Thursday, June 30, 2016

Rasing Cain (1992)

Raising Cain (1992) 

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

I had caught Raising Cain a few years back when IFC Center did a small series of Brian De Palma films as their midnight movies.  I got to catch a bunch there during that series, and my general rule is to go home, go to IMDb and rate the movie and read up on it.  This way I can both have a record of what I have seen, and whether I enjoyed it or not.  When you see 400+ films a year in theaters, many can just get lost in your brain, or you remember liking something you really didn't, or vice versa.  This was one I watched, but had no rated, and could not for the life of me remember if I enjoyed it or hated it.  So this was the perfect opportunity to see it again, and rate it this time around!

At the very least, this time around I thoroughly enjoyed Raising Cain.  Touching on many of the same points and areas De Palma has visited before, we have sex, infidelity, love, family, paranoia, multiple personalities, cross dressing, baby carriages, frame ups, murder, cops, doctors, children, confusion and insanity, both in characters and in plot.  John Lithgow stars as a father who is having some issues with his family, both married and blood related.  Giving away any more of the plot would be like tasting your food for you, so I won't bother.  If you enjoy the craziness that only Brian De Palma can serve you, then this is worth a visit, even if you end up hating it.  

In some ways this was a return to form for De Palma.  Not only did he use John Lithgow for the third time, and Steven Bauer and Gregg Henry for multiple times, he revisits so many former movie tropes of his the word multiple starts to become the whole theme of the movie.  This is what I would call his last very good thriller, as the others that have come since then, like Passion and Femme Fatale fell flat and were not worthy of his directing skill.  He also had one very good drama after this one, Carlito's Way, but that is a completely different animal.  

Although this movie is no Dressed To Kill or Body Double, it is about as good or better than Sisters, and has now been added to my very good pile of De Palma's works.  The music in this one is by Pino Donaggio, who also did the music for Body Double.  There is also another one of De Palma's long continuous takes, 4+ minutes of walking down to the morgue with a doctor.  All in all, for a director who is mining his own work once again, he does a great job of making it entertaining, at the very least!

8 out of 10 stars. 

Led Zeppelin Played Here (2014)

Led Zeppelin Played Here (2014)

In 1986 Jeff Krulik and a friend took some video equipment out from their jobs to test it out and see what they could do.  They went to a Judas Priest concert, and hung out in the parking lot with the metalheads who got there early to party and hang out before the show.  What they left with ended up becoming a 17 minute short called Heavy Metal Parking Lot, one of the most bootlegged tapes in the history of the world.

Jeff went on to direct this documentary on the possibility of one of the biggest bands in the world playing a tiny show in a school gym for 50 people one night in 1969.  The premise of this documentary is simple.  One guy, a promoter from long ago, claims he was the first person to book Led Zeppelin in a school gym in 1969.  He says maybe 50 people showed up, and he had to throw the band and manager some extra money just so they could make it to their next gig.  Unfortunately, there seems to be no record of this show, no pictures, and no actual documentation.  Is the guy wrong?  Is he lying?  Is there something else possibly going on?

The movie includes interviews with many people who lived in the area and went to many of the shows in the area, especially at that school.  There are many instances of bands playing early gigs at the school, and pictures and documentation to prove so.  If that is the case, why none for Led Zeppelin?  Well, the film posits many different theories, and interviews tons of people about this possible show.

The amount of digging that went on to find a possible confirming fact is pretty insane.  All kinds of people are interviewed, pictures are scoured through, ads in newspapers, chats with promoters, record company execs, even some of Led Zeppelin themselves!  What this ends up amounting to is a vast story about the early days of pre-internet rock and roll, when deals were made over the phone with no paperwork, and sometimes all you had as a promise was a handshake.

The interviews are fun, the pictures amazing, the stories insane, and all in all this movie has a lot going for it.  Instead of just sticking with Led Zeppelin, we hear stories about Iggy Pop and The Stooges, The Who, Spirit, and many other groups who were touring the circuit those days.  We see posters, ticket stubs, contracts and documents.  We meet people who were there, and whose memories might be a bit confused, but nonetheless are fascinating.

The bad part for me was I missed the first 10-15 minutes of this movie, as I was coming from another movie not too far away, but just far enough to delay me a bit.  Feel free to send me a copy Jeff!  Otherwise I fully enjoyed both the movie and the post movie chat Jeff gave regarding the film and the people in it.  He is an entertaining guy.  One other unfortunate thing is that this movie, while playing the festivals once in a while, will probably never be properly released due to licensing issues.  This is one of those examples when a fair use license would come in handy, so movies of a historical nature like this one can be released for the good of all the world, where giant rock stars and companies can forego the large fees they would normally charge to allow works of art to prosper and be seen by more people.  Considering the recent Led Zeppelin lawsuit, it would be nice if they paid it forward and let a guy like Jeff release his film with their music in it.

8 out of 10 stars. 

Carnage Park (2016)

Carnage Park (2016)
I got to see an advance screening of this film at IFC Center here in NYC.  Written and directed by Mickey Keating, this film felt 100% different from the last film of his I saw, called Darling.  Darling was a small production, taking place almost exclusively in a building in Manhattan.  It was black and white, simple, and more like a modern day Repulsion.  This movie is as different from that as possible.  This movie was of a much larger budget, the set being an expansive desert, and the colors and production much more grand.  In fact the whole movie was on a grand scale, most likely an attempt to prove that small indie movies can feel like larger productions on a small budget.

In this Tarantino-esque crime/action/horror movie, the plot is reminiscent of many different movies, with two guys on the run from the law after robing a bank.  They take a female hostage and they end up in what looks like what Leatherface and his family would build if they were in the desert and wanted to have an amusement park of horrors.

The bulk of this movie falls on the shoulders of Ashley Bell, who is best known as Nell in the Last Exorcism movies, the first and the sequel.  She does a fine job of being angry, scared, tired, and worn out all while running through the desert in a cute dress.  She is good in this role, and I am sure she will be acting for a long while.  The psychopath to her damsel in distress is played by Pat Healy, who is channeling his inner Dale Gribble, psycho mode.  Or your creepy uncle who talks of God and America and conspiracies who you desperately want to get away from at the family picnic.  Larry Fessenden, NYC actor, director and producer, has a cameo as well.  Lastly, we are treated with a supporting role by Alan Ruck, best known as Ferris Bueller's best friend. 

The directing is good, though at times you feel like the movie is trying to be some other movie, but as time goes on it works through that and feels like its own movie.  The cinematography is beautiful, all the shots look amazing, the desert has never been more creepy.  One of the most amazing things about this movie is the soundtrack and sound design.  Using at least one song I recognized, a couple that sounded like they may be trying to sound like other songs, and these weird sounding Thai pop songs that  sound like they are from the 1960s, it all blends together with the sound effects, desert sounds, and creepy laughter to form one of the best sound mixes I have heard in years.  In a couple years I may not remember much of the movie, but the sounds will be in my head for a long time.

After the movie there was a Q&A with Ashley Bell and Larry Fessenden, moderated by Michael Gingold, former editor of Fangoria Magazine.  There were some fun stories told, a few laughs, and all in all it was an enjoyable evening.

7 out of 10 stars for the movie.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986)

Heavy Metal Parking Lot (1986)

Recently at Anthology Film Archives here in NYC, the two guys that made Heavy Metal Parking Lot showed up and brought many different films to show over a couple days.  I had always heard of Heavy Metal Parking Lot, for so many years.  I was a huge music fan, though not much of a metal fan at all, but this is one of those films that everyone had seen, and thought I should too. 

For those of you who do not know, in 1986 Judas Priest was playing at an arena in Maryland and these two guys had just gotten some video equipment at their jobs and decided to test it out by going out to the parking lot and interview some of the metalheads.  What happened next was a 30 year ongoing project that has become part of the culture of the heavy metal scene, and popular culture in general. 

