Saturday, August 27, 2016

Tourist Trap (1979) movie review

Tourist Trap (1979)

In late July and early August, The Metrograph in NYC has a series of movies called :

This Is PG?!

which documented a bunch of films that probably should have been rated R, but somehow ended up with a PG rating. 

In 1979 David Schmoeller remade his college thesis film, and Tourist Trap was the result.  In the vein of other films of the era, like Friday The 13th, Halloween, and many other stranded teen movies, this should have been a very popular film of the day.  Due to some poor marketing, and the lack of an R rating, this film ended up doing well on cable and other outlets, but was not the kind of hit some of those other films were.  The reason it was rated PG was the lack of boobs, or any nudity for that matter, and a lack of gore.  Although scary, back then the MPAA would give you a PG rating without those two factors.  And while nowadays studios prefer a PG-13 rating, back then they preferred an R as that's what people wanted. 

The movie follows the same kind of plot of many of the movies of this era, flat tire, teens looking for their friend, one by one they go missing, etc etc.  I don't have to go too much into the plot, as most of these are paper thin to a degree, and the enjoyment level is usually in the execution, pun intended.  This film has the requisite scary things, in it, like mannequins, a creepy museum, a creepy house, special powers, masks, girls being abused, and plot twists.  Plus lots of stupid decisions and amusing moments.

The movie stars Chuck Connors, best known for starring in the TV show The Rifleman, and many other western style shows and movies.  He has acted in over 100 things, which is pretty damned impressive.  It also stars Tanya Roberts, an actress who was one of the Charlie's Angels replacements, starred in Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle, and most famously for her role as Donna's mother on That 70's Show. 

Now the director, he's interesting as well, as I have seen him speak a couple times now.  Other than this cult classic, he also wrote and directed the original Puppetmaster, and one of my faves, Crawlspace with the always creepy Klaus Kinski.  When I saw Crawlspace he showed up and did a Q&A and showed his short film, Please Kill Mr. Kinski, which is hysterical, and a must for any Klaus Kinski fan. 

Now, there are a lot of great ridiculous horror movies of this era, and although this is a fun little one, this is not one of the classics, known or unknown.  But it is well worth watching for both the very young and very hot Tanya Roberts, a creepy funny performance from Chuck Connors, and some very creepy mannequin scenes. 

Those of us that went to this screening were lucky for two reasons.  One, the director showed up and talked to us about the production, the effects, and all sorts of other things.  He is an amusing guy, ad it is always fun when he shows up at a screening.  Two, the print was his, and according to him he is retiring the print, as it is starting to show some wear and tear and he doesn't want to damage it anymore, which is sad, but is happening all over the world to many prints. 

All in all we had a fun night watching this movie one last time.

7 out of 10 stars. 

Location : The Metrograph, theater 1, NYC
Date and time : Saturday July 30th, 2016 at 7 PM
Format : 35mm
Audience : about 30 people

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Fool Killer (1965) movie review

The Fool Killer (1965)

Joe Dante is mostly known for directing the mega hit Gremlins, but he has also directed many other films of note.  Recently BAM (The Brooklyn Academy Of Music) did a retrospective of his films :

Joe Dante at the Movies

and TV work, plus offered to show some films that Joe Dante was a fan of, or that influenced him.  There were multiple double features, and some pretty great stuff was shown.  He even showed up for some screenings, did a Q&A after a showing of his work print of Gremlins, and introduced a couple of screenings as well.  I got to meet him and chat with him, and he is not only a great guy, but very down to earth, personable, and very aware.  Talking with him felt like talking with any of my other movie obsessed friends, except that he has been amazingly successful, unlike the rest of us!

This double feature shown did not include a film that Dante directed, but instead starred a couple of famous actors, Vincent Price and Anthony Perkins in lesser known roles.  This entry, The Fool Killer, was the highlight of the non Joe Dante films.

Personally I knew nothing about this film, the director, the story, the child actor, nor anything about the production at all.  I must say that I am shocked how little known his film is, and even more shocked hot little has been written about it!  I searched online to see if I could find articles on it, and so far there is little of any note.  Granted, I did not scour the web, but most movies you can find info almost immediately.  Even on IMDb, the message boards have only 3 entries.

I found one review online that mentioned this movie is like Huck Finn meets Norman Bates, and that is not really such a bad description. The plot isn't very intricate, but it is very realistic in its characters and the way it is handled.  The basic story revolves around the child, George, who is 12.  He has lost his parents, and was taken in by another couple, who basically use him as a farmhand.   Since the movie is set in 1903, this would be the norm during this time period.  He keeps making mistakes, like leaving something in the road which gets run over by the carriage, or kicking over a pail of milk, so he decides to run away.  He hops a freight car and gets away, and when the train stops to take on some water, he goes to pee.  Foolishly, he leaves his bag on the train, and it takes off without him.  He wanders for miles, until he comes across a dirty little shack.  Here he meets his first new friend, Dirty Jim.  Dirty Jim explains he is dirty because his wife died and she drove him crazy keeping the place clean, so now he doesn't clean.  The boy decides to stay a while, since he has nowhere to go, no shoes, and no way to get food.  At some point he decides to do some cleaning, and this does not sit right with Dirty Jim.  One night, Dirty Jim tells George all about the Fool Killer, a very large man who wanders around looking for fools to cut in half with his chopper.  This obviously scares the boy, who worries he's a fool for all the things he has done wrong.

At some point George gets sick, ends up being taken in by another family, gets his first kiss, and runs away again.  He next meets Milo, played by Anthony Perkins.  Milo seems to be a bit unstable, and has amnesia from the civil war. That's about all the plot I am willing to give you, the rest if very worth spending your time on.

This movie is not just great due to the story, which is actually really good, and comes from a Helen Eustis novel from 1954.  From the start the first thing I noticed that was different was the soundtrack.  It doesn't sound like all the other soundtracks from that day, nor does it stick to one sound throughout.  There are orchestral spots, guitar spots that sound very modern, and other music scattered throughout.  I need to listen to this movie again, at the very least just to hear the soundtrack. 

Another thing that was wonderful about the movie was the innovative editing and camera work.  One scene in particular of someone rolling around on the ground is filmed like they were holding the camera themselves, which reminded me of the Smashing Pumpkins video for their song 1979.  I really wonder if something like that had ever been filmed in a Hollywood style movie before.  There are also odd edits and dissolves used that definitely were not the norm in most movies.  There are also some very nice well done shots from far away, taking in the landscape in scenes where most directors would have focused on close ups.  All in all the style of this film was pretty amazing, and I need to watch it again soon. 

The director of this movie, Servando Gonz├ílez, has only directed 13 things, and most look like they were in Spanish, as he is Mexican.  At least one thing did play in the US, according to the 1969 NY Times review, a movie called Yanco.  I am of course wondering if anything else he directed was amazing as well. 

Oddly enough, the 1969 NY Times review by Vincent Canby, panned the movie pointing out everything I loved about it and saying it made the movie suck.  Even more odd is the fact that Vincent Canby, a very famous movie critic, had just started being the chief critic at the NY Times in 1969, when he wrote his review.  You can read it here  :

Vincent Canby's 1969 review of The Fool Killer

As a critic he was known for hating a lot of critically acclaimed movies,  so it is not a huge surprise he did not like this, but I cannot imagine a serious critic who would hate this movie, but not everyone agrees!  I must say though that this film was a complete surprise to me, due to my lack of even hearing about it before this.

The actors in this were pretty damned good too.  Anthony Perkins plays a slightly off character, which seemed to be the role he was haunted with for many movies after Psycho.  This movie came 5 years after Psycho, and he was still playing these kind of roles, and did until the end of his career.  But he did it so well!  The child in the movie was the child of actor Eddie Albert, best known to me for the TV show Green Acres, but he was actually in tons of stuff.  The smaller roles were filled by people I have never heard of, but they all did a fine job. 

One last point I want to make about certain scenes, shots and underlying themes in The Fool Killer.  I will wholeheartedly admit that knowing that Anthony Perkins was gay could somehow alter my view of the movie, BUT, there seemed to be some serious homosexual undertones floating around throughout the movie.  Even if we discount the naked swimming scene between the boy and Anthony Perkins, since most people did swim nude back then, there are numerous other scenes that point to the possibility that there were some veiled references.  One scene that particularly stood out was when the boy was on his knees in front of a preacher, screaming mercy while at crotch level. 

Anyways, all in all this film was great, I have no real negative points to discuss, other than the lack of info online about this movie, and the production of it.  I NEED to see some of this director's other work, to see if this one was a fluke or if he is an unknown genius.  I thank Joe Dante for bringing this special film to my attention, otherwise I would probably never heard about it. 

8 out of 10 stars (may be upped to a 9 upon future viewings).

