3 out of 5 stars
Another rewatch! Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat… I LOVED Arthur Kopit & Maury Yeston’s original play. It was amusing, playful, and a wonderful homage to Fellini and his films. Raul Julia OWNED the role of Guido Contini and the songs and vocal orchestration was terrific. Which brings us to this filmed version of it. First, I’ll say that the costumes and set designs are GORGEOUS. Second, there are moments of absolute brilliance here (Fergie’s BE ITALIAN being preeminent among them). The general feel of the film captures the feel of early ‘60s, LA DOLCE VITA era Italo-cinema. But then… there’s the cast. NINE features some of the worst casting imaginable. Daniel Day Lewis (who is normally brilliant in everything he does) is so far out of his element here that it’s almost embarrassing. Penelope Cruz is a joke completely misunderstanding her role as one of Guido's paramours. Kate Hudson's inclusion seems tacked-on and she couldn’t carry a tune in a Bekin's truck. And then… there’s the changes to the story and the score. Whole songs are cast aside and others (some absolutely terrible) are put in their place. The first 2/3 of the third act brings the energetic proceedings to a crashing halt and the entire ending feels false and misguided. The appearance of the still-beautiful Sophia Loren was appreciated though. I REALLY wanted to love this (hell, I’da settled for LIKE), but there’s just too many wonky things going on to make it a suitable representation of an otherwise brilliant play. Do yourself a favor and rent ALL THAT JAZZ instead... or go buy the CD of the Raul Julia musical.
1 out of 5 stars
*sigh* While I consider myself a fan of Bill Moseley, not even he can save this derivative and clichéd pseudo-horror film fiasco. I guess it was director Brian Pulido’s (of Chaos! Comics / EVIL ERNIE / LADY DEATH fame) intention to make a throw-back to late ‘70s / early ‘80s horror / gore films, but sadly his efforts fall short; WAY short. The film’s script is like a “greatest hits” of that era and that is so transparent as to be insulting. Two cute girls on a road trip? Check! Said girls venture to an out of the way tourist attraction and get stranded? Check! Wacky local minister (in this case played by a scenery gobbling Tony Todd)? Check! Some mumbo jumbo about a “smell” that comes from a local mine that “needs to be fed”? Check! Gratuitous use of bad metal music? Check! The most infuriating thing about THE GRAVES is that, for all its intentions of being a “gore” film, 90% of the kills happen off-camera with only some badly CGed blood splatters to mark their passing. Assorted characters stroll into the narrative SOLELY for the opportunity to be killed in short order a scene or two later. And through it all… Bill Moseley is there doing his usual best and “sellin’ it” like a pro. As I watched this, I was genuinely saddened that the man had to endure being in this. I just hope the stink of it didn’t cling to any of his clothing for too long. Frankly, a man of Moseley’s talent deserves better. Oh, and by the way… this is another flick brought to you by the After Dark Horror Fest.
3 out of 5 stars
OK, I’ll be honest… there is 2/3 of a pretty interesting movie in SOURCE CODE. The premise is unique. The execution is competent. The acting is solid. But then, we reach a point in the film where it EASILY could have ended… and then the script takes a HARD turn toward sentimentality, a dopey love angle, and some VERY wonky science. Gyllenhall does a good job as does Vera Farmiga. Michelle Monaghan does what she’s there to do: look cute and be engaging. But again… that last act is so blatantly tacked-on and ridiculous that it sours the fascinating first two thirds of the film’s run time. SOURCE CODE’s idea in fact would have made a terrific TWILIGHT ZONE or NIGHT GALLERY episode, but as a film, it overstays its welcome and drifts into heavy-handedness. It’s still worth the rental, but… just go in knowing that the film dummies up toward the end.
3 out of 5 stars
This early ‘70s Italian poliziottesco from Sergio Sollima stars Oliver Reed (who chews scenery like a starved man) and the great Fabio Testi (Fulci's CONTRABAND & Enzo Castellari's THE BIG RACKET) who reportedly did a lot of his own stunts. The story is a tale of kidnapping, jail breaks, double crosses, gunfights, and gratuitous face slapping. The action is pretty standard for this sort of fare, but Sollima keeps things moving and Reed is at his tough guy best. According to some sources, Reed's alcoholism was a major setback to the production. On any given afternoon, Reed would become so drunk that he would become violent on set, starting fights and challenging Testi to drinking games. Whatta guy! If you enjoy this type of film (and I do), you'll like this a lot.