Basically what you see is a ton of very drunk, fucked up, high and ready to rock teens and young adults hanging out and mugging for the camera.  This is when everyone didn't have a cell phone camera, and many people may have thought this was for MTV or some other outlet, so they really put on a show. 

The whole thing is hysterically funny but at the same time, it is very clear why I was not a metal fan, as these were the type of people I would avoid like the plague when I was younger.  They do not come off as highly intelligent, or motivated, and this is obviously the seed from which Wayne's World was born.  I was reminded of The Decline Of Western Civilization, where the first part was angry young punks, unhappy with the world they lived in, and unable to do much about it, so they got drunk and pissed off.  I can relate to that mentality, but when the second part came along, the one called The Metal Years, the fans of metal were nowhere near as intelligent or thoughtful, especially when drunk or high.  The difference between the two crowds is vast. 

All in all the whole presentation was enjoyable, as other than just the 17 minute original movie, they showed where are they now clips, and other things, like Neil Diamond Parking Lot, which they filmed in the same arena. 

8 out of 10 stars. 

The Bonfire Of The Vanities (1990)

 The Bonfire Of The Vanities (1990)

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

 Now here is one of his films that I, and many other people, did not catch when it came out.  Considered to be one of the worst large studio films ever made, along with Ishtar, this film is up there on the list of films I have been told to never bother with.  Which of course makes me want to see it all the more!

I have seen a lot of bad films in my day, and I am always surprised at what people consider bad.  To me, when you spend 250 million dollars on a Batman V Superman movie and it comes out long and boring and barely worth watching, I want to find Hollywood studio people and hurt them.  But then you have this film, which people say is so bad, yet I found it sort of funny and charming and fun to watch!  

The movie is adapted from a Tom Wolfe book of the same name, and since I do not read books before watching movies, I have no clue how well this was adapted, nor do I care to be honest.  The plot revolves around racism, greed, sex, lust, power and alcoholism.  It is a very cynical movie, and was probably an even more cynical book.  It has a lot of name talent in it, like Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith, Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman.  

One of the problems with the movie is most likely the large Hollywood studio that hired Brian De Palma to direct this.  He was not their first choice, and they hired a guy who likes to do things his way and forced him to do things their way.  That's never a good start.  Plus there were high expectations when it came to this release, which can often set things up for disaster.  The budget was high, for various reasons, and it would have had to have been a big hit to even break even, let alone make money.  

The first 5 minutes of this film are a film student's primer in how to make a scene amazing.  One continuous beautiful shot of a drunk Bruce Willis being led through the back corridors and elevators of the World Trade Center, on his way to his big moment.  Many people bring up his long shot in Carrie as an amazing film moment, this one rivals that in execution.  

While the tone of the film can be a bit odd at times, and the plot a bit insane, it never loses steam and moves along quite quickly.  De Palma once again decided to give an actress a less than appealing accent, here it is Melanie Griffith with a ridiculous southern accent, where as in Blow Out he gave Nancy Allen a terrible almost unlistenable accent which ruined the movie for me.  Thankfully he does not make Melanie Griffith that unappealing.  

As much hatred as this film gets, just like Ishtar, I do not understand why it is hated to the degree it is.  I found the film an enjoyable slightly messy ride that entertained me the whole way through.  Is it a classic?  No, far from it.  But it is not this shit show that others claim it to be.  Keep an open mind and enjoy the ride!

7 out of 10 stars. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Casualties Of War (1989)

Casualties Of War (1989)

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

I had actually caught this one many years ago, and I remembered not being thrilled with this movie, for many reasons.  Now, generally speaking, I am not a big fan of war movies, but I don't hate them all, but it is a genre I am generally not very interested in.  That being said, even without that there is much in this movie that I was not a fan of.  

First and foremost, let's clear something up right away.  This is based on a true story that happened in 1966.  Please keep in mind that the criticism of the movie or characters do NOT reflect any criticism on the actual people or situations that actually went on.  I have not read the original story nor do I have any other information than what was presented in the movie.  

Let's start with the acting.  First off, everyone seemed to do a good job except Michael J. Fox.  I am sure he wanted this to be his serious role, and he is not a bad actor by any means, but he is way out of his league on this one.  Everyone else did a fine job, but he was just so weak and did not really seem like a soldier at all.  Plus it is really hard to see in a serious role like this, he needed to change his look or maybe play a bad guy, not the same nice guy he always plays.  

Now, the story is basically one of those many stories about how bad wars are, how we aren't necessarily in the country for the right reasons, and how war turns normal men into raving psychopaths who can really do some horrible things.  Somehow a group of soldiers loses their sanity after one of their own is killed and decide to go out and kidnap a young girl from a village since they are denied leave one night.  The plan is to rape her and get back at these people they are supposed to be helping.  Of course, there are a ton of complex issues at hand here, which can barely even be mentioned in a movie of less than 2 hours, but that is one of the reasons these movies fail so often.  

Michael J. Fox's character is very much against this idea, but the other guys who have been there longer and are more disturbed seem to be all for it.  The newest guy to join their group isn't down with it either, but he succumbs to peer pressure when he sees how much abuse Michael J. Fox is getting.  

The sadness and melodrama is laid on thick in this movie, and of course the real life story of this is heartbreaking and terrible.  But it does not come across as honest or real in the movie, it really comes off as a Hollywood version of the events.  Ugly, yes, but Hollywood ugly.  It just feels fake, which to me is worse than not making the movie at all.  Oddly enough, Brian De Palma first referenced this event at the end of his movie Greetings in 1968, but in a comedic fashion, which was more his style back in those times.  His comedies from them were witty, angry, and satirical.  Personally I can identify more with that angle than playing this out as a serious yet terrible tale.  

The odd thing about this movie, and remember I am talking about the movie events, is that even though Michael J. Fox is playing the "good" guy, I feel like he actually made things worse for this girl by turning into a me against them situation.  Was it wrong?  Of course it was wrong, that is not a question that needs to be asked.  But the question that needs to be asked is, when something is wrong, how do we deal with it?  His method came off as counterproductive in my mind.  He was not going to stop this rape in any way, it was clear to anyone while watching the movie.  But he could have made it so she could have ended up in a better situation.  

All in all this movie is another one of many "bad things happen during wartime" movies that flooded Hollywood at some point.  I respect De Palma for trying to make this movie for 20 years, and finally getting a chance to do it.  Unfortunately I do not feel like the end result is something that was above and beyond many of the other better executed war movies I have seen.  I was left feeling disappointed and like the end result was not very good.  

By far not the worst movie I have ever seen, but I expect way more from De Palma than this.  

6 out of 10 stars. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Swiss Army Man (2016)

Swiss Army Man (2016)

On Tuesday, June 21st of 2016, I run into The Metrograph in NYC to buy upcoming tickets to a move that is showing there in a few days.  For those of you that don't know, The Metrograph is a new theater in NYC, that has two theaters, a bookstore that stocks only books about films and actors, and a restaurant.  I have been told it is owned by a fashion designer, and it looks less like a beautiful theater of the past as much as a hipster style sparse but fashionable venue.  The screens are big and the larger theater has a balcony, and the seats look really nice and are made from re-purposed wood from The Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn.  If they were half as comfortable as they looked my back would be very appreciative.  The staff are exceedingly nice, which makes up for the massive hipster vibe and the fact that almost everyone that works there looks like they could model, or do model.  At least half the clientele also look like models, and I have already caught a few celebrities there.  One of the things they do is rent out the upstairs restaurant area for parties and gatherings, usually filled with industry and hipster people, and models.  If you are at all put off by this vibe this place could be hell for you, but personally it doesn't really bother me as long as people are nice and I can still look like I might be homeless.

