Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

The Nice Guys or Not the Bees!   2 comments

When a film starts with a topless porn star crashing her car into a house to the tune of the Temptations song Papa Was a Rolling Stone, it sets a tone you hope the characters and plot can keep up with. Fortunately, The Nice Guys keeps up the irreverent mood and fast and unexpected pace.


“Look up! Is that Dave Chappelle?”

Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) are both hired, separately, to look for and protect a young woman. Healy is a hired goon who beats people up for a living and March is a mercenary private detective who drinks so much he has his thirteen-year-old daughter drive him around. They start out as adversaries, but end up teaming up to solve the complicated case.


“It says here, Colonel Mustard, in the drawing room, with a candlestick.”

Set in 1970s Los Angeles, The Nice Guys deals with the porn industry, car makers, the Department of Justice, and even President Nixon. It even has a big bee. Despite the kitchen sink approach to plot, the film moves along and holds your interest thanks to its three leads.


Two out of the three leads and a big bee.

I get a big kick out of this film. Healy and March are cool characters that don’t fit into the standard private detective mold. Healy knows he’s a thug-for-hire, but you can tell he has a cool backstory and Crowe gives him some charm and even a little depth. March and his daughter, Holly, played by the talented and appealing Angourie Rice, have a sweet relationship. In some ways, she’s more mature than her dad, but the film never goes full Paper Moon and Gosling has some nice moments. I wish we got to know them all better, but the film places its emphasis on its overly intricate plot. Don’t get me wrong. The Nice Guys is entertaining, but I would have preferred a little more character development.


“There’s no sequel?”

The dialogue and performances in The Nice Guys are what make it work. Keith David’s henchman has a natural world-weariness and Lois Smith is always a pleasure to see. Matt Bomer must have enjoyed making this film too. He has a fun part with a few terrific lines. Gosling makes a potentially goofy character seem human and real. Crowe is the one we really want to learn more about. He’s a tough guy who lives above a comedy club and has a word-a-day calendar. I’m curious about how he got there.


“Lugubrious.”

Ryan Gosling has some winner lines too. In describing how bad Lois Smith’s eyesight is, he says, “She has actual Coke bottles for glasses. You paint a mustache on a Volkswagen and she says, boy, that Omar Sharif sure runs fast.” Good stuff.


“It’s 9am somewhere.”

Shane Black directed The Nice Guys based on a script he wrote with Anthony Bagarozzi. The plot and characters have a Get Shorty meets The Long Goodbye vibe with a little Pulp Fiction philosophizing thrown in. That’s not a bad thing.


“Royale with cheese.”

The best thing aside from the performances of Gosling and Crowe is the teaming of Gosling and Crowe. Seriously, I could watch a lot more of this duo—and these two characters. The Nice Guys is a fun movie.


“Say what again!”

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I Drink Your Blood (1970)   Leave a comment

“Satan was an acid head!”
-Horace Bones

A nasty bunch of Satanist hippies led by Horace Bones (Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury) show up in a small, nearly abandoned town and move into a house left empty to prepare for a soon to be built dam which will flood the area. During one of their naked, devil-worshipping rituals, they attack Sylvia (Iris Brooks), a local teenager. When her grandfather, veterinarian, Doc Banner (Richard Bowler) confronts them, the gang overpower him and dose him with LSD. If you think they’re only hostile to outsiders, think again. They also strap down one of their own, slice his feet with a machete and swing him from a hook until they’re splattered with his blood. Sweet.


“Do you like Jackson Pollock?”

That’s all Sylvia’s little brother, Pete (Riley Mills) can take. He decides to avenge the gang’s assaults on his family so he takes blood from a rabid dog he put down and injects it into meat pies meant for the cult.


Yum!

In a few hours, Horace and his followers, including the charismatic, Rollo (George Patterson) start foaming at the mouth and craving fresh blood. I’m pretty sure it’s not what Pete the doofus had in mind. The hydrophobic hippies run amok, killing and infecting everyone they meet, including the construction workers in town to build the dam, who, in turn kill everyone they see. It’s a real party.


“Did you say decaf?”

Will Doc Banner, Sylvia, and Pete escape with their lives? Will they ever get the rabid construction workers close enough to water to build the dam? Will bakery owner, Mildred Nash (Elizabeth Marner-Brooks) patent her rabies pies?


“I’ll have seconds!”