3 stars of 5 stars
First the good news… MERANTAU is one the first films to adequately show Indonesian Silat. Some of the fight scenes in this are pretty fuckin’ breathtaking. I mean, thesee guys went on to do THE RAID films. In two instances I particular, there are stunts that will blow you away. Ok, now the bad news… MERANTAU’s story is incredibly by-the-book. It’s acting, while better than most of its ilk, is still not exactly great. While comparisons to people like Tony Jaa are IMO unfounded, again… the action is pretty swell. The ending was a bit of a surprise, but that kind of bravery comes far too late to make much of a difference. Martial Arts film fans will eat this up. Non-fans… may want to navigate toward some of the “art house” wuxia (like HERO, IP MAN, and the like. Bottom line… some inspired action / derivative storyline.
2 out of 5 stars
A Spanish tragic-sex comedy starring a very young Javier Bardem (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN), Maria de Medeiros (PULP FICTION), and Benicio del Toro (THE WOLFMAN). This tale of greed, ambition, lust, and downfall falls flat due to its utterly unlikable characters and far-fetched plot twists. That said… no one shoots sex scenes like the Spanish and, if you’ve never seen one, this has some good ones. Sadly, the nubile women and macho men just aren’t enough to hold anyone’s interest and you almost can’t wait for Bardem’s Benito Gonzales to fall from his lofty heights. Javier Bardem fans will probably want to look elsewhere for their fix (unless they are completists). For example, his role in THE SEA INSIDE is mesmerizing. In the end, GOLDEN BALLS… shoots blanks.
Bloody Moon aka Die Sage Des Todes aka Profunde Tenebre aka Saw of Death
2.5 out of 5 stars
Jess Franco (VENUS IN FURS, OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES)… where to begin? Well, in this case, it’s with BLOODY MOON in which the King of Sleaze does a giallo / slasher set in a girl’s language school in Spain. Banned in the ‘80s in the UK as a “Video Nasty,” BLOODY MOON is a tepid little potboiler that is really nothing you haven’t seen before. The murders are suitably gruesome and there’s lots of sexual references, but there’s never really anything to care about by the end. Characters are introduced only to be killed off, even ones where you’re lead to believe are important. The murder set pieces are well handled (and owe a debt of gratitude to the giallo). Score is VERY dated. Initially, Pink Floyd was set to do the music, but I guess that fell through. Acting is stiff and the proceedings are sleazy though, so… Not the worst Franco film (and, if you’ve seen a few, you know they’re their own type), but certainly not the best (is there one?). Worth seeing for those who like this sort of thing, but… most will find this a dated and confusing mess.
1 out of 5 stars
This New Zealand film by director, David Blyth (DEATH WARMED UP, MY GRANDPA IS A VAMPIRE, and several episodes of MIGHTY MORPHIN’ POWER RANGERS), reportedly sparked outrage in New Zealand where it was made with protesters crying out that the film should be banned. The film has been called “controversial” and “shocking” and has been compared to the likes of HUMAN CENTIPEDE and A SERBIAN FILM. Ummm, ok. Frankly, I don’t see it. WOUNDED stars – and is wholly supported by the talent of – Kate O’Rourke (THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT) who does a decent job with the material and is, in fact, rather brave to have taken on the film’s themes of incest, S&M, torture, and madness. However, two things immediately come to mind as the film plays out. First, it strives so hard to be edgy and controversial that it somehow comes off calculated and contrived. Not a good thing, I assure you. Second, the scenes of sexuality and “kink” are like copies of a copy… they come off like ideas that were once seen by the filmmaker (who didn’t understand them) and aped to the point that they are now disingenuous, at best. It’s as if the filmmaker is using alternative lifestyles (in this case D&S and B&D) as excuses for and symptoms of the character's madness. Like only those mentally ill would be drawn to such activity... which is patently ridiculous. But ok… The film is shot on HD Digital and it shows. Its low budget is seen in the quality of its chosen supporting cast, its sets, and, most tellingly, its FX. The script is clumsy, clichéd, and preposterous. It’s like a movie culled from one long performance art piece. I’m sure WOUND made some kind of sense to the director when he made it, but, as an audience member, the whole thing is confusing and, well… sorta silly. Purposefully weird and stridently abrasive, WOUND might be something some people may enjoy, but… I found that it simply tries too hard and therefore lacks any substantive impact.