So when I wander in there the other night and they are having another one of these parties, I do not really take much notice.  I scan the room and quickly see a bunch of industry people mingling/schmoozing, and a bevy of "hot" women wearing high heels and too much make up.  But something seems off.  There are two done up blondes sitting on either side of a guy on one of the fancy looking love seats that adorn the waiting area.  They are posing for pictures with this guy who seems, umm, off, to say the least.  If I saw him sitting next to a building with a bottle in his hand, I would assume he was an alcoholic, or maybe a drug addict.  Although he is wearing a suit, something is wrong with him.  He is either highly intoxicated, high as a kite, sick as a dog, or has some sort of disability, as he is sitting like a young Stephen Hawking looking like he might keel over at any moment.  This being NYC, I notice it, but in all reality this is not something I haven't seen before, so I could just as easily been on my way and never found out what was going on.

I make small talk with the girl printing up my tickets, and mention the event that is going on.  She says yes, this is for the new Daniel Radcliffe movie coming out, and points to the guy on the love seat and tells me that it is a dummy of him dead from the new movie.  At least now I know he isn't about to drop dead, he is already dead!  I make my way through the crowd of models to check him out, and sure enough, now I can see the resemblance to the actor who once played Harry Potter.  This is a worn out, beat up, been through hell version, in a rumpled suit and sitting in a position that I sometimes have to sit in while watching a movie in this theater, due to those pretty but uncomfortable seats.  I snap a few pictures and I am on my way to whatever movie I was going to that night.

                                                           Fast forward 5 days and I am looking to see what I need to get tickets for that might sell out soon, as the New York Asian Film Festival is going on, and there are a few movies I want to catch.  Sunday nights are usually quiet when it comes to the older and more interesting (to me) films are showing, so my girlfriend and I tend to catch newer releases on Sunday nights, if we have a chance.  I know we both wanted to catch Independence Day, the sequel, and a couple other films that are out right now, but I try to avoid the big movies opening weekend, if I can.  I see a listing for Swiss Army Man, and I do a quick read of the plot to see what it is about.  Curiously enough, it is the new Daniel Radcliffe film that the dummy was from.  I tend to try to avoid as much info as I can about movies I haven't seen, I do not watch trailers if possible, and I only glance at reviews, especially ones that give away too much away.  I read that this movie is about a guy that gets marooned on a desert island, and finds a corpse and it becomes his new best friend.  I also read that it was made by The Daniels, which is a duo of directors who have previously made music videos.  I am a big fan of some of the Spike Jonze films, who also started off as a director of music videos, so with only that information I decide we should see this film.  My girlfriend ended up watching the trailer before as well, and agreed we should see it.

With something I know I am going to that is a bit different, I try and keep an open mind, and since I know very little about this film I was ready for just about anything.  And what I got was definitely NOT what I expected, at least in terms of my enjoyment level.  I hoped if I was lucky I might get to see an amusing film with a few laughs and an interesting plot.  What I got was a great film, one that was both ridiculous, silly, insane, and funny, yet somehow heartfelt, emotional, sad, intelligent, and one of the best, if not the best film I have seen this year.  I am pretty shocked to be this moved by what is essentially what seems like a crude comedy with a message.

I am going to skip the basic plot, I mentioned more than enough earlier, and to be honest, any description of this plot may come off a juvenile, silly, or make this movie sound like a throwaway, and it is not that at all.  It is one of the most intelligent and aware films I have ever seen, and one that I may have to catch again very soon just to see how it holds up on repeated viewings.

I will say just a bit more about this film.  The acting is first class, the effects are very good, the cinematography and lighting and artwork and design in this movie are amazing, and the soundtrack and score are beautiful and this is probably the first soundtrack I have heard in years where I wished I could walk down the block and just buy it after the movie.

I give this one a very high 8 out of 10 stars, which may become a 9 out of 10 on repeated viewings. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cosmos (2015)

Cosmos (2015)

In 1981 Andrzej Zulawski directed a fucked up horror film called Possession starring Isabelle Adjani.  It's one of those crazy movies that doesn't exactly make sense, but you end up loving it anyways.  Granted, I love Isabelle, so it's hard not to like anything she is in, but the film is also amazing.  So when I heard the director died, I was sad.  But I was happy to hear he directed one last film before he left the earth.  So I was excited to see this playing at The Metrograph this week. 

The plot involved a family who rent out rooms in their house to tourists and people who need a place to stay.  Two guys who are traveling together decide to rent a couple rooms there, and they immediately become involved with the family.  Everything is a bit off in this film, everyone seems to have some disorder, issue, problem, etc etc.  At times it seems nonsensical, and many times characters, especially the main one, are referencing writers and books, so there may have been some things lost to me since I haven't read those books.  That being said, my entertainment level is not usually affected by my lack of knowing everything that is going on, as long as I feel I get the general gist of what is happening.  Unfortunately that was not the case with this movie.  I really felt sort of in the dark for much of it, and it made me sad as I both wanted to like this, and wanted to understand it as well. 

Most of the performances come off as wacky or even slightly mental, and at times it just felt like there was too much going on and everything was being thrown at you at once.  The acting was good, and the characters amusing at times, and the sets were beautiful and the filming was amazing.  But overall I just couldn't get into it.  The ending was even worse than the rest for me, and I felt very disappointed and unhappy by the end of it.  Considering it was the last film he made, I was hoping it to be a celebration, rather than a funeral.  Maybe one day I will be able to decipher what this movie was about.

6 out of 10 stars. 

Bury Me An Angel (1972)

Bury Me An Angel (1972)

Another one of the movies shown during Film Forum's recent Genre Is A Woman series in NYC, this one is a movie I had never heard of.  A female written and directed biker exploitation film, whose plot revolves around the revenge of a sister who watched her brother get shot and killed. 

The main action happens in the first couple of minutes, setting up the film for the next 85 minutes of talking about revenge, planning revenge, and trying to execute said revenge.  Other than a lot of talking, there is camping, drinking, bar fighting, threatening, skinny dipping and love making.  Until the final climactic scene when out of nowhere, PLOT TWIST!!!!

The movie drags in a few places, and not a ton happens, but it is a fun film to watch and there is an appearance by Dan Haggerty, the star of The Life And Times Of Grizzly Adams, a movie and TV show where he co-starred with a bear. 

There is of course some very typical 1970s nudity, and a soundtrack by a band that sound very much of its time.  There are also some nice anti-establishment themes running throughout this film.  Did I mention witchcraft as well? 

All in all, if you don't come in expecting too much, this movie is a fun little 90 minutes or so. 

7 out of 10 stars. 

Streets (1990)

Streets (1990)

Film Forum in NYC did a festival called Genre Is A Woman, where they showed many genre films directed by women.  Unfortunately, this fell at the same time as the Brian De Palma retrospective, so I did not get to see most of the 30+ films they showed.  Luckily I had already seen more than 5 of them, so I didn't miss as many as I could have.  Plus I did get a chance to see a couple, this being one of them.

Streets is a 1990 Christina Applegate film I had never heard of.  It was a pretty standard film, kids living on the street, the day to day struggles.  Added in for extra effect is a killer cop who seems to be a raving psychopath that somehow goes unnoticed by the force.  Christina runs afoul of him and pisses him off, so he hunts her down.  On her side she has a newly homeless kid trying to make it to Hollywood to become a rock star. 

Much of the film is actually well acted, and pretty accurate when it comes to life on the streets.  I have known many a homeless kid, and the issues she has were the same issues they had.  Though most of them were not hunted by a crazed cop. 

The film is sweet, cute, depressing and has some decent suspense and action in it.  I was a little surprised I had never heard of it at all, but some films just slip by you.  Christina Applegate gets closest to a nude scene in this one, some side boob and fondling done by the very lucky actor who plays alongside her. 