I Drink Your Blood is a gore-filled indie with good acting and an original story. In an interview with writer/director David E. Durston in the excellent book, Nightmare USA, by Stephen Thrower, the title of the film was originally Phobia, but producers changed it to I Drink Your Blood and paired it with the less promising film, I Eat Your Skin for the drive-in double-feature circuit. Durston was less than overjoyed about the title change, saying, “Ridiculous—there are no vampires in the film, not even a Bloody Mary! They might as well have called it ‘I Shit in Your Saddlebag’!” Apparently, Durston was a bright, funny character. I Drink Your Blood was the first film to get an X rating from the MPAA for violence. The controversy fueled excitement for the film and sales were brisk, even with the less than stellar I Eat Your Skin attached to it.

I Drink Your Blood entertains a lot more than the title leads you to believe. An original story combined with decent performances (except for Pete) and a dramatic score by Clay Pitts make it worth a watch.


This’ll come in handy.

Dementia 13 (1963) Revisited on Blu-ray   3 comments

I wrote a review of Dementia 13 a while back, but that was based on seeing a fairly grainy version on YouTube. Last fall, the lovely people at Film Detective sent me a Blu-ray of the fun horror gem. I had some dumb technical issues so I’m just watching it now. Sorry, Film Detective. I didn’t forget you.


“People get so dramatic when they’re not invited to the wedding.”

Dementia 13 was made in 1963, in black and white, for $40,000. Francis Ford Coppola filmed it, with Roger Corman’s blessing, around the set of The Young Racers, also starring William Campbell and Luana Anders. It’s just 75 minutes long and it’s a terrific little thriller. It’s not a perfect film, but it moves along and the acting is good, especially from Patrick Magee, who plays—surprise—a sinister doctor.


“Oh hi.”

Since I first watched and wrote about this film, I’ve seen it a few times, but it’s never looked this good. The Blu-ray version is crisp and clear and I managed to see more details of Dementia 13 in this viewing than I ever have. It’s a real treat to see a film you like in the best possible way. Director of photography, Charles Hanawalt, uses a lot of natural and dim lighting. That makes sense considering the modern Gothic setting. It also means that in the past, I’ve had to strain to catch details. Not this time.

I enjoyed actually seeing Dementia 13 after all this time. If you’re a fan, the Blu-ray is a must.

Psst…below is my review of Dementia 13, with a few additions.

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Fishy fishy in the brook
Daddy’s caught you on a hook
-Nursery rhyme

As John Haloran rows across the lake on his family’s Irish estate, he teases his wife Louise (Luana Anders). If he drops dead, Louise will inherit none of the Haloran wealth. Pro tip: Never annoy your wife in a rowboat…if you have a bad heart. The always resourceful Louise dumps John overboard, packs his suitcase, and tells the family he went to New York on business. She’ll stay at the Haloran castle and get to know them while John’s away. Psst…it’ll be a while. It doesn’t take long for Louise to see just how nutty the Halorans are. Richard (William Campbell) solders bad art and scowls. Billy (Bart Patton) walks around in a fog telling people about his dreams. Lady Haloran, fixated on death and grief, holds funerals to commemorate a funeral. Creepy Doctor Caleb (Patrick Magee) tells everyone they’re doing it wrong in a ‘Get into my van. I have candy.’ kind of way.

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“…and then I crushed its head.”

They’re a fun bunch.

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Weeeeee!

Louise, ever the multitasker, figures she’ll push the already dotty Lady Haloran over the edge using a few props from the nursery while insinuating herself into the family and the will. Her simple plan runs into a snag, however and then the fun really starts.

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If you see this you have gone too far.

Francis Ford Coppola (yes that one), wrote and directed Dementia 13 with some tweaks by Jack Hill (The Bees, Coffy). Coppola gives the film a creepy quality by using odd camera angles and off-kilter close-ups and filming so much of it at night. The look reminded me of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). Even the dim day shots look dismal and give the black and white film an eerie atmosphere.

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Eavesdropping on the funeral.

What’s missing is dialogue and character development. What dialogue there is works, but the characters need more to say to help us get to know them. More realistic conversations might also decrease the tendency toward exposition. Also, for a film set in Ireland, I found the lack of Irish accents from almost all the lead characters somewhat baffling. According to articles on the making of Dementia 13, producer Roger Corman assigned Coppola to make a gory version of Psycho on the cheap so he dashed off a script and went into production. In spite of this and the fact that this marked Coppola’s non-porn directorial debut, it’s a good gothic horror film with a creative plot and some genuinely scary moments. The nifty chamber music by Ronald Stein enhanced the mood as well. I understand why this has become such a cult favorite and I’m glad I finally saw it.

Thanks again to the folks at Film Detective.

Fun fact: Early on in the film, Louise discusses Richard’s girlfriend saying, “You can tell she’s an American girl, raised on promises.” Sound familiar? It’s pretty close to the first lines of the Tom Petty tune, “American Girl”, released in 1976. I can’t find definitive information to link the song lyrics to the film, but it’s a neat tidbit.

