Saturday, April 13, 2019

Fool's Views (3/16 – 3/31)

Sunscreen and proper eye protection is important year-round....

Spring has sprung!

For the back half of March, we came out like a lion, logging triple features of Brian De Palma AND Richard Fleischer, as well as taking in Jordan Peele’s and J.J. Abrams’ latest horror offerings. Scottish filmmaker Lawrie Brewster also scored some screentime, along with a certain Marvelous Captain. All in all, it was a dandy first quarter, with over 120 films under our belt. Here’s hoping the rest of the year follows suit!

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



Overlord (2018) d. Avery, Julius (USA) (1st viewing)

On the eve of D-Day, a squadron of American soldiers are dropped behind enemy lines to destroy a Nazi communications base set up in an old church. Little do they suspect that, within the holy temple, something unholy is being cooked up by German scientists bent on creating the ultimate weapon and realizing the Fuhrer’s dream of an eternal Reich. While delivering arguably more action and war thrills than pure horror, there’s plenty to enjoy in this big-budget bullet-and-explosions-fest from producer J.J. Abrams, screenwriters Billy Ray (Captain Philips) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant), and “where’d this guy come from?” director Avery. The performances from the fresh-faced cast (Bokeem Woodbine is the most recognizable name, and he only makes a brief appearance in the opening reel) are solid and the resurrectionist story and effects are more than adequate. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, i.e. we’ve seen this story before, if not within these specific period circumstances, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining.

Shrew's Nest (2014) d. Andres, Juanfer / Roel, Esteban (Spain/France) (1st viewing)

In 1950s Spain, two sisters reside together in their absent father’s apartment. The older (Macarena Gomez) suffers from acute agoraphobia and has not set foot outside the door in years, while the younger (Nadia de Santiago) is reaching an age of exploration and sexual awakening, which frightens her elder sibling to no end. This exceptional character study, produced by Alex de la Iglesia and featuring several in his standard stable of performers (including Hugo Silva, Gracia Olayo, and bride Carolina Bang), boldly combines elements of Repulsion and Misery for a satisfyingly minimalist and emotionally palpable bedtime story that doesn’t skimp on the scares or splatter. Gomez was nominated for a Best Actress Goya Award for her electrifying turn, and she is superlatively supported by Santiago, Silva, and Sleep Tight star Luis Tosar. Streaming now on Shudder and well worth checking out. (Thanks to Jon Kitley of Kitley's Krypt for the recommendation.)

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) d. Clayton, Jack (USA) (2nd viewing)

Two young lads in 1930s Illinois are at first delighted by the news of a traveling carnival setting up in their small town, then terrified once they learn proprietor Mr. Dark’s (Jonathan Pryce) true and sinister designs for the locals. Despite some intriguing visual and mechanical effects, a screenplay by Ray Bradbury himself based on his novel, and Clayton (The Innocents) at the helm, the handsome if lifeless enterprise never manages to generate any real tension or atmosphere, leaving capable performers like Pryce, Jason Robards, Pam Grier, Diane Ladd, Angelo Rossitto, Ellen Geer, and Royal Dano trying to prop the whole thing up by sheer will. Produced by Walt Disney Productions, one of their first PG-rated offerings following The Black Hole (1979), The Watcher in the Woods (1980), and Tron (1982).

Us (2019) d. Peele, Jordan (USA) (1st viewing)



The Body Snatcher (1945) d. Wise, Robert (USA) (3rd viewing)


The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971) d. Freda, Riccardo (Italy) (1st viewing)


The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) d. Baker, Roy Ward (UK/Hong Kong) (3rd viewing)


Murder Party (2007) d. Saulnier, Jeremy (USA) (3rd viewing)


Scared Stiff (1987) d. Friedman, Richard (USA) (1st viewing)


Skinner (1993) d. Nagy, Ivan (USA) (1st viewing)


Warning Sign
d. Barwood, Hal (USA) (1st viewing)


The Witches (1966) d. Frankel, Cyril (UK) (2nd viewing)



Having seen his 2016 effort, The Unkindness of Ravens, at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, I was intrigued to see what else our Scottish producer/director with a penchant for moody stories of the macabre on a budget had up his sleeve.