All in all I enjoyed this, 8 out of 10 stars.  I probably upped this a star just for my love of Christina!

Wise Guys (1986)

Wise Guys (1986)

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

Well, it had to happen, I knew I was going to find one movie of Brian De Palma that I hated, and this would be the one.  Having now caught 26 out of his 29 movies, I suspect I will not find one I dislike more than this one.  Not only is it his worst comedy of the 7 he has done, it is his worst movie overall.  Not only does this not come across as a Brian De Palma film, it just fails on almost every level possible.  The only good thing I can say is that I thought Captain Lou Albano's performance was way better than I could have expected.  Danny DeVito played the same Danny DeVito character he usually does, only he wasn't funny in this.  Joe Piscopo is bad as well, though I had no expectations for him to be otherwise.  Harvey Keitel plays a throw away role, and the rest of the cast is just sort of there.  

It is especially a shame to see this movie just a month or so after seeing the wonderful, yet similar gangster comedy Johnny Dangerously, written by the same guy.  I do not know if this is the fault of the cast, the director, or something else, but it is amazing how far apart they are in entertainment value while mining the same area.  Joe Piscopo was the weakest part of Johnny Dangerously, but in Wise Guys, he's bad, but not so much worse than everyone else.  

The plot follows two low level mob guys who grow up best friends in Newark New Jersey.  One is Jewish, the other Italian.  Both do not seem too bright, and both get a fair amount of abuse in the movie.  When one of them hatches a plan to use the boss' money to gamble on a horse, things do not go too well and now they are wanted men.  

I really do not want to go on and on about how bad this was, but you can tell from almost the first seconds, as the opening credits roll, how bad this will be.  From the lame opening song, the super lame credit sequence that seems straight out of a bad mid 1980s TV show on an off network, it all just doesn't work.  Even the jokes are visible from a mile away, and not funny when they do arrive.  I was really shocked at how bad this was.  

I do not know why this movie ended up this bad, but all I know is that it will most likely forever be the low point for me in the career of Brian De Palma.

4 out of 10 stars.   

The Thoughts That Once We Had (2015)

The Thoughts That Once We Had (2105)

Anthology Film Archives recently premiered this film in New York City, and did a retrospective of the director's work as well.  Thom Andersen is a director, film critic and teacher who has been working in film since 1965.  He is probably best known for his award winning documentary called Los Angeles Plays Itself. 

This film is a based on French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s writings on movies.  It uses clips from many different films, past and present, to illustrate its points.  Some of these clips are amazing, and many of them I haven't seen before.  The films is broken up into different sections based on chapters in the book, and it can be pretty interesting at times.  There is some wonderful war footage as well, some with Hitler visiting France as well.

Although it does drag a bit during a few segments, and the lack of credits for the clips on screen can make you a bit frustrated, this is an intriguing document of the history of film.  Unfortunately I did not get to check out any of his other works this time around, but would love to in the future.

7 out of 10 stars. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Salvation!: Have You Said Your Prayers Today? (1987)

Salvation!: Have You Said Your Prayers Today? (1987)

The Metrograph in NYC has been showing a bunch of Beth B movies, as well as her new documentary about her artist mother called Call Her Applebroog.  Beth B is an independent filmmaker who has been making movies since 1978.  I had previously caught her movie called Vortex, last year at BAM, something I had wanted to see for many years due to my interest in the star of that one, Lydia Lunch.

Salvation was of interest to me for other reasons, one, the star Exene from the band X.  Two, a very early performance by Viggo Mortensen, and three, Dominique Davalos, the very sexy co star who was also the lead singer in Dominatrix, who had a huge 1980s club hit called The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight, a nod to The Lion Sleep Tonight.  Beth B also directed their music video, which was banned by MTV and other places, just as the song had been banned by many a radio station as well.  You can check out that video here:

The fourth reason was the fact that New Order, one of my favorites 1980s bands, did much of the soundtrack as well.  So I finally got my chance to catch this on the big screen.

The plot is fairly simple, Exene plays a housewife who loves to watch and send money to a television evangelist. Viggo is her husband, Dominique is her sister.  They devise a plan to hook up Dominique with the preacher and get him to add Exene to his show as a singer, so they can all get rich.

Over acting abounds in this movie, with much screaming and fanfare.  The writing is not particularly good or witty, and in many instances crude and unformed.  There is much more that could have been had in this movie, so much more room for plot, irony, intrigue, or just plain old fun.  But they had a minimal budget, much of it probably being spent on locations like The Limelight or the Brooklyn Navy Yards.  Plus that soundtrack must not have been super cheap.

Even with all these flaws, the movie was fun for someone who is familiar with the actors involved, the locations or the music.  This is more of a kind of movie where you enjoy it regardless of its flaws, IF, and this is a big if, you can get into this sort of thing.  As a time capsule of the era, and a look at indie filmmaking oh so long ago, this is a fun one to watch.

7 out of 10 stars. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Pet Sematary (1989)

Pet Sematary (1989)

Another one of the many Stephen King adaptations that are currently playing for IFC Center's weekend midnight series in NYC.  I have never been a hugs fan of most of the movies made from his books, so I never go in expecting too much,but I had been told by so many people that this was one of the really good ones.

Most people are very aware of the plot, so I will be brief.  Family moves to a new town, right near a pet cemetery.  Pet dies, neighbor tells the Dad where to bury it so it will come back.  Bad things start to happen.  Nothing mind blowing about this plot, so it is all up to the execution (so to speak) to either make or break this film.

The lead actors who play the Mom and Dad are pretty terrible, they scream TV ACTOR all over them.  There is no subtlety here.  The children are good enough, and the other actors are OK but only one actor stands out, and that is Fred Gwynne, who plays the neighbor.  He is the only light in this band of mediocre actors. 

The direction is fine, but nothing great by any means.  The sets are OK, but nothing special.  The whole movie is nothing special at all.  It just hangs there, leaving you screaming at the screen at how stupid each and every one of the characters act.  I was told how the sister in this movie would really freak me out, and it literally did nothing for me, I was so bored by that point.  Maybe it would have been scary if there had been some suspense through out, but by the time we reached this portion I was ready for this to wrap up.

As with most of the Stephen King horror movie adaptations, this one is a dud, too boring, predictable, and slow for my taste.  It seemed like it was made for a TV movie. 

6 out of 10 stars, not worth the time unless you really love the way his movies turn out. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dressed To Kill (1980)

 Dressed To Kill (1980)

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

At this moment, having seen most of the De Palma films he has directed, I can truly say this one is one of my favorites, if not my favorite.  It is a mix of so many things I enjoy in movies, let alone one of his movies.  I have now seen this at least 5 times, and will probably continue to see it once every few years to remind myself what an amazing film it is.  

The plot is your basic murder mystery with horror elements, nothing too far from what had already been done many times before.  But this is one of the pinnacles of this kind of film.  You have a woman who is brutally killed by a woman with a straight razor, an intelligent hooker who witnesses the crime, and a kid looking to find  out who killed his Mom.  

This is De Palma in his prime, 4 years after his masterpiece Carrie.  The actors were spot on in this film, from Nancy Allen, his wife at the time, to Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine, Keith Gordon and Dennis Franz.  I will not go into the plot, other than to say this is a horror movie that mixes in blood, humor, mystery, and sex in the mix.  Do not expect this to be a kid's movie.  

The directing is amazing, the shots perfect, the sets up wonderful, and it feels so well done that it is hard to believe that this was not the movie that he is most remembered for.  The sets are beautiful, the soundtrack score is great, and the whole mystery thing is played very well, so you really do feel the way the characters do in the film, confused and wondering who the killer is.  