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A sure sign of quality

shame

Check out cinemashame.wordpress.com for more horrific reviews and @cinemashame on twitter.

I’m @echidnabot on twitter.

October 2, 2014

Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre (2015)   2 comments

When Quint says, “Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark.”, he probably means salt water, since that’s where sharks live.


“Farewell and adieu…”

Not so fast, bub!

When an evil oil company uses fracking to find oil, they open the floodgates and let stealth sharks into the Arkansas bayou. Since the sharks’ new feeding ground is miles from any major population centers, you might think, “Hey, what’s the harm?”


“We’re coming to get you, Bubba.”

Sharks don’t live in a vacuum. Remember I said that.

While the muscle-bound predators cruise the spillways looking for lunch, folks at a nearby women’s prison send a few inmates on a field trip.


“This prison issue is so confining.”

Two guards accompany a van full of female prisoners to a work detail near the swamp. Dressed in ridiculously tight shorts and tank tops from the Desperate Spring Breakers collection, the women get to work pretending to dig things as an excuse to bend over provocatively. After the obligatory cleavage and pouring water on their chests sequence, the real fun begins. Inmates separate from the pack and soon everyone’s tripping over body parts in the woods.


“Hey, anybody lose something?”

At the same time, Detective Kendra Patterson (Traci Lords) and her partner, Detective Adam (I know.) (Corey Landis) follow the trail of a crew of robbers that leads them to the same remote area. They find some bones and some stolen money and apparently lose interest because they go out for tacos and never mention the case again.


“Case closed.”

Just when you think two plot lines are enough, director Jim Wynorski of Chopping Mall fame, adds a third. As guards and prisoners head back to jail, Anita’s (Cindy Lucas) girlfriend hijacks the van and takes them all hostage.


“Going my way?”

Honey (Dominique Swain), the kidnapper, drives her charges to a double-wide in the woods where they’ll all spend a few days changing clothes, eating peaches and beans, and lounging in the hot tub. Ah, paradise.


Just another day in stir.

There’s some infighting and general nastiness and then, a geologist and his cute, young assistant show up. They all realize they must band together or die at the hands fins of the weird, burrowing sharks. Oh, did I forget to mention that? The sharks not only thrive in the brackish and unsalted water of the swamp, but also plow through the earth in their quest for blood. No, really. The spiky-headed monsters muscle their way through the ground and make a beeline to their suitably astonished victims.


“Landshark!”

That’s my favorite part. That, and watching the women hightail it away from subterranean killers wearing pants so tight, they can hardly run.

Back to the sharks. The sharks in Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre make the graboids from Tremors look like amateurs. Nothing slows these guys down. They move through the earth like a hot knife through butter, pushing rocks and dirt in front of them like a groundhog in a cartoon. They also jump a lot and seem unaffected by automatic weapons.


“You can’t get me!”

They talk and create a diversion and Detectives Patterson and Adam drive around and then the escapees go into a cave and it’s over. Phew!


Cave o’ sharks.

To Wynorski’s credit, the production values are pretty good and the music, by Chuck Cirino, had a nifty James Bond theme sound. The acting, especially by Traci Lords, Corey Landis, and John Callahan, as Carl, the prison guard, was far better than average for these sharktaculars. I was rooting for Carl the whole time.


“Game over, convicts.”

Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre entertained me. The effects were cheesetastic, but that’s ok. I liked a couple of the characters and I’m a big fan of Tremors so this film was fun. I mean, the title alone makes it worth the price of admission. I can’t wait for the sequel.


“Look for us again in Shakansas Five: Parole Denied.”

Circle (2015)   3 comments

A group of strangers play the worst game of musical chairs ever.


“I hope there’s a goody bag.”

Have you ever watched your favorite game show and hoped for the obnoxious guy to get eliminated? If you have, this film is for you! In Circle, a few dozen purposely average people awaken on the set of a macabre game show and get blown up one by one by an unseen force. In this competition there are no pesky questions to stump the contestants, just some weird Francois Truffaut-like hand jive movements that kill.


“Scary!”

Yeah, not so much.

With a play-like structure and dialogue taken directly from one of those ‘scenes for actors’ books, Circle manages to be both illogical and boring. It’s also unbelievable. Why are these people in this earthbound Carousel and where the hell is Richard Jordan?


“We did it first…with flying.”

What’s especially odd is how quickly the crowd of random stereotypes grasp the inner workings of this quick-killing version of The Weakest Link. After all, it took Truffaut and Bob Balaban half a Spielberg-length film to figure out their six-note code and these guys are not Truffaut and Balaban.