4 out of 5 stars
MAN ON WIRE director James Marsh creates this documentary about a family who brings a baby chimpanzee into their home in the hopes of teaching him sign language and socializing him with humans. Almost immediately, the project goes awry and major problems rear their head. Without the proper structure, changes were made to the protocol which served only to create more chaos. Throughout the course of the research study, it became evident that it is the crime of hubris was the one the researchers most often committed. The idea that one could take what was basically a wild animal and somehow indoctrinate him and make him “human” quickly shows itself to be flawed. Then, when the inherent flaws in the project present themselves, Nim is unceremoniously dumped back into the world of chimps and returned to the bleak facility from which he was first taken. So, by the time the researchers are literally smoking pot with the chimp… Well, science has gone completely out of the window. The one overriding anger that the latter part of the film inspires is spawned not by the nature of the chimp and his inherent “chimpness,” but rather inspired from the people who never seemed to realize that the subject of their “experiment” was a living, breathing, THINKING creature. The main researcher, Herb Terrace, is an ego-driven, attention-whore of the highest order. His methods are flawed and designed solely for his own aggrandizement. And if there is to be any blame for the project’s failure, it rests solely on his shoulders. PROJECT NIM is a fascinating – and heartbreaking – documentary that questions just who are the beasts and who are the just. Highly recommended!
Terror in a Texas Town
3 out of 5 stars
A most unusual Western. Sterling Hayden plays a Swedish whaler who’s come home live with his father who has a bit of land. When he arrives, he finds his father murdered as a result of a land grab by the mustache-twirling Sebastian Cabot and his cronies. The weird thing about this film though is that Hayden never really goes off as you would expect him to. His size denotes that he could handle himself physically, but he seems to want to adhere to his new home’s laws. The most surreal moment though is Hayden walking to what he knows will be a showdown in the street armed with only a whaling harpoon. The image is one of the most bizarre things you’ll see in a Western. Other than that, the plot is fairly by-the-book with Cabot ultimately getting him and his crony dispatched in spectacular fashion. Still, it’s such an odd little film (in a good way) and Hayden is just magic in the role. Thanks go out to Philip Nutman for turning me onto this little gem!
3 out of 5 stars
It’s funny how films can find you when you need them most. For example, just the other day, I was bemoaning the fact that so few good ghost stories were getting made. Then, THE AWAKENING shows up in my mailbox. What we have here is a good, old fashioned spooky tale set in a boy’s school featuring all the archetypes: ghost debunker (played by Rebecca Hall) – check, frightened kids telling late night stories – check, a lantern-jawed love interest (played by Dominic West) – check… spooky housekeeper (played by HARRY POTTER’s Imelda Staunton), and the list goes on and on. Put THE AWAKENING on the shelf next to such terrific flicks as DORM, THE OTHERS, THE UNINVITED and THE ORPHANAGE. Word of warning though… the pace on this spooker is SLOW and the film ends in more of a stutter than a wam-bam finish. Completely rentable and recommended to those in need of a new riff on an old sub-genre.
A Man Called Magnum aka Napoli si Ribella
2.5 out of 5 stars
A fairly by-the-numbers Poliziotteschi directed by Michele Massimo Tarantini (MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY) and starring Luc Merenda (TORSO) who looks sorta like a young, short-haired David Lee Roth. The plot has something to do with some drugs that get stolen and some warring gangs, but it’s all kind of hard to keep straight. Gratuitous Fiat car chases later, we get some shoot-outs, some assassinations, and a few drug overdoses later, the plot winds up with little fanfare. Not anything close to what the sub-genre has to offer, but it’s not the worst of these I’ve seen. In the end, the film is perfectly serviceable, but not exactly a watermark either. Worthwhile viewing if you understand there are better Poliziotteschis out there.
The Fourth Kind
1 out of 5 stars
Sweet Baby Limpin' Jesus... What a shitpile this is. Where to begin? First... the film plays like an episode of something off of TLC or Discovery. It's poorly directed, bogged down by jerky, staticky video images, and populated by actors who look like they can't wait to get off set to call their agent to ask, "What is this shit you booked me on?" Second, the director uses this weird device where they show 2 people playing the same role (there's the actor and the supposed real person). The ploy comes off disjointed and confusing. Thirdly, the plot itself is so convoluted and contradictory. Are there aliens? Did they kill Milla’s husband or did she? What really happened to her kid? Did Milla kill her kid? What's her son's problem? Why is the cop such a complete dick? Sadly, this crap created a bit of a stir when it came out, but thankfully audiences were smart enough to not buy it for too long.... unlike that OTHER crapfest, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY which has more than a few sequels. Avoid this one, kids.
