Friday, April 23, 2010

The Car (1977)

Dir: Elliot Silverstein
Cinemax HD Broadcast (or Actionmax or Thrillermax...)

A week on vacation and a week of recovery, I know everyone (all 2 of you) out there have been clamoring for more posts! I actually watched this the night before I left to go out of town but didn't have time to post some musings, so here go. The Car is a well managed horror piece about a driver-less car that indiscriminately runs people over. James Brolin stars as a single father of two and one of the town's several police officers that is on the hunt for the sinister auto after it comes blazing through town with a pile of bodies in it's wake. Things get personal when it kills fellow officers and eventually hunts down Brolin's girlfriend, who had provoked it, prompting the rest of the police force to get explosives expert and wife-beater Amos (played by recognizable character actor R.G. Armstrong) to help dynamite a cliff wall on top of the demonic ride. Thankfully we never get in to too much of an explanation of what the car is, just some vague assumptions on the part of the characters that might care about that sort of thing, mostly these guys just want to blow it up. Another plus is Silverstein never let's The Car steer (sorry!) towards camp. The material is handled seriously although I would have like to have seen it more efficiently handled with a shorter run time. An overall enjoyable viewing experience though with a good horror tale that was refreshing in the sense that it never went for gore or shock, but tension. Strangely, I came across the movie because I had just read an article about Anton LaVey and his involvement with films in Screem Magazine, and then noticed this was airing, is Satan trying to tell me something? Ahhh yes, time for the oil change.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stop Me Before I Kill (1960)

Dir: Val Guest
Sony DVD: part of "Columbia's Icons of Suspense: Hammer Films" set

Hammer fans rejoice! Grover Crisp at Columbia has brought us six previously unavailable Hammer thrillers on DVD this week. The set features six films on three discs, all in proper aspect ratio, and with their original trailers. Sadly there are no other special features, but I'm not complaining. First up in the set is the film Stop Me Before I Kill, also known as The Full Treatment, which has Hammer regular Val Guest's name all over it. He wrote, produced, and directed the film, in fact at the beginning it says a "Val Guest Production", but does not say a "Hammer Films Production" anywhere. The movie is about a race car driver (Ronald Lewis) that is involved in a terrible accident while on his honeymoon. His wife (Diane Cilento) is thrown from the car, but they both survive. The opening shot is incredible showing the dashboard in tight close-up and then pulling back to reveal the wreck and it's various details while jazz blares from the car's radio. It's so good I watched the opening again right after the film was over. We then jump ahead one year and Lewis is finally healed and ready to get back in to the world, physically anyway. Mentally he is an unstable, temperamental time bomb ready to explode on everyone. They go on holiday where they meet a psychiatrist who finds them fascinating and wants to help. Lewis' identity has been taken from him as he is now afraid to drive which was everything he knew. He now feels impotent and most of his temper is directed back at his wife in violence. He realizes that he is volatile, hence the title, but doesn't believe in all the psychological mumbo jumbo. He doesn't trust the good doctor at all, but is there a reason? It's a fine thriller that has no horror or sci-fi elements at all and makes me wonder if that's why there is no Hammer logo at the beginning. It's fairly predictable, but Guest is a very skilled director that brings some nice visual touches to the picture. It's interesting to note that the film I had just watched prior to this, Sadist With Red Teeth, had a similar plot device at it's center, with a mental health professional dealing with a man that had been in a car accident and strange that films came out on DVD so close together. I had seen two of the films in this set before, and liked them much better. I'm hoping the rest of the set will be on par with those. Either way, the set is a must have.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sadist With Red Teeth (1971)

Dir: Jean Louis Van Belle
Mondo Macabro DVD

The main feature on Mondo Macabro's recently released two-disc set, this a new-wave influenced vampire film about a young man that was in a car crash that killed a friend. We start the film with the young man being released from the hospital and he believes that he is becoming a vampire. This belief is being reaffirmed by the hospital's psychiatrist who, for unknown reasons, wants this transformation to happen. The idea really takes shape when the man sees a scene form JLVB's earlier film, Forbidden Paris, about a man who believes he is the last vampire. This and other concepts in the movie work really well and are pretty exciting conceptually, the film though meanders a bit too much and the overall feel is one of improvisation. I'm not sure the film really has very much to say, it is, though, an interesting take on vampire mythology. The print looks great and there's a 30 minute doc on JLVB rounding out the disc.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Forbidden Paris (1969)