9 out of 10 stars, a near perfect film, and most likely my #1 De Palms film of all time. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

High-Rise (2015)

High-Rise (2015)

In 1975 Cronenberg directed the movie Shivers.  It was about a high rise apartment building where the tenants end up going mad and turning into sex crazed beings.  At relatively the exact same time, the J.G. Ballard book High-Rise was released.  The two shared many similar themes, and while one could claim someone ripped someone off, they were both created around the same time in two different parts of the world.

While Cronenberg actually released a movie with these themes in 1975, for much of the time since the book was written people have called it impossible to turn into a movie, which of course is nonsense, it is just one of those movies where you know this is not going to appeal to a wide audience.  David Cronenberg had the exact same problem when he directed a movie based on J.G. Ballard's Crash, a movie about people being turned on by car accidents.  Of course Crash the movie (not to be mistaken for the Hollywood movie Crash having nothing to do with this version) was either a masterpiece or a complete piece of crap, depending on who you speak to.  Personally, I think Crash is an amazing movie, showing you how far you can go with a movie based on a book people call unfilmable.

High-Rise has some equally challenging problems, as it is part comedy part social commentary, part horror show, though not much more of a horror show than real life is.  The story takes place mostly at a newly constructed (and continually being constructed) apartment building that is a modern take on the perfect village.  The whole building is supposed to be very sleek, modern, efficient, and wonderful for everyone who lives there.  Of course, that may all depend on which floor you live on as well, as the richer more well off people live much higher up than the poorer less well off people.  As such, the higher floors get better service, more attention, nice fixtures, and sometimes electricity has to be diverted from the lower floors to make sure the higher floors have enough, leaving the lower floors feeling somewhat unhappy.

The book and movie are set in the mid 1970s, and the detail in the movie is pretty damned wonderful.  The clothing is great, the way people interact with each other, the jobs they do, all of it reflects the times they are in.  As things start to slowly fall apart, a kind of Lord Of The Flies anarchy sets in, and groups form, alliances are broken and reformed, and battles are fought.

While much of the movie has a very dark comic tone, there is also some drama, a fair amount of sex, and some very odd scenes.  Having not read the book, I cannot tell you whether or not they were just following the basic plot, or if having to leave out huge chunks due to the length of a book versus a movie contributed to the problem.  There are good performances in the movie, including Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons, and this was directed by Ben Wheatley, who also directed the very odd dark and twisted romantic comedy Sightseers that I caught a few years back.

Although I am positive this movie is not for everyone, or even most people, it is a very interesting and beautiful film, even when it is showing chaos and anarchy.  I feel like David Cronenberg in his prime would have directed a much better version of this, but that will never be.  I can't imagine anyone else taking this tale on, so this is what we have.  I wanted more, much more, but what I got wasn't terrible, just a bit unsatisfying.

7 out of 10 stars. 

92 In The Shade (1975)

92 In The Shade (1975)

Once a month Nitehawk Cinema hosts The Deuce, a 35mm film series devoted to showing films that were shown on 42nd Street in Times Square during its heyday.  This is the 34th showing in that series, and they were very lucky to get a near impossible to find print of this very rare movie. 

92 In The Shade stars Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Harry Dean Stanton, Margot Kidder, Burgess Meredith, Louise Latham, Joe Spinell, and Sylvia Miles.  It is one of those laid back 70s movies that could only have been made during this era.  After Easy Rider became a huge hit, many movies were made with the thought that they might be able to have similar success.  Many counterculture movies, no matter how odd, were made, and many have been mostly forgotten.  This is one that has been out of circulation for many years, originally it was available on VHS, but there has been no proper DVD, although one is just about to come out any day now. 

The story is based on a book by Thomas McGuane, who also was allowed to direct this film.  He has written the screenplay or the novel for 7 full length movies, but this was the only directing job for him, to no surprise.  The plot of the movie revolves around some guys who work in the Florida Keys as fishing guides in their small boats.  These are small motorized boats which can take out a few people at most, for a day of fishing.  Harry Dean Stanton and Warren Oates are the two main guys, and Peter Fonda wants to join their ranks and try his hand at the job.  They of course do not want him to as there is not that many customers to go around, and they do not want to share their portion of the pie with a younger less jaded newcomer. 

The older guys play a prank on the younger guy, who retaliates in what seems to be an overly aggressive way.  After that, Oates says he will shoot Fonda if he tries to be a fishing guide.  Most of the rest of the movie revolves around the will he or won't he shoot him idea.  There are some subplots involving Margot Kidder as Fonda's boyfriend, Burgess Meredith as his grandfather, Harry Dean Stanton's wife and her shopping obsession, and a bit more as well.  Keep an eye out for Joe Spinell (of Maniac fame) as the customer near the end of the film. 

The movie is a haphazard lazy feeling kind of movie, not just due to the heat, but the directing and plot as well.  It can be funny at times, especially when Burgess Meredith is on the screen, and the guy who plays Fonda's dad is pretty amusing as well.  Margot Kidder looks pretty damned good, as do her boobs which never see a bra in this whole movie. 

All in all this is not a bad movie by any means, it's just not a good movie either.  It was enjoyable enough, especially to see a young Harry Dean Stanton and the great Warren Oates.  Did I mention Margot Kidder's braless boobs?  If you get the DVD you get both endings, as they filmed an alternate ending for some reason, though I am a bit skeptical on the reasons for it.  I would love to know the full story of that.

7 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Dionysus in '69 (1970)

Dionysus in '69 (1970) 

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

I got to see this last week during a chunk of movies which I have yet to review.   Sometimes I just see to many in a day or week!  This one is an oddity, as it is not exactly a movie, as much as a document of a particular performance during a particular time when something like this could happen.  Brian De Palma had used William Finley, who he met in school, in Muder A La Mod, and The Wedding Party, both of which he had filmed previously.  He had lost touch with Finley and someone told him about this performance that The Performance Group were putting on live in downtown Manhattan.  Finley was in it, and De Palma loved it so much he wanted to film the performance.  He got together two guys from NYU and they filmed this live performance at The Performing Garage, which also gave birth to The Wooster Group.

This was an environmental theater production, and there were no seats, only carpet on the floor and towers and scaffolds that had been built..  The audience shared the space with the performers, and audience participation was allowed.  Other than the audience participation, there were other New York theaters firsts that would include full frontal nudity, both male and female, and man on man kissing.  The piece was adapted from Euripides' The Bacchae, and although the production was never complete, that was the way the director worked, always changing and adding and rotating roles during the runs of his productions.  

This version was shot over two days in June and July of 1968.  The film is shown in a split screen, to capture both the main performance going on, and the other actors and audience at the same time, giving it a closer feel to what the audience experienced during its run.  This may have been the first split screen experience for De Palma, but it was far from his last.  That is one of the amazing things about seeing De Palma films, you can spot little things that he uses, reuses, and changes over the years.  There is a lot of crawling over the floor in this film, especially between William Finley and William Shephard.  If you watch the ending scene in Phantom Of The Paradise, you see as William Finley's character is dying, William Shephard is right next to him, crawling along just like in this film, though in Phantom Of The Paradise Shephard is just an audience fan, versus one of the main characters in Dionysus In '69.  That's just one of so many little things you can find in De Palma films, which make seeing them all the more interesting.  

Now, the thing to remember about this film is that being such a specific kind of document, its entertainment value may be lost a bit, but its historical value has grown considerably.  Seeing the camera work, the split screen, the early acting of William Finley, and the experimenting being done during this performance, all of it is amazing.  If I were reviewing this random recorded play from 1968, I might not be impressed, or maybe even bored a bit.  But this was not only relatively entertaining, but such an amazing sight to behold for someone who enjoys film history and Brian De Palma.  