Location : BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) , theater 2, Brooklyn, NYC
Date and time : Wednesday, August 22nd, 2016 at 10:15 PM
Format : 16mm
Audience : about 50 people, I know a few of my friends there enjoyed it

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Confessions Of An Opium Eater (1962) movie review

Confessions Of An Opium Eater (1962)

Joe Dante is mostly known for directing the mega hit Gremlins, but he has also directed many other films of note.  Recently BAM (The Brooklyn Academy Of Music) did a retrospective of his films :

Joe Dante at the Movies

and TV work, plus offered to show some films that Joe Dante was a fan of, or that influenced him.  There were multiple double features, and some pretty great stuff was shown.  He even showed up for some screenings, did a Q&A after a showing of his work print of Gremlins, and introduced a couple of screenings as well.  I got to meet him and chat with him, and he is not only a great guy, but very down to earth, personable, and very aware.  Talking with him felt like talking with any of my other movie obsessed friends, except that he has been amazingly successful, unlike the rest of us!

This double feature shown did not include a film that Dante directed, but instead included two lesser known works with famous actors, one with Vincent Price and the other with Anthony Perkins.  Confessions Of An Opium Eater is based on a famous book by Thomas De Quincey.  It revolves around a slave girl auction in San Francisco's Chinatown around 1902.  Vincent Price has been called in to help stop the auction, he is supposed to be the Arnold Schwarzenegger type, the one who is good at his job so he will clean up the mess.  The truth of the matter is he ends up much more like Kurt Russell in Big Trouble In Little China.  In fact in some ways this movie seems like the precursor to Big Trouble, and I am guessing that John Carpenter saw this when young and this one influenced Big Trouble.

The film starts off with the unloading of some slave girls in California.  First off, if you're going to be transporting slaves, you should at least have a system in place to do so!  This was the most haphazard slave transport I have ever seen.  The girls were running back and forth, trying to get away, there weren't enough ship crew to handle them, and the transfer from ship to ship was comical at best.  When the girls are finally brought to land, it does not go much better.  Chinese come to kidnap them, and a fight ensues where the girls try to get away again.

Cut to Vincent Price arriving in Chinatown, where gang wars are about to start due to some issues with the slave trade.  He wanders into Chinatown looking for his contact, only to find out his contact has been killed.  He meets someone mourning his death, who happens to be pro slave trade, so Vincent Price is definitely confused.  He breaks into another building and finds a runaway slave, and vows to help her.  They escape, only to be caught in the sewers and Vincent Price receives his first of many blows to the head which render him unconscious no matter how lightly he seems to be hit.

He is eventually saved by an Asian midget, and with the help of the midget, gets into the room where the slaves are being held.  Now, this is all in the first part of the film.  It carries on from here, and without giving away too much, he gets captured a few more times, gets saved a few more times, he gets high as a kite on opium, blows some shit up, etc etc etc.  There is even some twerking during the auction, loads of proverbs uttered back and forth, an opium nightmare sequence, a port opium chase scene, and one more midget.  Although it is only about 90 minutes long, it feels longer and packs a lot in the 90 minutes.

Let's go over the good stuff.  This movie has some really fun, wacky scenes.  The film looks good for much of it, though the print I saw was very old.  The nightmare sequence is a lot of fun, and the post nightmare bit is insane and weird.  The sets are great, with trap doors, hidden rooms, and all the trappings of a Chinatown thriller.

The bad stuff isn't so bad that it makes the movie unwatchable, in fact, some of the bad stuff is why this one is so good.  The acting is either not great, or just badly directed.  Vincent Price is an inept hero, to say the least, though you have to wonder if it was intentional or not, though I think not.  The script, at least the first have, seemed to be written by just using one proverb after another, like opening a whole box of fortune cookies one after the other.

All in all I found this thoroughly enjoyable, faults and all.  You do not see films like this anymore, possibly for some good reasons, but I am glad this one still exists!

8 out of 10.

Location : BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) , theater 2, Brooklyn, NYC
Date and time : Wednesday, August 22nd, 2016 at 8:30 PM
Format : 16mm, faded and pretty worn, but still very watchable.
Audience : about 60 people, I know a bunch of people there that enjoyed it

Monday, August 22, 2016

Shelley (2016) movie review

Shelley (2016)

IFC Center here in NYC does midnight showings every Friday and Saturday night, mostly popular cult movies and classics.  Sometimes they run a particular series like a block of Stephen King movies over several weeks, or the series they are running now, on aliens in movies.  They also sometimes show movies under their IFC midnights banner, which is usually very small independent horror movies being released by IFC Films.  Although I do try to catch these when they show, due to the fact that horror movies are only marginally scary at the theater, and almost never scary at home.  The problem is that I can almost always guarantee that these movies will not be good, with very few exceptions.

This, unfortunately, was not the exception.  The movie starts off well enough, a girl moves in with a couple that lives in the middle of nowhere, literally.  They have almost no contact with the real world, and get very few visitors.  They do not have electricity, so they only have one land line phone.  The girl has been hired to help around the house, as the woman in the couple is somewhat sickly.  She had tried to have kids but she kept miscarrying.  The young girl who moves in with them has a son of her own, but he is living with her mom for the time being, so she can make some money and buy them a nice apartment.

All seems to be going well, the girl adjusts pretty quick and really starts to like the couple, especially the wife.  While chatting one day the wife lets her know that she had some of her eggs frozen, and would love to have someone carry her child for her, as she can't anymore due to her health.  She asks the young girl if she will do it, and she says yes, hoping she can buy that apartment much sooner, after 9 months, rather than the few years she needs to save that kind of money.

Now, this is a horror movie, and at this point there is just a bit of low level dread floating around, nothing over the top, just a bit off.  Once she gets pregnant though, things start to get weird.  She starts having a very bad reaction to carrying this child, and things don't go as planned.

I'm not one for spoilers, but this movie falls under the category of the horrors of having children, amplified by the horror aspect.  We have seen this a million times before, and nothing very new is added to the mix here.  The only things that is slightly novel in this movie is the fact that after a while there is a very low volume noise running through the film, so low that you wonder if you are hearing it or if there is something wrong with the movie.  After a while, it gets a tiny bit louder, and a bit more as time goes on.  The low level noise increases with the low level dread that is pervasive in this film.

For me, this film just didn't go anywhere with its dread and noise.  I felt more or less the same way with The Witch, a movie I caught this past year.  As that movie progressed, nothing much happened until right near then end, and even then it wasn't scary, just creepy.  Eventually the movie wraps up in a very vague kinda way, and no real explanations are made.

The good parts of the film are that the cinematography is really nice, the actors do a good job, the story starts out ok, but unfortunately ended up nowhere.  The sound design is a bit tricky, since the effect they use to make sound of dread is annoying to me.  I am not sure others would hear it as much as I do, but who knows.

Overall this movie was a disappointment, and not one I would recommend.

6 out of 10 stars.

Location : IFC Center, theater 5, NYC
Date and time : Friday, July 29th, 2016 at midnight
Format : DCP
Audience : 8 people, way more than usually shows up for these movies


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Kuroneko (1968) movie review

Kuroneko (1968)

Kuroneko is a very classic Japanese ghost story.  At this point I have caught a few of these movies, and although they are beautiful, well filmed, well acted and in a genre I usually enjoy, my normal reaction to them is to be bored and fall asleep.  They seem so meditative and quiet that I feel no fear, no emotions, just a relaxed state which leads to sleep, which can be very disconcerting to other viewers at the theater I am in.  Good thing I almost always go with my girlfriend, so she can nudge me awake!

The plot of these movies are usually pretty simple and straightforward, and this one is no different.  A bunch of samurai come across a house, and when they stop by to get water and such, they find a woman and her mother-in-law home alone, and proceed to rape and kill them.  A black cat (keroneko in Japanese) is nearby, and becomes the host of their urge for revenge. 

At this point they come back as ghosts and start to lure in the samurai who killed them, enacting their revenge on them, one by one. The leader of the area finds out that the samurai are being killed, and wants someone to find their killer and rid the area of this problem.  Oddly enough, the guy who appears is the husband (and son) of the ghost of his wife and his mother.  He was in battle and ended up being the last one left to battle the notorious killer, only to find he gets lucky and kills the killer.  When he arrives back to his village, he finds his old house burned down, and his wife and mother missing.  He gets hired to find the samurai killer, and while looking for the problem, he finds his mother and wife, though he does not exactly recognize them. 

Without giving away even more plot, I will leave it at this.  There are many good things about the film.  It is exceedingly beautiful, well shot, the acting is more than fine, and the story isn't bad at all, but somehow I was left feeling the same way, bored and sleepy.  I am pretty sure I actually started to doze after about two thirds of it, and I even thought about not reviewing this due to that.  But I am pretty sure that I saw enough of the rest of it to know what happened wouldn't change how I felt about the film as a whole. 