Dir: Jean Louis van Belle
Mondo Macabro DVD

Director JLVB (as he's named on the disc) has been recently rediscovered through some festival screenings of his film Sadist with Red Teeth, which is the main feature that this disc is sold with. This movie was made a few years before that one and is part of the "mondo film" trend of the late sixties, which were essentially bizarre travelogues where oddball humans and strange stories were photographed and then a narrator would describe the action we're seeing (not always truthfully). These stories were presented as fact but it's pretty easy to see through the ruse on most of them, particularly with these films as several people from Forbidden Paris are seen in Sadist with Red Teeth which is a fictional tale. As with all mondo films, the vignettes are hit and miss, the real stand outs in this one for me were "Hairdresser of the Dead", where a man cuts the hair of a corpse while the family, including a smiling child, watch, and "Hitler Club", where a bunch of Neo-Nazis paint a woman and scream at her and then march around in a circle in a room the size of a closet. The worse part, and frankly one to skip, is having to see a taxidermist stuff a lady's pet dog in full detail and then add a pre-recorded voice box. This disc, again part 2 of a set, has an introduction with JLVB.


Sadist With Red Teeth / Forbidden Paris (2pc) (Ws Sub)

Girly (1970)

Dir: Freddie Francis
Scorpion Releasing DVD

Originally titled Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly, this is about four psychopaths that live in a huge dilapidated estate and lure men back to the house to play games with them until they "send them to heaven". Each person in the house has a specific role (based on their names) but we never find out the truth about the relationships. In fact we never learn anything about motivation or back story which is quite a strength for the film. It plays out as a sort of black comedy but thankfully it's straight faced enough to not become a parody of horror films. The trouble begins for the quartet when they bring a man back to the house after they convince him that he accidentally killed his girlfriend while he was drunk. But once the "new friend" starts to settle in, he begins to manipulate the three women in house and tries to turns everyone against each other. Vanessa Howard gives a real stand out performance as Girly, it's too bad she only did a handful of films. The only real problem with the film is it suffers from some pacing issues in the second half. Once we figure out where this is going, we want it to get there. The disc has an interview with writer Brian Comport and an archival audio interview with director Francis. Kudos to Scorpion for getting this on DVD with such a good transfer and the care it deserves.


Kitten With A Whip (1964)

Dir: Douglas Heyes
TCM broadcast

This is another frustrating example of, "Why doesn't the main character just do this..." as in something logical. The answer, of course, is that there would be a much shorter film if that happened. In this case the people we want to reach through the television screen and slap are Ann-Margaret as a bi-polar sociopath that happens to climb in the window of John Forsythe, a successful business man that wants to run for office, and then forces him to help her. She's on the run for escaping juvie and injuring a guard. She gets Forsythe into more and more ridiculous situations that end with stabbings, smuggling fugitives over the border to Mexico, and a fatal car crash. Peter Brown stands out as a philosophical criminal with some pretty entertaining dialog. The movie is available as part of the Universal Vault collection from Amazon, but I can't attest to the quality.

"You're nothing painted blue!"


I Sell The Dead (2008)

Dir: Glenn McQuaid
Lion's Gate Blu-ray

Let me preface by saying that I love period horror films, particularly Hammer, and I believe that I have seen every film based on the true story of grave robbers Burke & Hare, so I was really looking forward to this film about two resurrectionists (played by Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden) that find themselves in over their heads with the supernatural and a rival gang of grave robbers. The final product didn't live up to my expectations however as the film gives it a real effort but ultimately finds it has no real story to tell. The movie's narrative is based around a conversation that Monaghan is having with a priest (Ron Perlman) before he is to be executed. So the movie is just a series of flashbacks with way too much exposition. And in one of the more convoluted sequences, there's a story within a story within a story! I don't believe that this was a direct reference to The Saragossa Manuscript though. Another story is so silly it's just disappointing and involves (SPOILER ALERT!) the duo finding a Communion like alien buried in an unmarked grave. The filmmakers do a good if not great job overcoming their obvious budget constraints with some inventive use of comic book style stills, but the final product feels lifeless.