7 out of 10 stars. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Phantom Of The Paradise (1974)

Phantom Of The Paradise (1974)

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

I got to see a beautiful 35mm print of this tonight.  This is not the first time I have seen this one, in fact, it is the Brian De Palma film I have seen the most in my life.  This is the 6th time I have seen this, at least.  Now, to many movie lovers this may not seem like that much, but I am of the belief that you generally do not see a movie more than once every 5-10 years.  That way you see things you forgot, or maybe didn't notice the first time.  Most films for me are one time only events, even when I like them.  The ones that get the most rewatches are the ones that are complex enough to warrant it, or have enough content that you have more to watch than just the central thing on the screen.  This film is one of those films, as are other De Palma masterpieces.  

The first time I saw this was long after it had been originally released, at some art house revival showing many years ago.  I enjoyed it and found it fun, and remembered it over the years, but it didn't play often, so I didn't get to see it more than once more much later.  Then, after even more years, this movie started to gain some more cult status, as Brian De Palma became more and more well known.  So about 7 years ago my girlfriend is away at a wedding, and this played in my neighborhood.  I generally HATE going to movies alone, but I had seen this and wanted to catch it again.  So off I go to see it, hoping what I remember to be entertaining will still be fun.  I left the theater shocked, I had remembered liking it, but this time I LOVED it!  I felt like I saw a whole new movie, could see things I never saw on previous screenings.  I was floored by how good the songs and performances were, and I really wished I could have taken my girlfriend to see it with me.  Oddly enough, two weeks later she is back in town and it plays again at another theater.  I had told her I had just seen it, but I felt she should so I was willing to go again.  I worried that I would be bored seeing it again so soon, but I had the opposite feeling, not only did I love it as much, but I found more things to love.  I wasn't in the least bit bored, a problem I have when I see a movie too often, or after not enough time has gone by.  My girlfriend was immediately floored by it as well, and she rarely takes to a movie like she did this one.  About a year later, we saw that it was playing again, but this time Paul Williams was going to be at the screening and doing a Q&A about it.  We once again found ourselves sitting in the theater seeing it again.  Paul Williams was brilliant, funny, and a wonderful guest.  I got to meet him and he signed a couple of albums I had as well, so I was a happy guy.  We have skipped a couple screenings since then, but we could not resist seeing it again tonight when we were already at the theater seeing Get To Know Your Rabbit, and this was next on the bill.  So we bought tickets and watched it with a friend of ours who was experiencing it for the first time.  Once again we loved it, and so did he.  Also, once again, I saw and heard even more things than other screenings, this time it was a line in the first song, sung by The Juicy Fruits, about how the girl in the song met a guy, and he "came" and went so fast she didn't get his last name, but ended up pregnant.  Not only had I not heard that line before, but if I had I definitely missed the double entendre using the word came.  Nice little sexual reference thrown in probably unnoticed by many.  Just one more reason why this is one of my 4 favorite De Palma films, all of which are in my personal Top 100.  

For those of you that don't know, the plot is a rock opera version of Phantom Of The Opera, modernized (for 1974) complete with music business references, studio effects, big rock shows and screaming audiences.  I'm not going to bore you with the details of the plot, since you can figure out the basics on your own.  But the performances by the actors are amazing.  Paul Williams as the creepy Swan, a music mogul who is very devilish.  William Finley as Winslow and The Phantom, who is a sad ruined man, but one who creates amazing music.  Jessica Harper as the wide eyed innocent yet easily corruptible Phoenix, who wants to be famous more than anything in the world.  Plus Gerrit Graham as the wonderfully flamboyant Beef, the glam/metal singer who should NOT be performing Winslow's music, EVER!  There are tons of references to the music business, old horror movies, books, and other things, and the music is wonderful and catchy.  The theater that Swan is opening in the movie is gorgeous, and the sets are done well, even if they aren't ridiculously expensive.  The music, written by one of the all time great songwriters, Paul Williams, are so much fun.  Musically they will stick in your head, lyrically they will surprise you. 

Although this is a rock opera, musical, comedy, drama, horror movie, it is amazingly stable and well put together, and it does not drag at all or feel like it's going off the rails.  It may just be hanging on by the skin of its teeth, but it is hanging on.  This whole movie is a wild ride, and well worth the price of admission.  Definitely one of my favorite De Palma films, one I recommend to anyone with a love for insanity and reckless abandon masquerading as a movie.  

9 out of 10 stars.

Get To Know Your Rabbit (1972)

Get To Know Your Rabbit (1972)

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

Tonight I got to catch a 35mm print of one of the lesser known Brian De Palma films, a little film called Get To Know Your Rabbit.  I knew virtually nothing about this film going into it.  I knew it was his first studio film, and that he did not enjoy it at all.   That's about all I knew.  I have since found out that he was fired from the film and the studio recut the film, so who knows what the original looked like.  

This is a strange one indeed.  Starring Tommy Smothers of The Smothers Brothers, and John Astin of The Addams Family TV show, with supporting roles by Orson Welles and Katherine Ross, this is  lighthearted comedy which is supposed to be a satire of unhappy businessmen dropping out of society to follow their hearts.  Tom Smothers plays the businessman, who is successful, but doing all the work of his boss, John Astin.  Tom has a live in girlfriend, a nice expensive apartment, and wears suits every day.  He gives all this up to follow his dream of being a tap dancing magician.  His girlfriend threatens to leave him, and his boss keeps coming by begging him to come back to work, but to no avail.  Eventually the girlfriend leaves, and he moves into a seedy hotel and gets some comfortable almost hobo clothing and keeps up with his tap dancing magician lessons, taught by none other than Orson Welles.  Eventually things start to get a bit weird, as he decides to help John Astin, who has fallen on hard times, by hiring him as his manager.  John Astin gets right back to business, and turns the unhappy business man dropping out and becoming a tap dancing magician a huge corporation.  There is more, but the focus of this movie is not exactly the plot as much as the execution of it.

Although it is an odd film, especially in the filmography of Brian De Palma, it isn't as bad as I had read about.  It is sort of charming, sort of sweet, and very very tame.  Tom Smothers plays the movie like a subdued Steve Martin (of course Tom was famous first) and John Astin plays a different kind of crazed character in this movie.  Orson Welles is, well, Orson Welles.  Although it is not exactly a laugh riot or fast movie, it is a pleasant movie to sit through.  I am guessing that De Palma tried to make it a bit darker or more counter culture, but Warner Brothers wasn't having it.  

This film comes across more as an oddity than a film that needs to be seen, but for those of you that like to see the more obscure movies, this would be one that is worth checking out.  Near the end of the film we get an appearance by Bob Einstein, the many who played Super Dave Osbourne, a character he created and used in many a TV show on and off for 37 years.  

7 out of 10 stars. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Wailing (2016)

The Wailing (2016)

 So I was looking for something to see tonight, because we have a few movies to catch this week and our days fill up pretty quick.  Mondays tend to be sorta slow, so we had a couple options of things that were playing all week here.  I noticed this Korean horror film, and checked on Rotten Tomatoes to see if anyone cared.  It had 100% from critics and 89% from audiences, which shocked me.  So even though this movie is over 2 and a half hours long, we decided to make our way down to see it. 

First, a bit about the trip to the theater.  It was playing at IFC Center in NYC, which is not ridiculously far from us, and we can drive there pretty quick if the traffic isn't too bad.  I was running a tiny bit late, so my girlfriend went to get the car and meet me outside.  I let the dogs out to pee quickly, and then waited outside for her.  For some reason this was taking longer than expected, and I was thinking we might have to see another movie tonight.  She eventually showed up, some construction site had blocked her in and she had to move a bunch of shit to get the car out.  So we rush up there, and the only parking we can find right away is metered, so we decide to take it because it is now the starting time of the movie.  I run ahead to buy the ticket and get us a seat while she pays the muni meter.  I run into the theater, and a few minutes later a short film comes on, about Asian Americans.  Since the audience had a large amount of Asians, it made sense.  Then came a couple of previews, and my girlfriend still wasn't in the theater!  So I check my phone and she got in right before the feature began.  She said  the muni meter wasn't working, so she had to find another!  So the movie finally starts and we are like, wow, we rushed for this?  So the movie starts, and something is wrong.  After a few minutes we realize it's the wrong movie!  They had started playing the Kitty Genovese documentary instead!  So people went and complained, and they finally stopped it after like 10 minutes, and it took a bit, but they found the right movie and played it.  What an ordeal!