I will say this much, MANY people think their film and others like this are amazing.  In Japan these films are serious classics, like how Frankenstein and Dracula are in the US.  Some people even express how scary these films are, this one in particular.  But alas, I do not feel this way.  If you do like the slower Japanese ghost stories, then this one might be for you, but not for me.

6 out of 10 stars.

Location : The Metrograph, theater 2, NYC
Date and time : Friday, July 29th, 2016 at 9 PM
Format : 35mm
Audience : about 30 people

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Killing Of America (1981) movie review

The Killing Of America (1981)

Anthology Film Archives in NYC was running a series of films in July under the umbrella title Mondo Mondo.  A Mondo film is basically a documentary, or faux documentary, that is also an exploitation film.  Here is a link to what wikipedia says :

Mondo film

This genre was made popular by the 1962 movie Mondo Cane, which was a surprise hit and yielded a Grammy nomination for the theme song More, from the Mondo Cane soundtrack.  The song was covered by Kai Winding and hit #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Many other films with the word  Mondo (Italian for world) in their titles, including Mondo Topless, Mondo Nudo, Mondo Bizarro, and even Mondo New York.  There were also tons of other movies that employed this shockumentary style over the years.

The Killing Of America is a very different type of mondo movie.  This one is a pure documentary, and while still using shock value to get its point across, the points are from real facts.  It was written by Leonard Schrader, the brother of Paul Schrader who wrote Taxi Driver, which is ironic since Taxi Driver was the movie that spurred on John Hinckley Jr. to shoot President Ronald Reagan.  Leonard Schrader also co-directed the movie, for which he received no credit. 

The Killing Of America is a documentary about the proliferation of guns in the United States, and the large amount of people shot and killed each year in the United States.  Considering this sounds like a movie they would make nowadays, the fact that it is from 1981 is astounding.  It follows the history of mass shootings in the US, plus focuses on specific incidences as well.  Some of the footage is very powerful and amazing, including the JKF footage, the Reagan footage, and many other historic events, including the girl in California that inspired the Boomtown Rats song, I Don't Like Mondays. 

While the footage is shocking, it may seem less so to many due to the fact that we can see much of this stuff online, any day of the week.  One of the things this movie does that random clips don't do for you is put the clips in their historical place, and add in statistics in the US, and in other countries as well.  Watching this, for the more logical folks, can be very sobering and depressing, knowing what we know now about how far we have come in this area.  Although gun control, gun bans, crime, and other things have gotten marginally better, we are still woefully behind many other countries, even Australia who outright banned guns in 1997. 

This was the second time I have seen this film.  The first time was a very clear digital version I saw at Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn, NYC.  This time I got to see a nice 35mm print.  I am glad I got to see it both ways, it gives you a much better overview of how the technical side of movies work. 

I highly recommend this movie to anyone who has any interest int he darker side of crime and guns in the US and elsewhere.  Seeing the things that unfold on the screen are pretty amazing, even to someone who can see all these types of things every day on the web.  One of the best I have seen in this mondo series. 

Just so you know, at this moment the whole movie is on youtube.

8 out of 10 stars.

Location : Anthology Film Archives, downstairs theater, NYC
Date and time : Friday July 29th, 2016 at 7:15 PM
Format : 35mm print
Audience : about 30 people

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tell Me Why: The Epistemology Of Disco (1991) movie review

Tell Me Why: The Epistemology Of Disco (1991)

The Metrograph in NYC was running a series:

Dim All The Lights: Disco And The Movies

which unfortunately ended. I did get to catch a few though, and this was one of them. 

This film is a short that was shown before Wild Combination: A Portrait Of Arthur Russell which I also reviewed here :

As this first started I could see that this was something that was very crude in design, probably from a VHS master.  I do not mean that as an insult, I have a fondness for VHS and other formats that have sort of drifted away, and if you watch enough of them you can recognize quality differences which lend themselves to certain eras or types of work.  I personally have done some VHS work in the past, so I am familiar with the benefits and limitations of the format.

It starts off with some text and images, mostly regarding 501 jeans, gay culture, and disco music.  It is done in a very wry way, commenting on and making up info as it goes, both satirically and historically.  I was not really enjoying the narrator or the path of the video, it was a bit too out of my taste, but I can recognize where the director was coming from.  Near the end the theme changed a bit to get more serious regarding the AIDS crisis and lives lost, and I could connect much more with this part of the short.  At 24 minutes it ran a bit long for my tastes, but again, it did have an appeal in some aspects.  There were clips of NYC, the movie Cruising, gay discos, jeans, etc etc.  All in all I was left feeling like there was something there, but it was not fully realized.  

6 out of 10 stars.
Location : The Metrograph, theater 1, NYC
Date and time : Wednesday August 10th, 2016 at 7:30 PM
Format : VHS to DCP
Audience : at least 60 people
You can watch the whole thing here if you want :

Sausage Party (2016) movie review

Sausage Party (2016)

Fuck shit fuck.
Shit fuck fuck fucked fucking shit motherfucker dick shit fuck fuck fuck.

Now that we have discussed the script and attempt at comedy, let's get down to the rest of the movie.

As you can see, I was not very impressed with Sausage Party.  Normally when I dislike a movie this much I warn about massive spoilers, but everything I will complain about is pretty damned obvious and most people will have been able to guess this without me saying anything, BUT, possible spoilers ahead.

Let me rewind to the time before I saw this movie.  I think it was during either the Star Trek marathon, or maybe Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates, that I first saw this trailer.  The basic premise, from what I gathered, was that food in the supermarket thinks getting picked and leaving the store is equal to a heaven like situation.  Once in the kitchen however, food finds out the brutal truth that food is there to be massacred and eaten, not taken care of.

When I saw that trailer the first thing I thought about was that scene in Toy Story where the toys in the machine were waiting to be picked by the claw so they could go to nirvana.  It was a smart and witty comment on society's need for religion.  Now, anyone familiar with South Park will remember the South Park episode called The Simpsons Already Did It where Butters tries to come up with a way to punish the world, only to be told each time by his side kick that The Simpsons already tried that one.  They were very sneakily saying that every time they try and write an episode they found that The Simpsons had already done one similar to the one they were thinking of writing.  By the end of the episode they say that it is ok that The Simpsons already did it, as most stories have already been told, so we have to accept that fact.  So in the spirit of South Park, I figured I would give this a chance to see if they have anything to add tot hat concept, and if they can entertain while doing so.

The movie starts off with one of the characters almost immediately uttering the word shit.  I wish I had the actual script, not the older one floating around the internet, so that I could see exactly what the first few lines were, but I can tell you this, shit and fuck were used within one minute of the first word uttered.  Now, I am not one to be upset or have any issues with crude language, as obviously I am fine writing those words here, and hearing them in any movie I see.  In fact, I welcome those words if and when appropriate, or even when not, if it serves a purpose.  Comedy can be and is a purpose, but the trick is, it has to be funny.  Since funny is subjective, I will just go on to say I find some things extremely funny, and others not at all.  But I usually prefer something a bit witty, over just straight up crude or shocking.  BUT, and this is a huge but, I did like the Jackass 3D movie I finally caught recently, I love both South Park and Drawn Together and The Boondocks, and completely random ridiculous youtube videos that are crude and offensive to many.  Though I may prefer wit, crude is not an issue for me.

The best way for me to describe the start of this movie would be to compare it to going on Omegle or Chatroulette.  For those of you that don't know, those are sites where you are anonymous webcammer, connected with another anonymous webcammer.  People wear masks, dance, do magic tricks, sing, play instruments, and other various things.  Now, if the person who cams up is naked and masturbating, you know immediately what they are all about, at least in that very moment.  They are not looking to discuss politics, talk about their depression, or connect with someone in any way except sexually, and it has to be immediate.  They are not looking to chat you up for even one minute, their immediate action says all you need to know about what any further interaction with them will most likely be.  I personally am not judging those people, and there are people that like that sort of thing, but even I prefer to get to know someone a bit before I see their genitals.  The shock of exposed genitals does not shock me anymore, it is bland and boring, much like how a gynecologist must feel after seeing the ten thousandth vagina.

Sausage Party is exactly that.  An exposed genital just sitting there, pleasing itself with no regard to anything else at all.  I am guessing, though I don't think it's much of a stretch, that the writers of this comedy were high as fuck while writing it.  Again, no judgements, there are funny stoner comedies, like Super Troopers, and Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, both of which, if I remember correctly, were pretty crude at times.  But that is the whole thing, they didn't start off crude, and in your face, like someone masturbating on cam when you meet them.  They worked their way up to the crude, which made the crude all the more crude, shocking and funny.