Death Haunts Monica aka La Muetre Ronda a Monica
2 out of 5 stars
A wealthy woman is implicated in a series of murders in this bloodless murder thriller from 1976. Acting is universally good and features Nadiuska (Conan’s mom in John Milius’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN) and giallo stalwart (and Alain Delon look-alike) Jean Sorel (BELLE DE JOUR, DAY OF THE JACKAL) as focal points. Director Ramon Fernandez (LAS LADRONAS VAN A LA OFICINA) does little to raise the proceedings above melodrama, but there are a few moments that make the trip sorta worth it. The plot rolls out agreeably (the film almost begins almost like an Italian romantic sex comedy), but soon devolves into cliché (think DIABOLIQUE or REFLECTIONS OF MURDER and you’re not too far afield) and a stumbling tale of murder, infidelity, and revenge. It should be said that DEATH HAUNTS MONICA is distinctly not the giallo it is presented as - it’s pretty ‘by the book’ thriller instead. That all said… Nadiuska is beautiful and there is lots of casual, ‘big bush’ nudity and awkward lesbianism to keep things visually interesting. The film suffers from the familiarity of its plot though. I mean, hasn’t everyone seen DIABOLIQUE and know how it all ends? Anyway, the film meanders along until its inevitable and wholly expected (and overly explained) conclusion. Notable solely for Nadiuska’s presence and as another example of murder thrillers being made in Spain in the mid-‘70s.
The Crimes of Petiot aka Los Crimenes de Petiot
1.75 out of 5 stars
Spanish auteur Paul Naschy (NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF) stars in this meandering and empty murder thriller from director Jose Luis Madrid (SEVEN MURDERS FOR SCOTLAND YARD, VAMPIRE OF THE HIGHWAY). Billed as a giallo, but clearly isn’t one… CRIMES tells the story of a killer who is stalking a group of people and killing them. Based on the true tale of Marcel Petiot, a man they found 26 bodies on his property and suspected him in the deaths of nearly 60 others, CRIMES is a bloodless and very dated-looking affair which is boring from its first frame and it doesn’t get much better as it rolls its story out. The film’s direction is uninspired and lacks any imagination or creativity. Basically, a police procedural that takes wild off-ramps to tell a second – equally boring – story of Petiot and his deeds, the main gripe against CRIMES is that it is soulless. Characters are introduced only so that they might be murdered, never giving the audience enough time or information to get to a) know them or b) care about them. And so, by the time the killer is revealed, no one really cares. Cinematography is shit. Acting is wooden. FX… nearly non-existent. Heck, even the overly-long flashback does little to alleviate the boredom. The story meanders along until its inevitable and wholly unsurprising ending. Overall all, CRIMES OF PETIOT is a minor entry in the meandering career of Paul Naschy. Uninteresting… pedantic… and is only important as a footnote in an otherwise spotty career. Recommended for Naschy freaks ONLY!
Marquis De Sade's Prosperities of Vice (aka Akutoku No Sakae aka Vice Amply Rewarded)
2.5 out of 5 stars
Director Akio Jissoji (ULTRAMAN, TOKYO: THE LAST MEGALOPOLIS, THE WATCHER IN THE ATTIC, RAMPO NOIR) goes all “artsy-fartsy” with this adaptation of a tale by The Marquis de Sade. The film is beautifully shot and has a few sequences that are absolutely breathtaking, however it suffers greatly by being so self-aware and pretentious that it’s drained of any sort of coherent story. Reminiscent of films like Shuji Terayama’s FRUITS OF PASSION and Stephen Sayadian’s CAFÉ FLESH (only not as good), PROSPERITIES OF VICE all too soon becomes chatty and winds up being “too much sizzle and not enough steak.” The story wanders and is hard to follow, the sex scenes are uninteresting and banal. It’s porn made by people who don’t make porn, a bondage film made by people who don’t understand the dynamic of bondage. When one comes to a film with a title such as this, we expect perversity, depravity, nudity, and some severely twisted shit. Instead, we get a film that is talky and uninteresting other than in the visual sense. Again, there are some beautiful sequences here, but much like the director’s RAMPO NOIR, it all never seems to pay off in a satisfying manner. A worthwhile rental for those interested in its imagery. However, I think it will simply confuse and annoy most viewers.
Hunchback of the Morgue
2.5 out of 5 stars
Paul Naschy stars in this wonky tale of a hunchback, a mad doctor, some assorted unpleasant characters, and a blobbish man-thing that eats people. Naschy skulks about while people call him “ape,” “gorilla,” and “ugly,” but he’s only himself bent over with what looks like a pillow on his back. There’s some nonsense going on about this mad doctor promising to bring Naschy’s dead girlfriend back to life, but it’s just a minor diversion. In the end, HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE is a nominal amusement with some decent sets, a few good gore scenes, and a almost incomprehensible script. Naschy fans will dig it. Non-fans will just be confused and a little bit impatient.