Lord of Tears (2013) d. Brewster, Lawrie (UK) (1st viewing)

Brewster’s second feature film introduces the mythology of “The Owl Man” via a young schoolteacher, James (Euan Douglas), returning to his childhood home following his parents’ death, where he encounters Eve (Alexandra Hulme), a beautiful young American squatter. As he digs deeper into his past and grows closer to Eve, the house’s dark mysteries begin to slowly reveal themselves. Brewster and screenwriter Sarah Daly strain to create an enjoyably old-school haunted house yarn, and though the effort is felt and the two lead performances come off a little mannered, the intention is appreciated and the narrative is equal parts strong and inspired.

The Black Gloves (2017) d. Brewster, Lawrie (UK) (1st viewing)

Four years later, Brewster and screenwriter Daly spin a similar story, with a psychologist (Jamie Scott Gordon) consumed with the curious case of a reclusive prima ballerina named Elisa Gray (Alexandra Hulme, in a much more grounded performance) and her fanatical caretaker/coach Lorena Velasco (Macarena Gomez). As with Lord of Tears, the ominous figure of an owl-headed spectre haunts the periphery, but Brewster’s hand is surer this time, with fewer overt “scare” attempts and more doom-laden atmosphere and melancholy. Plus, he’s got a formidable ally in Gomez, who channels her quirky charisma and presence into an obsessed character bent on seeing her talented charge take flight once again. It’s easily the most fully realized of the director’s projects thus far, and I look forward to following his ongoing evolution.


Captain Marvel (2019) d. Boden, Anna / Ryan Fleck (USA) (1st viewing)

I loved the message that women’s strength is within them all along, and that it is mightier than anything else in the universe. I was utterly confused by the decision to badly CG de-age Samuel L. Jackson and turn the heretofore dour and sarcastic Nick Fury into a wisecracking cat lady. I was a little underthrilled by the whole enterprise due to the fact that Vers (Brie Larson) is pretty much invincible from the get-go. I did like the not-subtle “immigrants deserve a place in this world” message. All in all, I enjoyed it, but I could have gone for a little more meat on the narrative bones as opposed to mere plot and yeah-yeah-yeah origin story goings-on. AND YES, IT’S ABOUT FRIGGIN’ TIME YOU GAVE A WOMAN HER OWN MOVIE, MARVEL. Sheesh.

Do It Yourself (2017) d. Tsilifonis, Dimitris (Greece) (1st viewing)



Compulsion (1959) d. Fleischer, Richard (USA) (2nd viewing)

Thinly veiled dramatization of the Leopold/Loeb murders in 1924 Chicago, adapted from the novel by Myer Levin, and their subsequent defense mounted by Clarence Darrow which focused on criticizing the death penalty. Bradford Dillman is dashingly amoral, Dean Stockwell is appropriately twitchy and arrogant as his partner in crime, and Orson Welles uses his imperious gravitas to astonishing effect as their only hope against a world hungry for eye-for-an-eye justice. Other familiar faces include E.G. Marshall, Diane Varsi, and future TV-stars Martin Milner (Adam-12), Richard Anderson (The Six Million Dollar Man), and Gavin MacLeod (The Love Boat).

Barabbas (1961) d. Fleischer, Richard (USA) (2nd viewing)

I’ve always been impressed by the fact that an entire book (for which author Pär Lagerkvist won the Nobel Prize) was based on a character who barely appears in the Bible – Barrabas was the slave who was set free by Pontius Pilate in the place of Jesus of Nazareth – and that book has since inspired three separate film adaptations. This is the best-known version, produced by Dino de Laurentiis and starring Anthony Quinn, and though it very much comes off as a Ben-Hur wannabe (which, let’s be honest, it wants to be), it still manages to be compelling and entertaining in a melodramatic, preachy kind of way. (Screenwriter Christopher Fry apparently did a massive uncredited polish on the 1959 Best Picture winner, so it’s not surprising to see some of the same tropes here.) Jack Palance is incredibly memorable as the vicious centurion who trains Barrabas to be a gladiator, and their scenes together in the Coliseum are an undisputed highlight. Quinn is his usual hambone self, especially in early scenes where he is playing the unrepentant thief and drunkard, but he calms down after a couple decades in the Italian copper mines nearly steal his sight and soul. Also starring Ernest Borgnine, Arthur Kennedy, Valentina Cortese, and Michael Gwynn.