So if you are not aware, this is a Korean horror film about shamen, possession, cops, family, rural Korea, murder, disease and good and evil.  With the movie being over 2 and a half hours long, they can get in a lot of stuff, including drama, comedy, jump scares, creepy atmospheres, lots of rain and tons of animals that suffer some pretty nasty fates.  If you are sensitive to that sort of thing you should be warned. 

The movie looks amazing, and much of the Korean shamen rituals look very authentic and pretty amazing.  The problem I had with the film, not being Korean,is I did not exactly get what was going on during some of the scenes.  This seemed to be an intentional thing from the director, to make you wonder who is good and who is evil.  He did that, but by the end I still wasn't totally sure what the hell just happened.   I do not think I was the only one with this issue, as I could see the Asain people in the theater discussing the points I was confused about as well. 

The film was beautifully shot, had one of my favorite Japanese (yes, Japanese) actors in it, from such favorites as Audition and Ichi The Killer.  The movie was loud, very loud, so bring your earplugs if your ears are sensitive.  It was long but enjoyable on many levels, though I was a bit miffed at leaving the theater without understanding exactly what I just saw.

When I got home I went online and found others had the same problem, but there was a website that made a great youtube video explaining some of the finer points of the movie.  There was also info on the IMDb boards about what the director said about the characters in the film. 

Even with all its flaws, this still gets 7 out of 10 stars. 

Hi, Mom! (1970)

Hi, Mom (1970) 

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

I has seen Hi, Mom! many years ago on a double bill with Greetings, which makes sense since Hi, Mom! is the sequel to Greetings.  I remember liking both of them, but did not remember much about them.  Seeing Hi, Mom! again during this retrospective really made me appreciate what an amazing film this is. 

The basic premise is that The Robert De Niro character from Greetings comes back from the Vietnam war and decides to start his peep art project as a series of movies.  He gets in touch with a porn publisher and convinces this guy to fund his project.  While he films his project we get to meet a couple of his subjects, a girl who he decides to woo and turn into his first conquest, and a guy who goes to NYU and is an actor. 

This is not as straightforward as most De Palma films are, and it's a very dark comedy and a satire, so beware if you do not like these types of things.  De Palma mentioned his love for Goddard in these years, and yu can see the influence all over this film.  The film jumps around a bit, and doesn't exactly follow typical plot lines.  There is also some brilliant satire in this film, some of which may be lost on many people. 

I am actually shocked at the fact that this does not get shown very much here in NYC, since it is a NYC film, and it stars a very young Robert De Niro.  But maybe it is too discomforting for many people, which might be why it is generally unknown. 

It is great to see NYC in 1970, and the soundtrack is amazing as well.  The performances by the actors are all fun to watch, and although it can be a bit wacky at times, the overall feel of this film is pretty amazing.  If you have a fondness for the unexpected, watch this and enjoy something that very few people know about!

This has now jumped into the #5 position of all the De Palma films I have seen.  8 out of 10 stars. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Emmanuelle (1974)

Emmanuelle (1974)

Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn had a Nitehawk Naughties series where they play a selection of mostly soft core porn films and other types of sex or sexually driven films.  This current version of the series happens to be sponsored by Babeland, a local sex shop that sells sex toys of all varieties.  This week they gave out free vibrators to everyone who showed up!

Emmanuelle is a classic soft core porn movie that was huge in its day.  It was based on a book of the same name, and directed by photographer Just Jaeckin.  The book was released in 1959, and was about a woman seeking out self discovery through sexual adventures.  Although the book was originally attributed as being written by a woman named Emmanuelle, it was actually written by her husband, but the basic plot did mirror their lives. 

The plot is relatively simple.  A woman is married to an older man, who believes in free love and no jealousy.  He encourages her to have sex with many people, but she is shy and not so sure.  At some point she runs off with a woman who she falls for, and then comes back brokenhearted.  Her husband decides that she needs to take on a much older lover who will teach her the erotic side of sexual pleasure. 

This is the movie that brought Sylvia Kristel international fame, and giving her a career that lasted until very close to her death.  She was a model and actress, and a very beautiful woman with some of the most incredible boobs anyone has ever seen.  Even my girlfriend went on about how great her boobs were in this movie. 

This movie was a first, in that a major movie company distributed it in the US, a first for an X rated film.  They claimed it was because women overseas really loved this film.  Although there are no hardcore porn scenes in this, there is a ton of nudity, lesbianism, soft core sex, and rape.  The second half of the movie gets pretty dark, but this was the 1970s and this was and is a big part of the sexuality of some people. 

Since the director, Just Jaeckin, was a photographer, the film is shot beautifully.  He captured Thailand in the early 1970's as a beautiful but seedy place with amazing colors all around.  He also really knows how to shoot women.  Other than this film, he directed a few other things, including The Story Of O, which is another popular sex novel of the time, and my personal favorite, The Perils Of Gwendolyn In The Land Of The Yik Yak.  That last film starred Tawny Kitaen, another actress with amazing boobs.  Are we seeing a trend here?

The soundtrack of the movie is pretty interesting as well, sounding both Euro-sleazy and prog rock at the same time, due to them ripping off a King Crimson song for one of the themes.  They got sued for that little problem. 

The acting is decent for this type of film, and it moves along pretty quickly though this is not am action oriented movie, unless you mean sexual action.  I can get a bit slow at parts, but it isn't long before someone is naked or doing something to another person.  All in all this holds up pretty well for a movie that is 42 years old, and it is way more sexy and erotic than anything Fifty Shades Of Grey threw on the screen. 

7 out of 10 stars. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Greetings (1968)

Greetings (1968)

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

Greetings is officially considered his first film, since this was the first one that was released.  I caught this many years ago on a double bill with its sequel, Hi Mom!, at a now defunct theater.  I barely remembered it, so I wanted to catch this one again.  Obviously a lot of other people wanted to catch it as well,  as the screening was sold out.  

The very thin plot revolves around a trio of guys who soon have to go in to the draft board for the Vietnam war.  They are all trying to figure out ways to get out of being drafted, from pretending to be homosexual, to being a right wing militant, and all sorts of other schemes.  There are also the computer dating exploits of one of the trio as a sub plot, and another one of the guys is obsessed with the Kennedy assassination, while the third guy is a timid shy guy who is into voyeurism.  

Although I said this has a thin plot, and it does, it does not detract from the entertainment value of this movie.  The movie stars Gerrit Graham who played Beef in Phantom Of The Paradise, and Robert De Niro, who went on to some serious fame since almost any movie going fan knows who he is.  Oddly enough, this is a comedy and social commentary, not what either De Palma or De Niro became known for during most of their careers.  

As much as this is a comedy, it is also a social commentary on the times, the late 1960s.  Lots of mentions of hippies, the war, drugs, sex, and other topical things.  Some of the jokes might be a bit hard to get, without a proper concept of what was going on at the time, but regardless the movie is actually pretty funny. Even Roger Ebert in his review of this when it came out praised its comedy as hearkening back to the days when comedies weren't as much about plot but funny situations strung together.  