The Informant (2009)

Dir: Stephen Soderbergh
Warner Blu-ray

This is true story (or so we're told) of a man (Matt Damon) working for a large food additive company that is afraid of getting fired so he concocts a huge lie based around corporate espionage that leads to more lies that ultimately leads to Damon blowing the whistle on the company he works for to the FBI for price fixing with competitors. This man is both a moron and a genius. He's a well educated manipulator that doesn't know when to quit, or shut up. The film is good for a few chuckles but never achieves or really strives for laugh-out-loud funny even though several comedians cameo through out the film. Visually it looks like a Soderbegh film with orange and blue lighting prominently on display along with hand held camera work. Tapping Marvin Hamlisch to do the score sets the mood perfectly for the tone and pace of the movie. It's fine that Matt Damon put on weight to play the main role, but what about all those chubby actors out there that need a break? This isn't one of Soderbergh's best but it's good for a viewing, it just may not stick with you long afterward.


How To Train Your Dragon (2010)

Dir: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders
3-D Theatrical Viewing

Animated films have really hit a comfort zone these days. There is a formula that I see that keeps getting repeated and it works just about every time. Take a quirky, oddball boy, have is father be the opposite of him and a widower, mix in a tough, smart girl, and then let the boy prove everyone's expectations wrong and change the way they think. You hit all your bases so all you have to do is pick the setting. An island in need of food, a panda that learns kung-fu, or vikings fighting dragons. Now I like vikings and dragons, so I'm in. Jay Baruchel plays Hiccup, the boy, Gerard Butler is his father, and America Ferrera as the tough girl. Battles are fought and lessons are learned. The animation is top notch computer generated fare, the story is safe, and there are plenty of comedy stars rounding out the supporting cast. Formula achieved. The only thing I didn't understand is why the grown up vikings were Scottish?


Jennifer's Body (2009)

Dir: Karyn Kusama
Fox Blu-ray

Is there anything worse than watching fake teenagers pretend to be hip and say things like "indie rock band"? No. And that's exactly what you're in for with this painfully dull wanna-be cult film that tries way too hard to make you think it's a subversive classic. It helps that if you make a horror comedy to try and include at least one if not both of those aspects. Megan Fox is simply embarrassing as the twenty five year old high school senior that is possessed by a demon and kills off her classmates to gain energy. There's nothing new or exciting happening here, the story is no different than a million other straight to cable quickies. It was the kind of experience that you want your friends to be in on so you can make fun of what you're watching, but if you are viewing it alone, you feel embarrassed and are constantly afraid someone will catch you. I don't even want to put a pic up.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Tiger's Tail (2006)

Dir: John Boorman

So chronologically I jumped ahead a quarter of a century but I never pretended to have a method. This is one of four films that Boorman has made with actor Brendan Gleeson, who stars here as a successful developer in Ireland. One day while sitting in traffic, a man wipes down his window, and it looks like a disheveled version of himself. He loses sight of the man but sees him pop up a few more times before he is led on a chase into a muddy area where he gets stuck and the double races back to take his place. The film that follows is more of a meditation on self, in an existential sense. It asks the question of who we really are other than who we pretend to be. The details of the plot could actually be rather frustrating if taken at face value as it's peppered with logic problems and moments where you'll ask "why doesn't he just do...?" While I was intrigued by the premise, the movie has an uneven flow to it, some supporting characters get too much screen time, or not enough if we were supposed to be more concerned with them. And quite frankly there is a scene with Gleeson's wife (played by Kim Cattrall?) and his double that can't be construed as anything but rape and feels sorely put of place here. The final scene comes across as a strangely compromised happy ending where everyone wins. While it had things about it I liked, I ultimately just couldn't recommend it.


A quick note about Boorman fest: As I write this I have not seen anymore of his films but have watched plenty of other things I need to catch up on writing about. I will continue with a few more selections and then move on to another subject (any suggestions?). I felt that I got a very good sense of what kind of director Boorman is and hopefully pointed to those things without being repetitive. I hate to generalize, but with most artists it seems like their best work is their earliest, when they still have an energy to them you just can't fake.

