Friday, March 8, 2019

Fool's Views (2/15 - 2/28)

Forget Letterboxd - I've got a system of my own....


The second half of February yielded a wealth of fright flicks for review from the good folks at Severin Films, Arrow Video, and Shout! Factory, as well as an unexpected plunge into the De Palma pool. (We also reactivated our Netflix account for a brief spell in order to enjoy a few exclusives, which you’ll see more evidence of in next month’s installment.)

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



All the Colors of the Dark (1972) d. Martino, Sergio (Italy) (2nd viewing)


Calibre (2018) d. Palmer, Matt (UK) (1st viewing)

Despite its fairly traditional launching point, that of two lads heading off for “one last weekend” before adulthood comes crashing in (in this case, one of the characters is about to become a father), rookie writer/director Palmer adroitly spins a terrifying “what if” scenario sparked by a hunting accident in the northern region of Scotland. The events that unfold feel entirely organic, with our unfortunate pair (Jack Lowden, Martin McCann) desperately attempting to undo their wrongs and unmake their destinies… to little avail. Every technical aspect, from cinematography to editing to music and sound design, are pitched perfectly, and the performances are marvelous across the board, with special note to longtime fave Tony Curran (Red Road, Shuttle) as the big boss of the rural township where much of the action takes place. Thanks to Jon Kitley of Kitley’s Krypt for putting this on our radar.

Horror Express (1972) d. Martin, Eugenio (UK/Spain) (3rd viewing)


Invasion of the Blood Farmers (1972) d. Adlum, Ed (USA) (1st viewing)


Kong: Skull Island (2017) d. Vogt-Roberts, Jordan (USA) (1st viewing)

Legendary’s attempt at building a “cinematic universe” of their own, this time consisting of giant monsters (building on the financial – if not artistic – success of 2014’s Godzilla), takes a step in the right direction in that writers Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly decide to put their hairy star front and center for a goodly portion of the running time. The CG-conceived action sequences are far and away the high points; by contrast, the scenes involving the puny humans (Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. McGinley, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman) attempting to tame the unchecked wilderness are chock full o’ dumb lines and dumber motivations.

That said, there is a welcome absence of the self-seriousness that plagued Peter Jackson’s bloated-if-reverential 2005 redux, and it’s fun seeing Toby Kebbell (who tendered a memorable simian performance as Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) return to the motion-capture suit while also appearing in the human role of Jack Chapman. (Kebbell shares Kong Kredit with Terry Notary, who I just saw last month in The Square, so that was smile-time kismet as well.) Bottom line, I’m fine with this jumbo-sized version of our favorite great gorilla and let’s hope they don’t screw up Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020.

The Mole People (1956) d. Vogel, Virgil W. (USA) (2nd viewing)


Next of Kin (1982) d. Williams, Tony (Australia) (2nd viewing)


The Return of the Vampire (1943) d. Landers, Lew (USA) (1st viewing)


Willard (2003) d. Morgan, Glen (USA) (2nd viewing)



The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) d. Coen, Joel / Coen, Ethan (USA) (1st viewing)

If you only see one Western anthology this year, make it this one. Bloody and funny, while tweaking and celebrating conventions and tropes with equal ardor. I wish I could have seen this on the big screen.

Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) d. Jones, Kent (France/USA) (1st viewing)

An interesting idea (making a celebrated conversation between two cinematic geniuses into a feature-length documentary) that never really takes flight. It functions as a decent celebration of Hitchcock, thanks to the expected array of talking heads, but the significance of the interview itself never takes on any dramatic heft.

Macbeth (2015) d. Kurzel, Justin (UK) (1st viewing)

Considering how familiar I am with Shakespeare’s play at this stage of the game, having seen it at least 10 times in various iterations, I was mightily impressed with how Kurzel and his able team of collaborators found any number of new interpretations for the centuries-old text, from line readings to character motivations to staging. Fine cast includes Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as Himself and Herself, Paddy Considine as Banquo, Sean Harris as Macduff, and David Thewlis as King Duncan.

Othello (1965) d. Burge, Stuart (UK) (2nd viewing)

Another dazzling screen version of Shakespeare’s famed work, perfectly marrying the conventions of stage and screen, one that will likely never again enjoy a resurgence of popularity due to the fact that seeing Lord Laurence Olivier strutting about in blackface and warbling his dulcet Jamaican tones is an embarrassment to our modern sensibilities. It’s a great performance among other great performances (Olivier, Maggie Smith, Frank Findlay, and Joyce Redman were all nominated for Oscars), no question, and one that probably should never have occurred. Let us learn from our mistakes, make our apologies, and move forward.

Springsteen on Broadway (2018) d. Zimny, Thom (USA) (1st viewing)

We temporarily broke our Netflix embargo in order to witness The Boss’ award-winning show (the femalien had already seen it live in New York back in October… FROM THE FRONT ROW) and while not surprising to his longtime fans, it’s still quietly haunting how the concert veteran manages to breathe new life into songs that we’ve heard hundreds of times, providing context and backstory for many of them amidst a flowing stream of articulate, emotional, and autobiographical prose. Well worth your time.