“We’re better than you.”

The Grand Wazoo or whoever runs this sideshow, knocks off a player every 30 seconds or so, but despite the kill count, nothing much happens. People make statements. They accuse and shout and connive like they’re trying out for Survivor. Backstabbing abounds. This part puzzles me. Somehow the dopey stander-arounders figure out (in about a minute) they can gang up on people, zap them, and save themselves. I don’t know how they got that by loitering on lit circles, but that’s me. Then, the movie does that ‘humans are basically horrible’ thing and shows us the ugly side of most of the characters we never get to know anyway so when they die we don’t care. Hooray!


Some people in the film.

I don’t understand films that don’t bother to establish a single character. I get that this isn’t a masterpiece, but someone wrote it…on purpose. I’ll bet Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione, the writing/directing team, had a great idea for this film. They just didn’t let us in on it. I don’t mean to beat these guys up, but Circle is a prime example of an intriguing idea that leads to a movie that goes nowhere. Someone should have said something like, “The circle concept is great, but why are they there? Are you doing a Pirandello/Sartre thing or can’t you think of an ending? Also, why do all the characters sound like they’re auditioning for summer stock?”


“I hope I get it! I hope I get it!”

Maybe it’s not fair to criticize the film this harshly, but it’s not good or the least bit frightening. I try to find positive things to say about most of the films I review, but the only thing that stands out about this film was its shape—round.


“Goodbye.”

“L’enfer, c’est le cercle.”
-Fred Sartre, insurance actuary


Ahhhh here he is.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)   Leave a comment

 

cenobites

Kirsty, Julia, and Pinhead are back!

Hellbound: Hellraiser II starts immediately after the first film ends. Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) wakes up in a mental hospital and tries to explain to doctors and the police why there’s so much blood at their house and everybody’s dead. Oddly, they’re not buying the cenobite story. Nutty Doctor Philip Channard (Kenneth Cranham), who interned with the Marquis de Sade, runs the sanitarium. He also has a wacky hobby. He collects puzzle boxes, phrenology diagrams, and spare body parts. Needless to say, he has a bangin’ social life. The doctor asks the police to bring a blood-soaked mattress from Kirsty’s crime scene house. Yep, it’s completely normal for law enforcement to hand evidence over to some guy who collects kinky dead people stuff. Anyway, the authorities bring Channard the nasty mattress and since he’s done extensive research on nasty mattress dead people retrieval, he knows what to do. Channard’s a sadistic bastard so he brings a highly delusional patient to his home, plops him down on the bloody mattress and waits for the magic to happen. It does. Julia (Clare Higgins), emerges from the depths and steals the poor schizophrenic’s guts and Channard’s heart. Well, maybe the heart is the wrong organ.

hellraiser-ii-julia-suit
“I’d walk through the gates of Hell for a good Chardonnay.”

Julia’s not ready to settle down, at least not until she gets a face. To that end, Dr. Channard drags his hopeless cases over to Julia so she can eat their innards and get some skin so they can consummate this affair.

hellraiser2-1
“Bring me the head of a manic depressive.”

Dr. Channard has been yearning for this kind of depravity his whole life. We see flashbacks to the doctor’s misspent youth as a torturer of small animals and scenes of him experimenting on patients. He’s not a right guy. Of course, by now, we all know Julia’s no prize either so the doctor had better watch his back.

julia-heart-2
Breaking up is hard to do.

At the same time Dr. Channard and Julia are playing the balcony scene from Romeo and Dahmer, Kirsty and another patient, Tiffany (Imogen Boorman), battle with the cenobites in a weird Escher-like rampart opened by the puzzle box. Full of tortured souls, long hallways, and candles, the dungeon houses the cenobites, their victims, and Uncle Frank. Remember Frank (Sean Chapman) from the first Hellraiser film? He’s been lounging around Pinhead’s playhouse waiting for a little action.

9hellboundcenobiterealm
I think I had this calendar once.

There are a couple side stories too. Tiffany is a gifted puzzle-solver the evil doctor imprisoned in his asylum to help him open the box. She’s compelled to do puzzles of all kinds and instead of curing that compulsion, Channard encourages it.

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Cenobite Puzzle Boxes: You can’t stop at just one!

There’s also Kyle (William Hope), a young resident at the hospital, determined to help Kirsty.

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“Sooo then the guy with nails in his face showed up? Mmmkay.”