Mandingo (1975) d. Fleischer, Richard (USA) (1st viewing)

Cited by Quentin Tarantino as one of Hollywood’s purest attempts at a big-budget exploitation films (and a large inspiration for his own Django Unchained), this screen adaptation of Kyle Onstott’s novel, the first in a series of “Falconhurst” novels, is equal parts hard-hitting truth-telling in its unvarnished presentation of the dehumanizing environment of slave-owning Deep South plantations toward African-Americans, as well as a deliberately sensationalized and titillating account of interracial sexual encounters.

Perry King (Class of 1984) stars as Hammond Maxwell, heir to Falconhurst and son of rheumatic landowner Warren Maxwell (James Mason), who occasionally breeds with his father’s female slaves (with no ill judgment expressed by polite society) so that the offspring can be sold for profit. Aspiring to be more than a prize stud, Hammond marries his cousin Blanche (Susan George) and purchases a “fighting slave” named Mede (heavyweight boxing champion Ken Norton), prized for his Mandingo bloodline. Unfortunately, the young enterpriser falls for one of the slave girls, Ellen (Cleopatra Jones’ Brenda Sykes), which sends Blanche into a jealous rage and ultimately into the arms of Mede.

It’s a tawdry, unpleasant, yet somehow fascinating endeavor, mostly in that such an unflattering chapter of American history is presented in such a matter-of-fact manner with highly skilled artists employed on both sides of the camera. Check out this pedigree: cinematographer Richard Kline (Camelot, Soylent Green), production designer Boris Leven (West Side Story, The Color of Money), composer Maurice Jarre (Laurence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago), editor Frank Bracht (The Odd Couple, Hud), and super-producer Dino de Laurentiis who reportedly pursued Fleischer relentlessly until the director accepted the project. A sequel, Drum, followed in 1976, with Norton appearing as a different character opposite Warren Oates, Pam Grier, and Yaphet Kotto.


Blow Out (1981) d. De Palma (USA) (3rd viewing)

While capturing new cues for a low-budget horror flick, a movie sound-effects man (John Travolta) inadvertently records evidence that could prove that the “accidental” death of a rising politician was actually murder.

Capitalizing on the success of the previous year’s Dressed to Kill, De Palma found himself in the enviable position to make “whatever he wanted” and subsequently penned a script inspired in equal parts by his experience sound-mixing that film, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, and tales of two Kennedys (JFK’s assassination and brother Ted’s Chappaquiddick Incident). Said screenplay attracted interest from red-hot star John Travolta (just coming off the one-two punch of Saturday Night Fever and Grease), which greenlit the project, which in turn led to the casting of De Palma’s bride Nancy Allen opposite her Carrie co-star.

Considered now by many to be among the director’s finest hours, filled with stunning, swirling camera moves, split diopter shots, marvelous chemistry between its performers, a wildly cinematic premise, and pervasive narrative drive, the film failed to attract audiences in any great number, potentially due to the downbeat climax (which, to my sensibilities, is the only way it could end).

The Fury (1978) d. De Palma, Brian (USA) (4th viewing)


The Black Dahlia (2006) d. De Palma, Brian (USA) (2nd viewing)

Well, the movies don’t change but we do. When I first encountered this adaptation of James Ellroy’s (L.A. Confidential) breakout novel, I dismissed it as a confusing, unmemorable, boring bummer. Coming back around, I appreciated the period detail and numerous bravura set-pieces a little more (particularly Vilmos Zsigmond’s Oscar-nominated cinematography), as well as the deliberately tangled narrative about two crusading cops (Josh Hartnett, Aaron Eckhart) attempting to unravel the notoriously unsolved 1947 Hollywood murder. While it’s not one of De Palma’s best, it’s more interesting than I originally gave it credit for (though I still have no idea what accent Hilary Swank is attempting).

2019 Totals to Date: 122 films, 79 1st time views, 63 horror, 3 cinema


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