Excalibur (1981)

Dir: John Boorman
Warner Bros. DVD

With Excalibur, Boorman attempts to tell the story of King Arthur, his father Uther, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table in two hours and twenty minutes. Here is where the problem lies. Several of the plot lines feel rushed while some scenes seem to linger past their expected time. It gives the movie a feeling of being both briskly paced and overly long. While I believe Boorman did the best he could with making a film that encompasses so much story into a 140 minute run time, this obviously would have benefited from a Lord of the Rings style trilogy treatment or editing the film down to just focus on one part of Arthur's life. The staging of the action is fine but never amazing and I have to question the decision to shoot the film in 1.85:1 as opposed to 2.35:1, it makes the experience too confining and not very grand in it's approach. It's a good film that could have been great. It's certainly better made and more serious than the rash of fantasy films produced in it's wake in the early eighties, but it's also not as fun. Of course being fun wasn't the goal, but a few of the performances are so over the top, it's like the actors only reference to the material was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. These moments are few, but I think it proves that Boorman is at his best when he tells a very specific story with minimal characters. An approach like that to this story would have been very interesting.

This is one of the oldest DVDs I own, I believe it was released in 1999. The film is certainly due for update in the quality department on home video. Hopefully there is a high definition transfer in the works.


Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Dir: John Boorman
Netflix streaming

So I was pretty enthusiastic about the first four films in my Boorman fest, unfortunately that all changed with the Exorcist II. The film has a pretty bad reputation and it certainly is far from perfect, but to Boorman's credit he does try and do something completely different from it's predecessor. This is probably the main reason for the disdain, the movie is the exact opposite of The Exorcist. While the original is tense and claustrophobic, this one opens the story up to the entire world, specifically to Africa where James Earl Jones plays a former victim of the demon. In doing this, we see that the world the film resides in, demon possession has nothing to do with a Christian mythology. This also opens the door to bring a rather silly subplot about mental telepathy. The story picks up with Reagan (Linda Blair) the child possessed in the first film and now a few years older. She meets a new priest (Richard Burton) at therapy who wants to know what Reagan remembers about her experience. This leads to world travel, psychic binds, and demon possession. The film is pretty lite on horror and overly long. I can only imagine that Boorman agreed to make the film after Zardoz because he felt like he needed a hit, but that's just speculation. I hate to dismiss the film outright, there are some interesting ideas going on in it, it just never clicks.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Point Blank (1967)

Dir: John Boorman
Warner Bros. DVD

Revenge, obviously a theme that strikes a nerve with numerous people as it is the subject of several films. It can be contributed to the fact that we've all felt wronged at some point or another and the country collectively felt wronged in the late sixties and into the early seventies, hence the amount of revenge thrillers being produced during the time. But revenge has never been as poetic and stylish as it is in Boorman's Point Blank. This is a film I have always been very fond of but haven't sat down to watch it in years. Thankfully the movie lived up to my memory plus some. From the second it started I was completely captivated, like I was watching it for the first time again. The story cuts back and forth showing us glimpses of a job gone wrong with Lee Marvin & John Vernon and shots of a determined Marvin walking down a long corridor, his ominously loud footsteps permeating the soundtrack. This sets the stage for Marvin's tale of being double-crossed by his partner and his wife and now being on the path to get back what's his, $93,000. Keenan Wynn plays a mysterious figure that helps Marvin down the road to the men he must deal with to get his cash. Vernon is convincingly slimy and menacing as the double-crosser in one of his first major screen roles. Angie Dickinson plays the sister of Marvin's double-crossing wife and is, well, perfectly cast as the woman everyone desires. Boorman brings a bubbling energy to the narrative that is constantly seething, just ready to explode in short bursts of artistic violence. Not only are the visuals and rhythm of the film skillfully manipulated by the film's director but, like the line readings in his other early films, the dialog is delivered in such a perfect way that it made me giddy. The film is based on one of Donald E. Westlake's "Parker" novels, although the main character here is named Walker. The same story was remade by Mel Gibson in his film Payback, which Boorman had nothing nice to say about the film or it's star saying "He seems to think he's Lee Marvin. Except he's two feet shorter. And about one third the talent." The disc has commentary with Boorman and film director Steven Soderbergh whom I presume is on it because his film, The Limey, seems directly inspired by this one, but I have yet to listen to it. I have to say that I would consider this one of my favorite films of all time.