After they have set the tone of the movie, they move on to the requisite funny opening song, which we are all familiar with from watching tons of South Park episodes.  The same has been done in Drawn Together, The Boondocks, and a million other adult-ish animation shows and movies.  The thing about those songs, other than being crude, is that they are also usually VERY memorable.  You find yourself humming them after only a couple listens, sometimes after just one.  I have always been shocked at how quick I can recognize a South Park song, or hum it weeks or months after I heard it once.  Same with many other shows.  While I did chuckle at one line in the song about the German food being a tad bit intolerant, the song itself was pretty boring and not memorable at all.  In fact, they play the song again, and go over the lyrics as well in the middle of the movie.  By the third playing of the song over the end credits I could hum along to it, but after I left the theater the song immediately left my head, which is not a good sign.

As they very meager plot is forwarded, we meet characters and get the general gist of what is going on.  Food is waiting to be picked before it expires, and some characters are into each other.  Next day comes, and one of the characters that was picked the day before gets returned.  He is a mess, freaking out after he witnesses the slaughter of all of his friends.  He tries to warn the others, but no one wants to listen.  At this point, the characters who are into each other get picked, as does the honey mustard that was picked the day before.  He is still panicking and due to his freaking out, a shopping cart accident happens and some of the characters are left at the store, including the ones who are into each other.  When I had seen the trailer, I had assumed much of the movie would take place outside of the supermarket, but in reality most of it happens right there.  The scene from the trailer in the woman's house where she is making food is in the movie about this time, and to be honest this is the most witty part of the movie, but as I said, it was in every trailer I saw, so this did not amuse as much as it should have.

At this point we meet a few more characters, the angry douche, the Jew hating Arab bread, the anti Arab Jewish bagel, the sexy little taco, the drunk American Indian alcohol, the black grits, and many others.  The main sausage (who looks like a hot dog) decides to question whether their belief system is correct, while the bun he likes decides she prefers to believe in what they have been taught.  The movie is relatively anti-religion, which is fine with me, but most of the jokes are on such a simplistic level that if you didn't already think these things yourself then you should wonder what you use your brain for in the first place.  Plus the characters are so simply constructed, their personalities following the known and simple stereotypes that exist in the world, with little to no variation on the theme at all.

By this time in the movie I have realized it is probably not going anywhere, which was a shame.  The animation was decent, good enough for what they were going for, mostly in a Pixar style, which is funny since they make fun of Pixar by having a character driving a car with a Dixar bumper sticker.  The vocal work is OK, but the characters are so one dimensional you could have had anyone do a Woody Allen impression for the Jewish bagel, but somehow they spent the money on Edward Norton instead.  I really wonder if having bigger name stars do the voices for things like this really make a difference at the box office or not.  It definitely worked for Toy Story, but does every animated movie need such big name stars?

The jokes, if you can call them that, are not very funny at all.  The problem is, this movie is designed to be seen while drunk, high, or having been hit in the head too many times.  I recently caught Mike Judge's Idiocracy recently, knowing next to little about it.  In that movie, an average guy from our time ends up 500 years in the future, and ends up being the smartest man in the world, the state of humanity having completely fallen apart.  In this land of idiots, the #1 movie is called Ass, and all it consists of is 90 minutes of an ass on screen, sometimes farting.  The most popular show on TV is Ouch My Balls!  Although the TV show alludes to Jackass style programming, the movie feels more like Sausage Party, one long one note joke with little else going on.  The funny thing is, Mike Judge is best known for Beavis And Butt-head, a show that many people said was the dumbest show in the history of man.  Comparing that show to Sausage Party makes Beavis And Butt-head look like PBS programming.

One last comment on the movie itself, particularly one very talked about scene.  SPOLIERS!!!!  The movie ends, more or less, with a literal food porn scene, an massive orgy of food item violating food item.  There's gay, straight, bi, threesomes, foursomes, moresomes, etc etc etc.  By the time this scene was presented, I was so numb from the rest of the movie it came off as pure overkill.  It was also edited ridiculously fast, most likely so the old MPAA ratings guys couldn't focus too closely on what was going on.  I even read some of the script of the action in this scene, and to be honest, although it all sounds familiar, none of it really registered.  It was just more of the same. 

I must confess to have never seen a Seth Rogan movie before, as far as I know.  I missed This Is The End, which shares many stars with Sausage Party, and I have never seen Superbad or Pineapple Express.  So although I did have an idea this would be both raunchy, foul, crude and filled with weed humor, I still expected something more from it, considering how many people run out to see these movies.  I must say I was disappointed in both the film makers and humanity.  Even more so, I am in shock that the reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes have this rated at 82% overall, and 86% for the Top Critics.  The audience score is only 67%, which means either the audience is more discerning than the critics, or so many critics did not review this knowing they would hate it.  I would love to know the real reason.

I have to take particular note of the audience that saw this screening with me.  Although I have no proof, much of the audience, even though it was an 11PM showing on a weeknight, looked under 18.  They seemed to find the movie amusing, which sounds about right, as when I was 14 maybe this would have been pretty funny to me, even though I was a pretty discerning kid even back then.  I just find it amusing that a movie which is rated R will mostly appeal to a younger crowd.  There is little in this film that most kids wouldn't have already seen in real life, or in youtube videos.  At this point most 8-16 year olds have seen porn at least once in their lives, many watch it often.  I'm not judging here, just stating facts.  None of this movie will be a shock to kids, other than the fact that it is a major motion picture.  They usually see this in 3 minute increments on youtube.

The other thing I have been wondering is what movies are benefiting most from the fact that most kids are buying tickets to other movies so they can sneak into this one.  I know from people I have spoken to that buying a ticket for one film to get into an R rated film is a common occurrence.  They may or nay nor even see the movie they paid for, the end goal is to see something they aren't "allowed" to see.  But what movies are secretly making more money due to this?

Anyways, this was a rough outing for me, I really hoped that this would deliver something more than bare bones minimum sex and drug jokes, but I was mistaken.  There is enough comedy just like this all over the web, in much more palatable lengths.

5 out of 10 stars.

Location : Regal Times Square E-Walk 13, theater 12, NYC
Date and time : Monday August 15th, 2016 at 11 PM
Format : DCP
Audience : 30-40 people, many teens and young adults, seemed like they thought it was funny


Monday, August 15, 2016

For The Plasma (2104) movie review

For The Plasma (2014)

For a week in July For The Plasma had its New York City premiere, right before its release on the internet.  One of the directors, Kyle Molzan, who works at The Metrograph theater in NYC, is an acquaintance of mine.  He mentioned his film was showing for a week, so I decided to catch it one night.

For The Plasma is a confusing film.  Part sci fi, part drama, part comedy(?), you are never too sure what you are watching.  Even when you laugh at the funny parts, you are not sure you should be laughing, or that it is an intentional joke.  The script comes off as something that was written for a class, or maybe some sort of project, and never meant to be filmed, but someone filmed it anyways.

The first part of the plot revolves around the reason for the two girls being out in the middle of nowhere.  You see, one girl was already there, and called an old college friend to join her to give her some help with the job.  The job is simple, watching the woods for signs of fires and such, if I remember correctly, BUT (there is always a but), the first girl has figured out how to predict the economy or the stock market or what have you by watching the woods as well.  So she hires her friend to help with both jobs.

There is a second whole subplot having to do with a guy the first girl was into or dating or whatever, and the fact the the friend is now dating him and hiding it from the first girl.  There are lots of secretive phone calls and such.  Plus we meet the guy that tends to the lighthouse, and some Japanese businessmen who want to hire the first girl to do some other research, etc etc.

To be honest, none of the plots really go anywhere.  They exist irregardless of the fact that they both make no sense, and are never forwarded to any new place, let alone any conclusion.  It really does seem like someone wrote the script as an exercise for a class or something, then filmed it for the fuck of it.  Granted, I am sure that's how many a movie is made, but here it feels like something is missing, like the secret to the whole movie.  Or maybe there is no secret, that's the secret!

I have no shame admitting when I do not understand a movie, and this one just did not make a lot of sense in the long run.  Each scene seems like it might lead somewhere, but it never does.  Although this can work under certain circumstances, for me it did not work here.  As for the rest of the movie, some of the shots were beautiful and well done, although the changes in camera style can be a bit disarming at times.  The soundtrack was interesting at times, though I am not sure that I felt like it was part of the movie at times, or just something playing along with the movie.  The performances were OK at times, but nothing to write home about.  The script is, well, setting up a movie that never happens, unfortunately.  Maybe one day someone can rework the whole thing and make a movie that is much more satisfying.

Overall I cannot totally hate on the movie, it is more a curiosity than something that I would severely dislike, though I can see people being one way or another on this one.

6 out of 10 stars.

