employer, a mob boss named God (Marx). Seems there's a squealer sitting in the state pen, by the name of Blue Chips Packard (Mickey Rooney), and God wants him dead before he can spill the beans. While this offer is being made to Tony - can he refuse? - Darlene is falling in with a hippie named Stash (John Phillip Law), which of course the traditional-minded Tony isn't down with. He does take the job (without telling his wife and his daughter), which involves his being embedded in the prison and then "kissing" (killing!) the dirty rotten squealer. Things don't go as planned, as you might expect. And this being 1968, the spectre of LSD appears over all of the proceedings. If you ever wondered what it would be like for Ralph Kramden to take acid, wonder no more. He accidentally ingests it (licking an envelope!) and is coached through his trip by The Professor, played by Austin Pendleton. Meanwhile, God sits in his offshore yacht, afraid to even go above deck. There's plenty of singing and dancing, and the entire hippie experience is on full display. Among the rest of the cast are Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, George Raft, Peter Lawford, Michael Constantine, Richard Kiel, and Slim Pickens! So me, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, even though it's thought to be just abysmal. Skidoo is very dated, but it's a fun microcosm of life in '68.
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5/10
A misfit grab bag
26 July 2019
This anthology of three horror stories is a bit of a mixed bag. The first one concerns a middle-aged woman who buys special dumplings from a youthful (but aged) mystic, played by Bai Ling. The woman wants to look and feel young again, and these dumplings are purported to do the trick. And even when she finds out what's in the dumplings (warning: gross!), she still wants to enjoy their benefits, which also include an increased libido. The chemistry between the mysterious Aunt Mei and Mrs. Li is palpable, and you feel for the older woman even as she makes some pretty vain decisions. This story is followed by one about a horror director who's held hostage, along with his wife, by a man who played an extra in five of the director's films. This tale took a little while to get going and moved kind of predictably when it did move along. There's a nasty twist at the end, but it's a little weak and obvious. It also doesn't help that the bad guy's motivations don't hold up to much scrutiny. The final story, directed by gore maven Takashi Miike, is about a former circus performer who's haunted by her twin sister's death, which she accidentally caused. Now a novelist, the woman has nightmares that her dead sister is reaching out to her. The story of what really happened to the sisters unfolds gracefully, but relatively bloodlessly, in flashbacks, and although a 'twist' ending does sort of explain matters nicely, the synopsis that I read online draws a completely different conclusion than what I'd drawn, so your mileage may vary.
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7/10
No one cared who he was until he put on the mask
18 July 2019
Peter Parker is...far from home. As in, he's in Europe on a school science trip over the summer. Also as in, he's no longer in metaphorical Kansas and has to do some quick growing up after the death of his mentor and father figure, Tony Stark. But it seems that destruction follows Peter no matter where he goes, and this time it's attacks by "elemental entities" (in the forms of fire, earth, wind, and water monsters). But never fear, because Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) is here! Mysterio is a mysterious (heh) dude from an alternate Earth whose entire family was wiped out by these elementals, so he has an axe to grind. Nick Fury reels Spider-man in to help Mysterio, but poor Spidey would rather stay on his class trip and put the moves on MJ (Zendaya). Torn between a sense of duty and the wish to be a normal-ish teen, Peter tries to have it both ways, and that hardly ever works out well. This latest entry into the Marvel movie world is agreeably entertaining and a fun follow-up to this year's Endgame, even if it takes a little while to really get going. But once it does, look out! As Spider-man, Tom Holland is even better than he was in Homecoming, which is saying something. Holland's Spidey, unlike previous iterations of the superhero, doesn't come off as mopey or whiny but rather sincere and legitimate. We all know how honest and righteous Spider-man is, but Holland provides some needed color and dimension to that characterization. Samuel L. Jackson is fine as crusty, cranky Nick Fury, but for me Gyllenhaal felt a bit out of place as the charismatic Mysterio. On a younger note, both Zendaya (MJ) and Jacob Batalon (Ned) are terrific as Peter's friends, and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) make for a nice, if temporary, couple. Stick around for two important post-credits scenes.
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3/10
Another step backwards for swamp hillbillies
17 July 2019
This exploitative piece of junk has the distinction of having both Shelley Winters and Ted Cassidy (Lurch from The Addams Family) in the cast. A popular jazz singer, traveling alone in the Deep South, finds herself stranded in a podunk town in which the local inn's proprietor is an Elvis-like lounge lizard with psychopathic tendencies. Winters plays the madam/former showgirl who pines for her better days, and it's likely the actress herself was pining for her better days in Hollywood, days when she didn't have to do crap like this. Slim Pickens is a good ol' boy sheriff with a blue-streak mouth, and Dub Taylor plays the justice of the peace. And a justice of the peace is kind of like Chekov's Gun - if there is one, you can be sure one will be needed at some point in the movie. If I had to pick out one part of Poor Pretty Eddie that wasn't horrid, it'd be that of the protagonist, Liz Wetherly, played by Leslie Uggams. Wetherly is put through a lot of anguish, let me tell you, as she's essentially held hostage in the small town by the innkeeper, Eddie (Michael Christian). And guess who Uggams wound up playing later in her career? Blind Al from the Deadpool movies. Funny how careers go sometimes. Meanwhile, Winters would hang around for more than 25 years, making a slew of bad movies. She did this film just three years after doing The Poseidon Adventure, so you can see how much that movie affected her career. Hey, if you want to hear classic Hollywood actors like Winters and Pickens spout four-letter words and references to female anatomy, have at it.