That’s when some major stuff goes down. Kirsty, Julia, Frank, Dr. Channard, and the cenobites act out And Then There Were None in the Escher drawing. It’s bloody and thrilling and full of cool, disgusting effects. Dr. Channard’s torture is downright ghastly.

doc
“Candy bar!”

The writers, Clive Barker and Peter Atkins, interject some humanity into this morass as well. Kirsty and Tiffany are our heroes, of course, but they find an unlikely ally and that adds depth to the film.

doctor-h2
“Does anyone have an aspirin?”

I like Hellbound: Hellraiser II a lot. For a long time, the first film in the series was my favorite, but this one is edging it out. I like it more with each viewing. The acting, especially in the first two films, is far better than in a lot of gory films of the period and the story and characters are riveting. Christopher Young’s music even won a Saturn Award. The best part is you get a lot more cenobite for the buck. The filmmakers must have known they had a good thing so they didn’t hide the leather-clad freaks. Giving Pinhead and his merry band more screen time works a treat. This is a fun one.

leviathan_hellraiser
“Anyway, we opened the box.”

 

Voices from the Basement Heard at the Charles River Museum of Industry   1 comment

filene-poster

Recently, I joined a sold-out crowd at the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation in Waltham, Massachusetts for Waltham Film Factory’s showing of the documentary, Voices from the Basement. The museum, filled with antique typewriters, vintage lathes, and classic cars, is the perfect setting for this look at what was the hub of the bargain universe for decades, Filene’s Basement. It seemed right to watch a film about the former retail giant in a former textile factory.  The film, a tribute to the retailer, tells the story of a place that became a landmark and even a way of life for throngs of Bostonians. Filled with historic footage from the Downtown Crossing shop, the film chronicles the opening of the Basement in 1908 to its closing in 2007 and is a fascinating look at retail history and Edward Filene’s radical corporate philosophy.

filene
Filene’s original Downtown Crossing, Boston location

Edward Filene, the son of founder William Filene, opened Filene’s Automatic Bargain Basement in 1908 as a way to sell overstocked merchandise from his father’s main store in the unused basement. As the store gained popularity, buyers began purchasing high quality goods from other large department stores from all over the country and marking it way down for quick sale. That meant the stock was always fresh and consumers could buy designer goods at a fraction of the original prices.

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A packed house in search of inexpensive, but not cheap suits

The automatic part came from the method of automatically marking down merchandise according to a fixed schedule. Filene had other new ideas too. He wanted to keep his employees healthy, so he opened a clinic across the street from the Downtown Crossing location. Sick workers could receive company-sponsored medical care years before any other business owners even considered it. Basement employees ran a store newsletter and the Filene’s Coop Association allowed workers to voice their opinions on store policy. Filene also started a credit union for his employees. This business-as-social-experiment also encouraged employees to stay on for fifty years or more. People started in the stockroom and worked their way up to the sales floor. Employees were fiercely loyal to the company.

amdsuits
A poster depicting the schedule of markdowns

The concept that hard work and ability led to promotion added to the store’s reputation as an egalitarian business. The wide range of shoppers cemented it. Everyone shopped there. The Boston Brahmin browsed next to waitresses, moms, and students.

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Bargain hunters sift through the bins.

If you were a savvy shopper, you frequented Filene’s Basement. If you were a female savvy shopper, you got used to changing in the middle of the sales floor. Another of the idiosyncrasies of Filene’s Basement was the lack of dressing rooms for women. I can remember going to the store as a child. My mom would grab wraparound skirts in a larger size for us. We’d put them on over our clothes so we could try on pants and skirts under them without exposing ourselves. Brides-to-be grabbed deals during the yearly Running of the Brides event. There’s a funny edit during that part of the film that shows footage of the Running of the Brides cut with scenes from the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Celebrities like Boston Mayor Tom Menino, actress, Estelle Parsons, reporter, Mike Wallace, Governor Mike Dukakis, and Boston broadcasters, Peter Mehegan and Carl DeSuze wax rhapsodic about the virtues of Filene’s Basement. They’re not the only ones. Voices from the Basement features longtime employees as well; many expressing their love and gratitude to managers and staff members who cared about their customers and each other.

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Filene’s clock on Washington Street, Boston

After the film, director, Michael Bavaro and executive producer, Dr. Susan Edbril answered questions and listened to audience stories about their memories of the iconic hole in the ground. There were some great ones. A former marketing executive with Filene’s Basement recounted that once, when she was working, the fire alarm sounded, but no one would leave. They didn’t want to lose the bargains they’d found. Seeing this fun piece of Boston history in such a historic place was a lovely experience.

The Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation and the Waltham Film Factory will screen the film Voices from the Basement again on Wednesday, March 1. Tickets are on sale here.

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