Location : Anthology Film Archives, downstairs smaller theater, NYC
Date and time : Tuesday, July 11th, 2016 at 7 PM
Format : 16mm to digital
Audience : 11 people, a few laughs, an old couple who I am sure was related to either one of the film makers or an actor, and a lot of confused stares during the movie

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Big Clock (1948) review

The Big Clock (1948)

Joe Dante is mostly known for directing the mega hit Gremlins, but he has also directed many other films of note.  Recently BAM (The Brooklyn Academy Of Music) did a retrospective of his films :

Joe Dante at the Movies

and TV work, plus offered to show some films that Joe Dante was a fan of, or that influenced him.  There were multiple double features, and some pretty great stuff was shown.  He even showed up for some screenings, did a Q&A after a showing of his work print of Gremlins, and introduced a couple of screenings as well.  I got to meet him and chat with him, and he is not only a great guy, but very down to earth, personable, and very aware.  Talking with him felt like talking with any of my other movie obsessed friends, except that he has been amazingly successful, unlike the rest of us!

This double feature shown did not include a film that Dante directed, but instead was a couple film noir movies that he loved, one called The Black Book (Reign Of Terror) and The Big Clock starring Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Harry Morgan, who is best known as Colonel Potter on TV's M*A*S*H.  Although I did not get to see The Black Book, as I was at another screening, I did make it in time for The Big Clock. 

In the last few years I have been able to catch a few Ray Milland Films, including Panic In Year Zero!, X: Man With The X-Ray Eyes, Dial M For Murder, and Frogs, and have been wanting to see more of his work.  As for Charles Laughton, I caught a double feature of White Woman and Island Of Lost Souls, and although I did not love White Woman, I did think Island Of Lost Souls was pretty great.  He also directed the amazing Robert Mitchum movie Night Of The Hunter, which I recommend to anyone who has not seen it.  With both these guys in this, I felt I had to catch this movie.

Early on in the film I noticed a woman elevator operator who looked amazingly familiar.  I could not place her, and went right over to IMDb when I got home, and it turns out she was Noel Neill, the actress who played Lois Lane in the original Superman serials and the second season of the classic TV version, which I watched many times as a small child.  Funny how certain people just stick in your brain.

The plot revolves around a magazine conglomerate run by a Rupert Murdoch type who is rich, arrogant, and obnoxious.  He is overly demanding of his staff, is obsessed with time, and fires people for not being able to do things he thinks they should, even if he's wrong.  At some point he has a meeting with his mistress, or girlfriend, or lover, and things don't go too well.  She then meets the main character, played by Ray Milland, who is about to go on vacation and things don't work out too well for him either and he gets fired.  Somehow Milland and the mistress spend the night out drunk, and he has to sneak out when the boss shows up, and then all kinds of shit happens. 

This is one of those noir films that focuses on the wrongly accused trying to keep themselves out of jail from a crime they did not commit.  The look of the film is brighter than many noir films, though it has its dark moments, and there are some truly funny moments as well.  The individual performances are really good, and although there is nothing wrong with this picture at all, it doesn't reach the heights I want it to.  Not to say it's a disappointment, I guess I just wanted something more from it. 

7 out of 10 stars.

Location : BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) , theater 2, Brooklyn, NYC
Date and time : Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 at 10:15 PM
Format : 35mm
Audience : About 30 people, I know a bunch of people I was with enjoyed it

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Wild Combination: A Portrait Of Arthur Russell (2008) review

Wild Combination: A Portrait Of Arthur Russell (2008)

The Metrograph in NYC is currently running a series:

Dim All The Lights: Disco And The Movies

which unfortunately ends tonight, though there will be a couple films that will have additional screenings, including this one.  Fortunately I got to see a few of the screenings, plus I am catching one last one tonight. 

Arthur Russell is a man I knew a little bit about, and when I say a little bit, I would say probably about .01% of what was in the movie.  I knew his name, I knew that he played cello, I knew he did some avant garde work, and I knew that he made a couple disco records, including one under the group name Dinosaur L.  That was about it.  When I saw this documentary on him was playing, I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about him. 

Documentaries can be amazing for a few reasons.  One, if you already know the subject it can be both entertaining and a perfect opportunity to learn more about something you love, which is exactly what happened when I watched the De Palma documentary recently.  If you know virtually nothing about the subject it is like taking a speed class without having to memorize anything for a test.  This past year or so I saw a documentary called Not Film, which was about a movie called Film, and its director, Samuel Beckett.  Being that I knew nothing at all about Samuel Beckett, and had watched Film only moments before, it was a pretty amazing literary lesson. 

The documentary opens with Arthur's parents talking about his childhood and how he was raised, and some of the issues he suffered from.  It then follows him to San Francisco where he met famed poet Allen Ginsberg, then off to NYC where he made his home.  I won't spoil the journey by giving you any more details of his life, but we do hear about all of his collaborations, bands, music, and changes in his life. 

The film is shot beautifully, and mostly chronologically, and covers a wide spectrum of his life and music.  There are many performances of his in the film, both audio and video, of all of his styles of music.  It s a very comprehensive documentary, which is something I look for when it comes to subjects I know little about.  It is also very poignant and touching, and shows you both a NYC that barely exists anymore, and the kind of person who used to live here but could never survive here nowadays. 

Keep in mind, this is a documentary on the man and his music, and his music was far from just disco, it covered many bases, and no matter what kind of music you are a fan of you could find some of his to fit your tastes, unless of course you have no soul.  I was very pleased I got to see this documentary on this man, and will be seeking out more music from him in the future.

8 out of 10 stars.

Location : The Metrograph, theater 1, NYC
Date and time : Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 at 7:30 PM
Format : DCP
Audience : At least 60 people, audience was moved and enjoyed it a lot

Bloodthirsty Butchers (1970) review

Bloodthirsty Butchers (1970)

Last night Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn (which is not yet open) hosted a screening at Anthology Film Archives.  This is at least the second event they have held in anticipation of their upcoming grand opening.  They decided to show Bloodthirsty Butchers, one of the many portrayals of the tale of Sweeney Todd.  This particular version was directed by Andy Milligan, a director whose work has to be seen to be believed.  Introducing last night's screening was none other than Frank Henenlotter, director of Basket Case and Frankenhooker.

It's hard to describe Andy Milligan, or at least an Andy Milligan movie.  The easiest way is  to say that an Andy Milligan movie makes an Ed Wood movie look like a Steven Spielberg movie.  The budget for this movie was supposedly $18,000, but it looks more like the budget was about $500.  Most of his movies were filmed on Staten Island, but this one was mostly filmed in England, though somehow he made England look as drab as Staten Island.  The acting is atrocious, the sets are bad, the scripts are filled with line after line of bullshit, and the plot is usually threadbare and messy at best.  Let's not forget the shaky camerawork and terrible sound!  Frank Henenlotter explained last night that the reason for some of the horribleness of his films had to do with the equipment he was using, which was a 16mm camera that had to record all the sound on the film, not allowing him to fix anything later.

The plot of this version of Sweeney Todd is a bit different than the others I have seen, with some changes to the characters and their motivations, but to be honest, none of that is really that important.  For a film like this, the ride is what's important.  Although this runs only about 80 minutes, it feels MUCH longer while you are watching it.  There are lots of thick, hard to understand British accents, scenes with some terrible acting in it, including a great inconspicuous tailing of one character, and sound effects that do not follow what is going on in the film.  But when it is done you feel like you watched something special.  Maybe special in how bad it is, or weird, or whatever, but nothing like anything else you have seen.

I think this is the third Milligan film I have seen, and although they are complete travesties, they are also a lot of fun in their insanity.  Of course, you have to like completely horrible B movie acting and be able to view this in a completely different light than a movie that would come out nowadays, or even then to be honest.  But this is like when you find yourself listening to a singer you know is horrible, but you still like to listen to it.

As far as the Sweeney Todd story goes, this is not the best telling of it by any means, that is and will always be reserved for the Angela Lansbury version, with either Len Cariou or George Hearn, both are great.  You can find a DVD version filmed on Broadway for PBS, and also another version filmed from the audience as well on youtube.  Now, SOME of you may have seen the actual travesty of this story directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's wife.  Now, I know many people are fans of this, but it is literally one of the only times I wanted to walk out of a film it was so horrible.  So no version, no matter how bad, could ever get THAT bad.

All in all, considering I had already seen this movie once before, I had a pretty fun time both listening to stories of Andy Milligan from Frank Henenlotter and watching the debacle he directed.  Hopefully there will be many more fun nights like this when Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn opens as well!

7 out of 10 stars.

Location : Anthology Film Archives, downstairs theater, NYC
Date and time : Tuesday, August 9th, 2016 at 9 PM
Format : 35mm print, very faded
Audience : About 60 people, almost sold out, audience laughed, seemed to have fun

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Lights Out (2013) review

Lights Out (2013)

In 2013 David F. Sandberg and his wife, Lotta Losten, released this 3 minute short they made together on the internet.  3 years later the full length film was released in the United States and made 10 times its budget in 2 weeks! 