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Pet Sematary (2019)
6/10
Duck, duck...cat.
12 July 2019
If it weren't for the critical miscasting of Jason Clarke, this would have been a fantastic horror movie. It's definitely an upgrade over the 1989 version (better performances from everyone else), with some interesting plot differences as well. The basic story is that Dr. Louis Creed (Clarke) has moved his family from Boston to rural Maine to begin a new life as a university physician. The Creeds - wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie, toddler son Gage, and cat Church - slowly take to country livin', although Rachel has her own issues to deal with (repressed memories and such). Rachel and Ellie discover a pet cemetery right in their huge wooded backyard, which new neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) helpfully educates them about. Things really kick into high gear, though, when Church the cat is found dead by the side of the road...and Jud has an idea to bury him not in the pet cemetery but in the hallowed ground just beyond it. Bad things come of this decision! As I mentioned, there are some differences between this version and the '89 version, but they're either an improvement or not terribly significant. A nonspoiler difference: Lithgow doesn't try a backwoods Maine accent, like Fred Gwynne had, and I think that was a wise decision. It would have invited an unfavorable comparison to Gwynne, surely. The acting in this remake is pretty good, save for Clarke, who's lousy. He's pretty dull, even when Louis is slowly losing his mind. It's as if someone told him to take a subtle approach and he understood that to mean "show little emotion." Even his anguished yells sound constipated. Luckily, he has an ace cast surrounding him. Seimetz, who's done a lot of independent, small-budget movies, is flippin' great as Rachel, and Lithgow does a fine job as Jud, but really stealing the entire movie is Jeté Laurence as young Ellie. And let's give a big hand to the five cats who play Church. Bottom line is that this remake stands on its own as a fine horror movie, save for the dreadful lead performance.
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7/10
Lovely plumage.
11 July 2019
Dario Argento's first feature is largely bloodless, focusing instead on an intense mystery with a nice little twist at the end. Tony Musante plays an American in Italy who witnesses an attack. The local constabulary thinks he's seen more than he's letting on, but it's really just his memory that's at fault. But someone else thinks Musante's seen something, as several attempts are made on his life and that of his English girlfriend, played by Suzy Kendall. As if that weren't bad enough, there have apparently been several unexplained murders over the past few weeks in the city, and Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) thinks they're all connected. (Other than there being no apparent motive, the connection doesn't really seem evident.) Can Musante's Sam find out who the real killer is before he kills again? (Not Sam, the actual killer.) Musante is solid, and the plot quick moving and full of action. There's some fine police work, too, as well as an almost-cliche police lab that is really good at finding stuff out and drawing conclusions based on science. Maybe the end wraps up a little too abruptly, but Musante and Salerno are both earnest and do the best they can. But I advise against expecting the crimson-hued look to the proceedings that Argento would later employ much more broadly.
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Scarface (1983)
6/10
Some rise, some fall, some climb...
11 July 2019
Certainly, how much you enjoy this movie will depend mostly on how much you enjoy Al Pacino's portrayal of Tony Montana. If you find Tony to be a bit too over the top, perhaps a caricature of 80s bad guy, then you're likely to find Scarface to be a one-dimensional, overblown piece of fluff. But if you think Tony is a major badass whose overreactions help enhance his character, not detract from it, then Scarface is your movie. The movie is still very quotable, even 36 years later! And it's educational. Never sample your own product. Good life lesson right there, kids. Anyway, I fall into the second group. Yeah, it's outlandish theater, but it somehow works - particularly as it's set in the overwhelming 1980s. Of course, fresh-off-the-boat Tony is a cocky bastard, even with the immigration guys. Of course, he blusters his way into a coke deal, which quickly goes south. Of course, he fights his way to the top of the crime game. He's all cojones; just ask him. Couple of other notes - the entire cast is a lot of fun, from Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio (playing his kid sister) and Michelle Pfeiffer (playing his wife) to Robert Loggia (his boss) and F. Murray Abraham (boss' right-hand man). Steven Bauer, playing Tony's own right-hand man, is okay, but am I the only one who sees a resemblance to Michael Ian Black? I will say that Tony's act of bulldozing over everyone and disregarding all help got a bit tiresome, but that's in keeping with his character, anyway. For me, this version of Scarface is good but not a huge classic - just a good representation of the decadent 80s from Brian DePalma. Almost a time capsule of same, really.
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