Born of Fire
2.5 out of 5 stars
You know those films which have you scratching your head WAY passed the time the final credits roll? Y’know… films like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973), EL TOPO (1970), Andrzej Zulawski’s NA SREBRNYM GLOBIE aka ON THE SILVER GLOBE (1988) and Federico Fellini’s SATYRICON (1969)… to name a few. Anyway, BORN OF FIRE is one of those. Filled with absolutely stunning imagery, but a completely overly-convoluted and confusing script, the film certainly is pretty to look at. No one can deny that. The problem is… the pace is painfully slow and the narrative so utterly confounding that it’s really hard to figure out what’s what. Directed by Jamil Dehlavi (INFINITE JUSTICE, JINNAH), the film stars Peter Firth (EQUUS, LIFEFORCE, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER) and Suzan Crowley (THE DEVIL INSIDE) and a host of unknowns who all do a solid job, but again, the script is so surreal and meandering that it’s really hard to keep all the mythos straight. Fans of Jodorowsky, Lynch, and their ilk will eat this up with a biscuit. My complaint with the film is that I would have preferred a little more linear storytelling as well as the beautiful imagery.
Un Flic (aka Dirty Money aka The Cop)
2.75 out of 5 stars
In this, Jean-Pierre Melville’s last movie, we get a nearly silent film which details two robberies - one which takes place in a bank, and the other which is an elaborate heist aboard a moving train. The first, which happens in the beginning moments of the film, is a tense little exercise so well done that it bodes well for the rest of the film. The second shows a brilliant filmmaker clearly being hobbled by a low budget. The story is that of a cop played by Alain Delon (LE SAMOURAI) who is having an affair with Catherine Deneuve (THE HUNGER, REPULSION) who is his best friend’s girl. Unbeknownst to the cop, his best friend, played by Richard Crenna (THE EVIL, RAMBO), is a thief of the highest order. Anyway, the story rattles along and is a little on the slow side, spending far too much run time on the little shit (ie, guys packing briefcases with dope, changing clothes, putting money into sacks, etc) which bogs the proceedings down immeasurably. The worst of it though is the aforementioned train heist with its blatant use of miniature sets and model trains & helicopters sitting in for the real thing. It is unconvincing and looks like the train should have Lionel on the side of it. In the end, the film is just ok… but it is diminished when you factor in this filmmaker’s filmography. I mean, Melville made ARMY OF SHADOWS, LE CERCLE ROUGE, LE DOULOS, BOB LE FLAMBEUR, and LE SAMOURAI for chrissakes! Compared to those films, this is an absolute travesty. Recommended mostly for Melville completists, but heist movie fans may find a thing or two to hold their interest here. Look for the great character actor, Michael Conrad (HILL STREET BLUES, THE LONGEST ROAD) in a small role as The Driver/Helicopter Pilot.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
3 out of 5 stars
Director Oz Perkins (who made BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER and worked as an actor on films like SECRETARY and LEGALLY BLONDE) directs this slowly-paced, but beautifully shot ghost story from Netflix about a hospice nurse who comes to an isolated house to care of an aging horror writer. Like most good ghost stories, the narrative takes its time to develop and ultimately come to its conclusion, so viewers must be patient and stay attentive to “get” all the hints and implications of the story. In a weird way, the film becomes a sort of ‘ghost story within a ghost story” as we get a bit of the history of the house via ethereal flashback. Cinematography is VERY ‘old school’ in that the camera is sedentary, leaving characters to wander in and out of shots and making the audience silent – and immovable – observers to the drama. In other words, by locking the audience to a spot, they’re not sure where the scare is going to come from… only that it is going to come at them. As a result, a lot of time is spent waiting and fearing things known only to the audience's imagination. It's an effective ploy. The film stars Ruth Wilson (LUTHER, LONE RANGER), Bob Balaban (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND), and a beautifully under-stated performance by screen veteran Paula Prentiss (STEPFORD WIVES), PRETTY THING is acted with great subtlety utilizing long, silent shots of the actors staring directly into the camera and making small facial expressions that betray mood. The feel of the film is reminiscent of Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING and the narrative draws heavily from that film. There is a narration that, like a lot of narrations, hobbles the flow of the storytelling and draws the audience’s attention away from what’s happening on screen. Luckily, said narration is wonderfully written and falls lovely on the ear. The ending stumbles a tad, but still manages to work. Overall, many will find I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE far too slow and pedantic, but for those with the patience (and who are used to more leisurely-paced fare), they will find a beautiful and enchanting tale.