If you have seen the trailer for the movie or seen the movie then you have an idea what this short is about.  There is no dialogue and it is VERY short, but it is effective and very scary, which is why they decided to make a full length film of this. 

Obviously there is not much to say about this version of Lights Out, other than I would watch this after you see the full length version.  I am happy to see that he used his wife in a role in the full length as well, it's nice that he could work that out. 

If you are looking to read my review on the full length, you an do that here :

Lights Out (2016) review

Lights Out (2016)

The thing about going to the movies nowadays is that it is very likely you will see trailers for most films coming out in the next month or two, at least in the genre you are currently seeing.  If it's a comic book movie, expect to see trailers for the next 5 comic book movies.  God forbid you see anything remotely family oriented or dramatic, you will get the most horrible trailers for some of the worst movies you have ever seen, or at least I have ever seen.  You see, generally speaking, I try and avoid trailers.  To me, most trailers give away far too much plot, and ruin most movies.  Did I need to know that Wonder Woman is making an appearance in Batman V Superman?  Would I not have enjoyed that piece of shit at least a bit more had that been a surprise?  Didn't everyone already plan on seeing it regardless of the fact we all thought it would suck?  But when I am sitting in a theater, I cannot not just ignore them, or look away.  I have to sit there and watch the stupid trailer, which will most likely just either make me hate the movie more, since it's not something I would ever see, or show me parts of a movie I am already going to see, and spoil the best scenes.  The trailers that I love/hate the most are the horror ones.  I love them because they let me know about movies I probably don't know are even coming out, but I hate them because they show far too much of the scary stuff in an effort to make you think the whole movie will be scary, even though you mostly likely saw almost every scary scene in the movie.

So a month or two ago I start seeing the trailer for Lights Out.  I was impressed with the scariness of the trailer, as most people have some fear of the dark, or more specifically what is hiding in the dark.  At some point after seeing the trailer a few times I notice James Wan's name, who wrote and directed the first Saw movie, and had his hand in many other recent horror movies which I have not seen.  I liked Saw, so I thought, maybe I should see this.  I sent the trailer to a few of my friends who are easily scared, and some of them couldn't even make it through the trailer.  Yes, I can be a dick sometimes, but it's fun to scare people!  So after seeing this trailer way too many times, I decide I will try and watch this movie even though my expectations for any new horror movie is exceedingly low.

A bit of history about my love of horror movies.  I have literally seen horror movies from pretty much every decade and era, and found ones I like in all of them.  Obviously like many people, I tend to lean towards certain types or eras, but I try not to be so limited in my views that I think if the movie was released in any year past, let's say 1984, it is going to automatically suck.  I do love the old monster movies from the 1950s, the cheesy exploitation ones from the 1960s, the creepy and fucked up ones from the 1970s, the gory slasher films from the 1980s, etc etc.  I did not watch a lot of any kind of movies in the 1990s, but by the 2000s I started watching many horror movies from overseas, especially Japan.  At this point in America, the PG-13 horror movie became the norm, mostly due to a taming of the violence in horror movies, combined with studios mistaken belief that a PG-13 will make them more money as more kids see horror movies.  Thankfully movies like Cabin Fever, Saw, Hostel and the like proved that wrong, and we started seeing movies with a bit more bite in them.  This is not to say that a PG-13, or even a PG movie, can't be scary.  As much as I like blood and gore, Poltergeist (the original) was a PG movie that ***SPOILER ALERT*** had no deaths in it, but was still damned scary and well made to boot.  So when I see a new horror movie, although my expectations may be low, I do try to keep an open mind and enjoy it for what it is, not what I personally want it to be.

Lights Out is a very simple story.  If you have seen the trailer you know the gist of the film, and have seen some of the opening scenes.  Basically as a woman is shutting down a mannequin factory, she goes to turn off a light, and notices someone standing in the darkness right as she does.  She turns the light back on, and they are gone.  Turn it off, she sees the person again.  On, they disappear.  Off one last time, the person is right next to them!  Simple, scary and pretty much a completely basic caveman fear we all have to some degree or another.  The fear isn't actually of the dark, but what is hiding in it waiting for us.  Obviously there is a story to this movie as well, because of movie of jump scares without a plot would be pretty boring.  We meet the Dad, who is trying to help Mom with some mental issues she is having, and we meet their child who is worried about Mom.  Later, we meet the sister, or half sister, and her boyfriend.  It seems like Mom is connected to this thing in the shadows, and this thing is possessive as hell.

There are some really good things about Lights Out.  One, it is actually scary on that base kind of level.  Two, it is shot amazingly well for a movie that takes place in the dark for much of the time.  Flashlights, cell phones, candles and the like make up much of the lighting, and you don't have to be a genius or have made a multi million dollar movie to realize it is not easy to light a movie with so little and still be able to see what is going on.  I have complained about numerous movies as of late, like the latest Star Trek, Batman V Superman, etc etc, being way too dark, visually speaking, and being unable to focus on the action.  You do not have that problem here, which is amazing since so much is in the dark.  Hats off to the director for pulling that off.

The characters are written well enough, though the sister/girlfriend's lack of trust in men and bitchiness is a bit forced, as is her boyfriend's neediness.  The Mom is written a bit better, and pulls off the mentally ill Mom thing very well.  I felt like Mom and daughter looked a bit too similar, but this is a small complaint.  I found the thing in the dark to be scary, but I know there are people who didn't, but that's one of those things you either find scary or you don't.  I did.

There are multiple good scenes that were NOT in the trailer, thankfully.  Scenes that surprised the audience, both scary and plot wise, and that is part of what made this film for me.  Another part that I REALLY enjoyed was the fact that it had a beginning, middle and end.  Now, that may sound weird, but so many horror films now start off OK, make it to the middle where things start to level off, and by the end it is like the director/writer didn't know what to do so it just sort of ends, either with no resolution, or with an ending that literally makes no sense and gives no understanding of what you just watched.  Sure, horror movies almost always have plot holes, or confusing bits, but the lack of being able to write a proper story to go with what is in your head is a travesty of many a new horror movie.

I want to bring up two things before I wrap this up.  One, right as I was getting ready to run out to see this, I was checking showtimes and there were some reviews posted on the right of the computer screen.  The reviews were pretty bad, and had I been on the fence about this I would not have seen it.  On top of that, complaints about the fact that it was PG-13 were there, which I didn't even realize was the rating before I was leaving.  One review said that the movie was practically family friendly.  Now, I do not like to give away too much in the way of plot points, but I can assure you, regardless of how many deaths, how much blood and gore, and what was visible on the screen, the themes in this movie are pretty damned dark and depressing and any child with a slightly sensitive nature would be wrecked by this movie.  I am sure many a fucked up teen was scared shitless by this movie, so maybe for some this is just a walk in the park, but for many this movie would follow someone for life.  That is not a criticism at all, except to criticize the person who said this was practically good for the whole family.

My last point has almost nothing to do with this movie, but the movie business in general.  Here is a horror movie, that was made for 5 million dollars, based on a 3 minute short, with no stars in it and a first time director.  It has now made 50 million dollars within a couple weeks.  I walked out of the movie at the end thinking this was a good, solid movie, almost very good, and I would like to see another installment of it.  I walked across the hall, and then caught the Thursday preview screening of Suicide Squad, a movie that was hyped beyond belief, and cost 175 million dollars, not counting a marketing campaign which probably cost more than the movie itself.  When I left the theater after that, I also felt it was a good movie, but not very good or great, which is what I would expect from 175 million dollars.  The insanity of the big name stars, the expensive sets, the costly popular songs, and the need for a movie to break a billion dollars to be considered a success is both disgusting and annoying.  I get the difference in genres, costs, expectations, but there is no reason for Will Smith to be in this movie commanding a ridiculous salary.  When Robert Downey Jr. was in the first Iron Man, he didn't get the job because he was a superstar.  He BECAME a superstar who deserves a ridiculous salary to be Iron Man now, because he made that character who he is.  He was a known actor who might not have been an unknown, but he was not a household name like Will Smith.  I feel way better seeing a movie like Lights Out which at the very least is somewhat of an original idea, with newer and less known actors, than watching overblown movies with overpaid salaries and actors who we all know.  Marvel built that franchise from the ground up, while DC is trying to buy their way in with Ben Affleck and Will Smith.  Rant over.  (I may have to add this rant to my Suicide Squad review).

All in all, Lights Out was a pleasant and much needed surprise for me, especially when it comes to horror movies.  I am very glad I caught this before it left the theaters.

7 out of 10 stars.