The Vengeance of She (1968) d. Owen, Cliff (UK) (2nd viewing)



The Narrow Margin (1952) d. Fleischer, Richard (USA) (1st viewing)

Crackerjack film noir about a hard-nose cop (Charles McGraw, channeling a less-hammy Kirk Douglas) transporting the wife of a convicted mobster (Marie Windsor) from Chicago to L.A. by train to testify before the grand jury, with a trio of assassins along for the ride. Earl Felton’s rat-a-tat dialogue stings and pops off the actors’ tongues, and Fleischer makes the most of his confined space, with most of the action taking place in small compartments and cramped passageways. (Felton and Fleischer would re-team two years later for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, with a super-hammy Kirk Douglas.) Jacqueline White provides able support as an innocent bystander who gets mistaken for Windsor’s moll, thereby doubling McGraw’s protective obligations. Remade in 1990 with Gene Hackman and Anne Archer to middling effect.

The Knack... and How to Get It (1965) d. Lester, Richard (UK) (1st viewing)

Between his two Beatles films (A Hard Day’s Night and Help!), Lester helmed this adaptation of Ann Jellicoe’s play (which I have not seen or read) with screenwriter Charles Wood to great critical acclaim, even going so far as to capture the Palm d’Or at Cannes. A frantic and frivolous send-up of Swinging London, with Michael Crawford starring as a frantic and frivolous schoolteacher who both abhors and envies his flatmate Tolen (Ray Brooks) for his ability to bed and discard any number of females. Tolen has “the knack,” you see, but things come to a head when a simple country girl Nancy (Rita Tushingham, who horror fans might remember from the 1972 Hammer effort Straight on Til Morning) arrives in London to check out the scene and becomes the object of rivalry between the two would-be paramours, with casual observer and freestyle artist Tom (Donal Donnelly) offering comic relief commentary on the side.

Lester’s freewheeling fingerprints are all over the place, with Godardian quick cuts and quippy nonsensical dialogue (sometimes delivered by a Chorus of elderly/square people off the street), and there’s an undeniable energy present amidst the intentionally bizarre set-pieces. The “rape” sequence will likely be a puzzler for modern-day audiences, with Nancy repeating the word a few dozen times in as many scenarios, accusing Tolen of the crime… ostensibly to comic effect.


Spurred by my recent viewing of 1976’s Obsession (now available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory), I pulled up Brian De Palma’s C.V. and realized that there were quite a number of his films that I hadn’t yet experienced firsthand. With Arrow Video’s recent release of his early collaborations with Robert DeNiro (The Wedding Party, Greetings, and Hi Mom!) showing up on my doorstep a few weeks back, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to remedy this oversight.

Murder a la Mod (1968) d. De Palma, Brian (USA) (1st viewing)

Already experimenting with form and borrowing the cinematic tools of others, De Palma presents the Rashomon-like story of a young actress, her director boyfriend, and a pair of ice picks (one with a retractable blade, the other all-too-real). Energetic and stylish on a very slim budget.

The Wedding Party (1969) d. De Palma, Brian / Leach, Wilford / Munroe, Cynthia (USA) (1st viewing)

Mostly notable for being Robert DeNiro’s screen debut (even though it was not released until after Greetings, with his name misspelled as DeNero), this quirky little comedy also features stars-to-be Jill Clayburgh and Jennifer Salt (as well as De Palma regular William Finley). Absurdly meandering and chaotic, there are a number of enjoyable vignettes, particularly the scene where nerdy organist Celeste (Judy Thomas) clumsily entices the drunken groom-to-be up to her bedroom to “get her coat.”

Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972) d. De Palma, Brian (USA) (1st viewing)

The iconoclast’s first taste of Hollywood ended with him being kicked off the picture when studio execs and star Tommy Smothers decided that the film (about an office who walks away from his job to become a tap-dancing magician) was a dog before it was even released. In retrospect, it’s no worse than any number of '70s comedies and features some impressively extensive tracking shots down hallways (shades of things to come). John Astin is an absolute hoot as Smothers’ mood-swinging boss, even shedding his trademark toupee at one low point, Katharine Ross is memorable as the “Terrific Looking Girl” (her actual screen credit), and Orson Welles does his best Orson Welles impression.

Mission to Mars (2000) d. De Palma, Brian (USA) (1st viewing)

Inspired by the Disneyland ride (hey, it worked for Pirates of the Caribbean three years later), this big-budget, mid-tier all-star exercise in special effects and space melodrama fell flat with critics and viewers… and rightly so. There are a couple of decent suspense moments (the micrometeor, the ill-fated spacewalk), but mostly it’s just a zero-gravity trudge to nowhere. De Palma’s final Hollywood effort to date.

Femme Fatale (2002) d. De Palma, Brian (France/Switzerland) (1st viewing)

Bouncing back from Misfire to Mars, De Palma ran off to France and conjured this slick and stylish yarn of heists and doubles and voyeurism. Antonio Banderas (convinced to take the project by bride Melanie Griffith, who De Palma had directed in Body Double two decades earlier) is actually pretty terrible as a paparazzi-for-hire, while Rebecca Romijn-Stamos – in her first major role – does fine with a variety of sexy outfits and dicey accents, faring best during the dialogue-free sequences. Wildly illogical but thoroughly watchable.

Passion (2012) d. De Palma, Brian (France/Germany) (1st viewing)

An advertising executive (Rachel McAdams) and her assistant (Noomi Rapace) fall into a bitter rivalry over campaigns and sexual partners. This loose remake of the 2010 French thriller Love Crime (with Kristin Scott Thomas in the McAdams role) is very minor De Palma, filled with his usual trademark moves and themes, but despite the title, there is little to be found in the way of full-blooded enthusiasm to be found from anyone.

2019 Totals to Date: 75 films, 51 1st time views, 30 horror, 1 cinema

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