At the screening I went to, we were lucky enough to have a special guest, Rutanya Alda, the girl who played the shoplifter in the movie.  She spoke a bit before the movie letting us know that most of it was improvised, scenes were set up with what the basic idea was, and they were given a certain amount of time to do the scene.  There was no formal script, just ideas.  One of the reasons for this had to do with the particulars of how this was shot.  When a film is made, if all the film wasn't used they would keep the unused portions and sell them off cheap.  So De Palma made the whole movie using these short ends, so he knew he would have 7 minutes for this scene, or 4 minutes for this one.  In the scene where Robert De Niro is filming this woman in a "private moment" he is telling her to hurry because the film is running out, and sure enough it did because it really was running out!  They kept the scene in, instead of reshooting it, and picked it up from there.  Knowing that makes this film even more amazing.  

As much as this film is not like much of the work De Palma is famous for, it is a great document of both his talent in comedy and social commentary, but also to see Robert De Niro in a very early role.

7 out of 10 stars. 


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Silver Bullet (1985)

Silver Bullet (1985)

IFC Center here in NYC had been doing a Stephen King adaptations series, for their midnight movies recently.  I have never been much of a fan of the movies made from Stephen King books, at least not most of the ones I have seen.  Of course I loved Carrie, The Shining, and Dead Zone, and Salem's Lot was fun, but otherwise I thought most were pretty poorly done.  I never liked Cujo, Christine or others from that era, so I just stopped watching them.  This recent series has allowed me to catch up on some I have missed, or rewatch some that I was not a fan of.

Silver Bullet was one I had never seen, so I was interested in catching this one.  I already knew it was a werewolf movie, and that kept me on my guard, as I generally do not like almost any werewolf movies.  I was never a fan of the classic An American Werewolf In London, nor The Howling or Wolfen.  Other than some older ones and Underworld, I would say I don't really enjoy werewolf movies in general.  So this was had a double battle, it is a werewolf movie AND a Stephen King horror adaptation!

The movie starts off with someone narrating the film, which felt a bit weird and out of place.  I could have done without it, and thankfully it was not used in much of the movie.  The main character is played by Corey Haim, one of the two Coreys.  He plays a kid in a wheelchair, in a small town.  He has a sister who seems to mostly resent him, and two parents who are a bit oblivious.  He also has an uncle he really loves, who happens to be an alcoholic.  But his uncle builds him motorized wheelchairs, so of course he's great! 

Gary Busey plays the alcoholic uncle, and does a good job with the character.  Corey Haim is actually decent too, which was a surprise.  The sister is pretty typical, and nothing special, but she fills her role well enough. 

We find out from the narration that the evil in the town is killing people, and they don't know who it is.  At first they think it's a maniac, then they try and find the maniac only to be killed while on a vigilante hunt for him.  Eventually we are let in on who it is, and the boy in the wheelchair is the one that helps us with that.  He somehow convinces his sister who helps him, and eventually they enlist the alcoholic uncle who joins in.  The three of them try and help the town out and fix the problem. 

Is this a great film?  No, it is definitely not a great film.  But it is a likeable film, does its job for the 90 or so minutes you spend with it, and is good enough.  In fact, it is way better than most of the Stephen King horror adaptations I have seen.  It's fun to see Gary Busey before he fell apart, and Corey Haim before he was an insufferable teen. 

7 out of 10 stars. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Untouchables (1987)

The Untouchables (1987)

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

The Untouchables is one that I missed when it first came out. I knew it was very popular, and held in high esteem with many, so I was hoping to get another great Brian De Palma film to go on my list of ones I love. Sadly that was not to be.

Kevin Costner landed the lead in this movie, which is what helped him become a very popular leading man for a good 7 years until Waterworld ruined his career. Sean Connery won his only Oscar for his performance in this movie as well. So I was expecting this to be pretty good, especially since De Palma used Robert De Niro to play Al Capone as well.

So I am ready to see a gritty, realistic, rough crime drama about some things that actually happened in Chicago a long time ago, and what I end up with is a slightly silly, over the top, almost comic book like story about good versus evil.

At times the acting is good, though sometimes a bit over the top. But sometimes it’s bad, like so bad it’s shocking. There are some ridiculous scenes which defy nature, and I don’t want to spoil anything but it gets really crazy for a moment.

They also took artistic license to the extreme, changing most historical facts and personalities of the people they were portraying in the movie. I get this is a movie, not a documentary on the History channel, but it would have been nicer if this had stuck more to what happened.

For all my complaints, the movie isn’t horrible, it’s OK in the grand scheme of things. It is shot well, they did a great job of recreating 1930’s Chicago, and some of the scenes work well and are exciting.

One note about the music in this film. It was done by the great Ennio Morricone, who normally I love, but not in this film. I do not know why, but usually there are two types of scores. The ones that blend in with the movie so well you don’t notice them, they become part of the movie. Then there are the ones that stand out, so much so you find yourself humming themes when you leave the theater. That’s more rare, but pretty amazing. Then there is the third type of score you don’t want to think about, the type that stands out in a terrible way. Like, where you notice it above the movie, then start to think while the movie is playing, “why are they using this music here?” I had that happen multiple times during this film. It’s not like I think the music itself is bad, it just doesn’t fit with what we were watching. It made me sad since I love the composer.

Anyways, all in all this was just an average film, entertaining enough, but nothing special for me.

7 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Mission: Impossible (1996)

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films.  Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double.  He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom.  He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest.  Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

The first film shown as part of this series is Mission: Impossible, one that I skipped when it came out, due to my general dislike of Tom Cruise.  Certain actors just do not do it for me, and when I watch them act, all I can think of is "there is Tom Cruise, acting in another movie".  I never think of him as a character, he is always Tom Cruise, which just takes me out of the film or story, unless it is a particularly good story.  The only movie I can think of him in that I think is very good is Vanilla Sky, but I haven't seen much of his work, so maybe there is a gem or two in his career.

It has been 20 years since this movie has come out, and boy does it show!  The computer sequences really date the film, though I find that sort of amusing, and it doesn't really bother me if the film is good.  While you can see some of De Palma's signature style, like when two different shots are in focus, this film lacks the charms of his other works.  It does not help that the script is pretty basic and the whole film rides on Tom Cruise.

Mission: Impossible was a TV show that was based on a crew of people doing undercover and espionage work, usually in disguises, and getting in and out of somewhere undetected, or fooling someone to get the information they need.  While the movie starts off with this plot, where it goes is somewhere totally different, and not in the general feel of the original show.  Now, I can understand updating something, but it is a bit odd that they just turned the movie into a basic Tom Cruise action piece, rather than make it a bit more interesting.

In this version, the team mostly gets killed, and Tom Cruise is suspected of being a mole, and goes on the run to find out who the mole is and to avenge his friend's death.  This puts the focus on Cruise for the most part, and he hires a couple new guys to help him out.  He also has one of his old team with him as well, someone he seems to have some feelings for.

Although some espionage movies can be a bit too complicated, this one is very basic and won't confuse most people.  It moves along relatively quickly, and isn't horrible by any means, it's just....there.  The biggest problems I have with it are Tom Cruise, and the action scenes.  You see, for 1996, the action scenes are just so so.  They are obviously special effects, and not particularly good ones.  I had the fortunate, or unfortunate for this movie, chance to see John Woo's Hard Boiled the other night, and that was made a few years before this one, but the action scenes are amazing.  Seeing the real stunts people did in that movie versus the green screen stunts Tom Cruise did in this makes this look boring.  I also saw The Road Warrior a few weeks back, and same thing, and that movie was done 15 years before this one!

All in all it is an OK movie, nothing to get excited about, nothing I would bother watching a second time.  The cast is OK, but no one particularly shines, and Jon Voight was in a much better train movie in the 1980s called Runaway Train, which is also just a better movie than this.

I would give this a passing grade of 7 out of 10, but a very low 7.