Location : United Artists Kaufman Astoria 14, theater 9, Queens, NYC
Date and time : Thursday, August 4th, 2016 at 9 PM
Format : DCP
Audience : 30-40 people, many of them scared and/or screaming, a few laughs, people seemed to really enjoy it.  Amazingly very few cell phone users, for such a young crowd. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Suicide Squad (2016) review

Suicide Squad (2016)

Comic book/superhero movies are such a genre in and of themselves that it is getting easier and easier to tell the good ones from the bad ones, due to the fact that we have such shining examples of both highs and lows.  On the shit side we have the most recent Fantastic Four movie, which barely felt like a movie, and Batman v Superman, which was a movie but a complete mess of a movie that ran at least 30-60 minutes too long.  Until recently the gold standard for superhero movies was the first Iron Man, but I did get to catch up on my Captain America and Avengers movies, and of those 5, 4 of them were very very good.  Civil War was pretty amazing, and although I rarely watch movies more than once every 5-10 years, I saw Civil War 3 times (for slightly complicated reasons) within a couple weeks, and still enjoyed it thoroughly each time.  Deadpool would also rank pretty high.

Where does Suicide Squad end up in that comparison?  Well, it is nowhere near as bad as FF or BVS, but nowhere near as good as Iron Man, Avengers, Civil War or Deadpool.  That being said, there are still problems galore, so I will try to be spoiler free while bitching, but you might hear a tiny detail or two.

I have complained about this before with other movies, but what the hell is going on with these damned darkly lit movies???  This is the third one I have had problems with that I can remember, I had the exact same problem with BVS and also the new Star Trek movie as well.  Now, I saw BVS in a standard 2D theater, so there was absolutely no excuse for that.  It just looked terrible on the big screen and visually speaking it was too dark.  Same with the latest Star Trek, though I did see that in 3D and my girlfriend still wants to watch the first two before seeing the 2D version, so I may get to make a comparison, but from what I've been told by others, they had the same issue.  This one, same damned issue, just too dark.  There is nothing wrong with dark sets, dark lighting at appropriate times, or night scenes, but it seems like these films are hiding their flaws in the dark, making it hard to see what is going on during action scenes.  When I think of that fight at the airport in Civil War, it's bright out, sunny, during the day, and you can see EVERYTHING that is going on.  There are times when you see multiple characters fighting in various ways, and the action is watchable and the CGI looks amazing, even with how brightly lit everything is.

Now, early on in this movie you have the commander of the Suicide Squad explaining who everyone is.  She is showing files on each member, and up on the screen pops info about them, name, where they are from, some details about them.  I am a pretty fast reader, but I barely got through half of it before they would switch to another character.  After the first couple I knew that was going to happen, so I tried to read even quicker, but still couldn't finish.  Very frustrating.  Plus it was obvious she did not go through them all, which made me feel like they were setting it up where one character is so obviously less important than the others.  From the trailers alone we knew about the Joker, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, plus a guy that sets things on fire.  But there were others, and we could see that in the trailer, so you expect a brief explanation of who they are in the movie.  But even then we just got the basics.  When they finally do introduce the other characters it is done in a way that you feel like either they barely have a role in the movie, or they will be dead any scene now.  Not a good start to the movie.

Let's take the characters one by one.  Deadshot is played by Will Smith.  He is given the most depth of any character, and since he is the most expensive actor there he gets major screen time.  When he was a rapper, he was likable.  When he was a TV star, he was likable.  When he started in movies, he was likable.  Now he is playing a hitman, a killer, one with few moral, and he's still likable.  I get it, you want people to relate to the characters, even if they are bad.  He is by far not the worst comic book portrayal by any means, but it's Will Smith, he still comes off as likable.

Harley Quinn is played by Margot Robbie, who I last saw overacting in The Legend Of Tarzan, which was pretty damned bad on many levels.  Here, she is much much better.  She can be cute and sweet and funny at times, when she's not being a psycho.  She has chemistry with Deadshot, which is nice, and her love for The Joker, however disturbing, comes off as sweet sometimes.  Her accent?  Well, that is not so great.  I have not read the comics nor watched any animated series where she has appeared.  But her weird over the top faux-Jersey accent is a bit too much for me.  On top of that, it fades in and out while she is talking, which may or may not have been intentional, according to my Harley Quinn obsessed friend.

Diablo sets shit on fire, that's his trait and power, and seems to be what we know about him.  He is a more religious/calm kind of guy, but of course, the calm before the storm sorta thing.  His character is pretty good and the guy playing him does it well, though his part in this movie isn't huge.

Boomerang is an annoying pompous Aussie dude who got boring almost immediately.  Other than being the guy you don't like, he doesn't seem to be there for much of a reason.

Killer Croc is alright, but I felt like he was also pretty underdeveloped as a character.  Deadshot and Harley Quinn really steal this movie from the others.

Slipknot, well, let's just say his character is the least developed of the bunch, and that's that.

June Moone, who is also Enchantress, is played by Cara Delevingne, is ok in the role, but never really made me feel like she was right for the part.  I don't know, just something about her that didn't make me feel it.

Her brother, Monster T, is played by Common, and he was pretty good, but we really don't feel a lot of fear for the villain of the villians in this movie.

The Joker is played by Jared Leto, and this Joker is his creation, he does not copy others.  He comes across as an overly pervy uncle more than a criminal mastermind, but a perverted Joker would not be a shock.

Rick Flag is the first of the good(?) guys.  He is the one directly in charge of the Suicide Squad while they are out in the field.  He is pretty good, and you almost feel bad for him at times.

Katana is working for Rick, there to help keep the Suicide Squad in line.  She seems to enjoy her work.  She seems like she might be an interesting character, maybe even enough to get her own movie.

Which leaves us with one major character, Amanda Waller.  She is in charge of the whole program, Rick, Katana, and the Suicide Squad.  She is, oddly enough, the scariest person in this whole movie.  She is scarier than the villains she hires, the bad guys that they are fighting, and everyone else in the film.  I would trust The Joker sooner than I would trust her.

The plot is extraordinarily simple.  Scary Amanda Waller convinces the government that she can use the Suicide Squad as a tool for the government, and uses Enchantress as her example.  After doing a job, Enchantress decides she will never do anything for her again, and basically becomes the de facto bad guy in the film.  The rest of the Suicide Squad are sent out to save someone and become quasi good guys.  If you have seen the trailer, then you get the idea.  Super humans with poor social skills act up and try to do good, if they can.

We get some visits from other characters in the DC world, which will delight some people.  We get in fighting between characters.  We get flirting from characters.  We get sob stories from characters.  We get a scantily clad Harley.  It is a relatively standard comic book flick which has some fighting, action, arguing and killing.  What we DON'T get is anything new at all.  There is nothing in the movie that surprised me, amazed me, made me do a double take or even breathe in deep.  This is a paint by the numbers comic book movie, which didn't satisfy my urge to be wowed.

All that being said, it is not like the film failed to entertain, at least to a passable degree.  I didn't hate it by any means, this did not sink to the levels of the latest Fantastic Four, or BVS.  This did not even get down to the level of the last X-Men movie, which was bad, but not nearly as bad as those other two.  This fell in that in between zone, more like in the OK to good range, closer to OK.  This is one of those movies where you think, I liked it, but they spent almost 200 million on THAT?

A couple last points I would like to make.  The soundtrack to this movie must have cost them a small fortune.  It was popular song after popular song, which for me was fine, but a bit weird, while it annoyed the fuck out of my girlfriend, who felt the songs were wrong and didn't fit the movie.  It felt like when you see a movie like the first installment of the recent Star Trek franchise, and they pop in a song like Sabotage, and you think, yeah, this is hot, this works.  Except they tried to do it 10 times in this movie, hoping for the same feeling each time.  It sort of waters down the feeling.

According to some things I read, the original cut of this movie had a much darker tone, and there were re-shoots to add in some lighter material, more jokes, etc etc.  I get that, even in the darkest of some of the superhero films, there is comedy, just like there is in real life.  But this is a movie about super villains.  They are supposed to be dark, mean, angry, lack morals, and generally NOT do the right thing.  I get that there is a need to appeal to different levels of fans, but, as we saw with Deadpool, an R rated action superhero film can make a small fortune.  Other than Deadpool, if there was ever going to be another R rated comic book movie, this was the one.  Shit, if you can have 2D, 3D, RPX, 4DX, IMAX, why can't you release a film in both PG and R ratings???!!!  I know that no studio exec will ever read a word I write, but do they seriously think in such limited terms?

Lastly, there is a quick scene in one of the trailers which I have seen ad nauseam over the past few months.  It is one of the funnier and more amusing lines in the trailer and really stood out to me as being funny and made me look forward to the film.  When we got to the scene in the movie where this line takes place, it just isn't there!  They cut the funny line from the trailer in a movie they deemed too dark and did re-shoots for because it was too dark.  What the hell?  I must say not seeing that line in the movie threw me right out of the movie and back into reality, wondering what they were thinking, which is not what you want while people watch your movie.

All in all, this was an OK somewhat fun movie, which could turn into a decent series if they have a good script, use the characters in better ways, and LET THEM BE EVIL!!!!

7 out of 10 stars.

Location : United Artists Kaufman Astoria 14, theater 2 (RPX 3D), Queens, NYC
Date and time : Thursday, August 4th, 2016 at 10:30 PM
Format : DCP, 3D, RPX
Audience : Mostly sold out, audience seemed to like it, but not love it


Right before I saw Suicide Squad I saw Lights Out, and although I reviewed Suicide Squad first, when I wrote my Lights Out review I ended up ranting about the difference between seeing Lights Out versus Suicide Squad, and decided I should add it in here:

My last point has almost nothing to do with this movie, but the movie business in general.  Here is a horror movie, that was made for 5 million dollars, based on a 3 minute short, with no stars in it and a first time director.  It has now made 50 million dollars within a couple weeks.  I walked out of the movie at the end thinking this was a good, solid movie, almost very good, and I would like to see another installment of it.  I walked across the hall, and then caught the Thursday preview screening of Suicide Squad, a movie that was hyped beyond belief, and cost 175 million dollars, not counting a marketing campaign which probably cost more than the movie itself.  When I left the theater after that, I also felt it was a good movie, but not very good or great, which is what I would expect from 175 million dollars.  The insanity of the big name stars, the expensive sets, the costly popular songs, and the need for a movie to break a billion dollars to be considered a success is both disgusting and annoying.  I get the difference in genres, costs, expectations, but there is no reason for Will Smith to be in this movie commanding a ridiculous salary.  When Robert Downey Jr. was in the first Iron Man, he didn't get the job because he was a superstar.  He BECAME a superstar who deserves a ridiculous salary to be Iron Man now, because he made that character who he is.  He was a known actor who might not have been an unknown, but he was not a household name like Will Smith.  I feel way better seeing a movie like Lights Out which at the very least is somewhat of an original idea, with newer and less known actors, than watching overblown movies with overpaid salaries and actors who we all know.  Marvel built that franchise from the ground up, while DC is trying to buy their way in with Ben Affleck and Will Smith.  Rant over.

You can read my whole Lights Out review here :

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986)

Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986)

As I mentioned in my last post, I saw on The Metrograph's website that Jonathan Pryce would be showing up for a screening of Brazil, and after Brazil they would be showing Jumpin' Jack Flash as well, a movie he also had a part in.  Although he did not stay and watch Jumpin' Jack Flash, he did introduce it and was not only very nice about what would probably be a very easy movie to pick on, he was cordial and friendly about it too.  Of course he is British, so he may not be able to easily be rude like that! 

JJF is an odd film, to say the least.  It has a ton of people in it that you might recognize, like Whoopie Goldberg in the starring role, Stephen Collins from the 7th Heaven TV show (and from loads of TMZ stories regarding his child molestation charges), Carol Kane (from TV's Taxi and many movies), Annie Potts (from TV's Designing Women and movies including Ghostbusters), Jeroen Krabbe (a Dutch actor who has been in TV, movies, and my favorite movie of all time, Paul Verhoeven's The 4th Man), Jon Lovitz (from SNL and The Critic), Phil Hartman (from SNL and The Simpsons), Jim Belushi (TV's The World According To Jim and SNL), Tracey Ullman (from TV's The Tracey Ullman Show), Garry Marshall (who wrote, directed, acted in and produced dozens of famous TV shows and movies), Micheal McKean (from TV's Laverne And Shirley, and This Is Spinal Tap) and Kellie Martin (from TV's Life Goes On and ER).  As you can easily see, many of the people in this movie worked on TV shows.  In fact, this was directed by Garry Marshall's daughter, Penny Marshall, a director in her own right and probably best known as Laverne from TV's Laverne And Shirley.  The connections between her and many of the actors are plentiful. 

Whoopie Goldberg plays someone who works at a bank on their computers, doing currency exchanges and dealing with people on the internet.  Since this was 1986, this isn't exactly You've Got Mail, but there are computer message exchanges between Whoopie's character, named Terry, and other clients.  One night someone who has been monitoring her messages says hello, and gives Terry a challenge.  She accepts and when she succeeds, she finds out that this is a spy caught behind enemy lines that needs her to help him get out of a hostile country. 

This movie is a terribly typical 1980s comedy that could just as easily play on TV if you remove all the fucks from the dialogue.  Although there is some violence and killing, it is all very neat and clean.  There is also the romantic comedy aspect of it where Terry is falling for her British spy without even knowing anything about him.  It is all so absurd and ridiculous and almost nonsensical that it almost works in a goofy kind of way.  This movie definitely reaches back to some of the older films to give it the feel of a modern updating of a classic type of film. 

Now, to be honest, this is a movie I would NEVER have seen if I had not just seen Brazil right before and Jonathan Pryce was not introducing it.  I am not a Whoopie fan, though she is ok, and I generally hate most romantic comedies.  All that being said, there were actually a few funny moments, an amazing amount of recognizable actors, and the movie does take place in New York City and some of it was even filmed here!  For a movie I would not normally see, I was not tortured by it, which was a welcome surprise. 

Location : The Metrograph, theater 1, NYC
Date and time : Monday, July 25th, 2016 at 10 PM
Format :35mm print
Audience : About 20 people, audience laughed, seemed to have fun

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Brazil (1985)

Brazil (1985)

The other day I was checking The Metrograph in NYC to see what was playing, and I noted an upcoming event that seriously excited me.  One of my Top 100 movies would be playing soon, with the lead actor showing up and doing a Q&A.  I rushed down that night to get my tickets, hoping it would not sell out before I got there.  Luckily fate was on my side and I got two tickets in the balcony to the screening.  Unfortunately The Metrograph does not exactly make their upcoming announcements in any particular discernible way.  I would have expected to see this mentioned in their most recent email, but I did not.  In fact, by the time I did get an email about this screening it was either sold out or close to sold out.  I'm going to have to sign up for their twitter and facebook as well, though I do really hate both of those sites.

Obviously the movie I am talking about is Brazil, the cult classic that almost never was.  For those of you that don't know, although the movie was made by an American movie company, there was a shift in power in the company and the new head did not like the movie.  He refused to release it as is, and had it re-edited to his liking, to give it a less dark feel and a happier ending.  He wanted the director, Terry Gilliam, to re-shoot some scenes and help with what he wanted, but Terry refused.  In the Q&A we found out that the lead actor, Jonathan Pryce was also asked to help, but he also refused.  The movie was finished and released in Europe, but almost a year went by while Terry fought with the studio.  Finally the Los Angeles Film Critics Association screened it and gave it a best picture award, forcing the studio into releasing it.

While it by no means made a fortune, it was well reviewed and became a legitimate cult classic and has gone on to become loved by many people.  Each year this film gathers more and more fans, and has been cited as an influence by many others.  Although it was a hard battle, Terry did win it in the end, and felt vindicated by the reception the film received.

If anyone has ever read 1984 the plot of this film would be familiar to you.  A simple guy who works for the government ends up becoming disillusioned by the bureaucracy and dishonesty of the job and his employers and decides to do something about it.  When I love a film as much as this one, I have trouble going into plot too much as I feel part of the movie's charm is the journey, the discovery as you go along for the ride.

Needless to say, this is a dark film, but comedic nonetheless.  The idiocy of the government is always something that is fun to poke at, as if you can't laugh at it you will just end up crying.  Think of it as how it would be if Trump won the presidential election, we would all have to laugh a LOT to get through that!  It is also a drama, a fantasy, a romance, and although it takes place in a time and space we do not live it, it feels like we could have been there if things had gone another way.

The film looks beautiful, the acting is top notch, the sets are amazing, the script is well written and this is the kind of movie you find yourself involved in, feeling like you are there with the characters.  The music fits perfectly with the scenes, and all in all the movie feels like a distorted classic for all time.

There were a few high points of this screening.  One, after I took my seat I saw Jonathan Pryce in the balcony, looking at the theater.  To my delight, he stayed to watch his own film, which is rare for many actors and directors.  Even better, he sat two seats away from me!  Every once in a while I would look over at him while he was watching his young self on the screen.  Two, the Q&A was awesome, he spoke a lot about the movie, his career, and how he ended up in Brazil.  He touched on some of the controversy and other films he was in too.  Thankfully there was only one question mentioning Game Of Thrones, and for that I was happy.  Three, he signed one of The Metrograph movie programs for me, which was very nice of him.  Four, I got a few pics of his after the movie (see below), and five, he even introduced the next movie, which he was also in, a wacky NYC comedy called Jumpin' Jack Flash starring Whoopie Goldberg.  All in all an amazing night.

9 out of 10 stars for the movie, 10 out of 10 for the screening and Q&A.

Location : The Metrograph, theater 1, NYC
Date and time : Monday, July 25th, 2016 at 6:45 PM
Format :35mm print
Audience : Sold out, audience really enjoyed themselves