Monday, October 31, 2011

10-30-11: A Picnicker's Worst Nightmare

THEM! (1954) **** D: Gordon Douglas. James Whitmore, James Arness, Edmund Gwenn.

A cop, an FBI agent and a pair of scientists are in a race against time to discover what is behind a series of strange attacks and murders in a Nevada desert town.

Easily this is the best of the giant insect monster movies that proliferated theatres during the early days of the atom bomb.

Smartly written, great acting and outstanding visual effects make for a memorable viewing experience. Going into the film the audience already knows what is behind the attacks...giant mutant ants. However, the film plays as a solid mystery. A mystery that doesn't unfold as campy or tongue-in-cheek. It greatly benefits by the fact that it is played completely straight.

For a film made in the '50s, the special effects still hold up to this day. The practical creatures look fantastic and are still quite effective. It's quite amusing when you compare them to the effects in "Empire of the Ants", it's like night and day.

I've seen this many times but watched it in the theatre for the first time and it was a fun experience.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

10-27-11: "Monsters in the Movies" by John Landis

John Landis' book is not a complete history of monsters in cinema but a fantastic collection of photographs and anecdotes from a hundred years worth of movie monsters.

Landis breaks up the creatures into categories, such as, "vampires," "werewolves," "mummies," "human monsters," etc. Within each category are many stills from all sorts of films featuring said creatures. Landis provides a comment or two for every still. Some just straight up saying who's in it and what movie it's from and others adding a little extra commentary from the author.

He doesn't stop there. He also includes chapters about the people behind the monsters. The make-up artists, the animators, the directors. Speaking of directors, he interviews directors such as Cronenberg, Dante, Carpenter, Del Toro and asks them what they think of monsters. Many of their responses are interesting and the interviews are very entertaining.

Landis' love for the genre comes through in spades and the reader clearly benefits. I have seen many films in here that I've never seen or haven't seen in a long time that I had to add them to the queue.

I bought it on for $25. Can't beat that price for a hardcover book.

It's a great book for monster and film fans everywhere.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

10-25-11: Did I just see a ghost?

THE INNKEEPERS (2011) **** D: Ti West. Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis.

In the final days before a hotel closes its doors forever, the two remaining staff members cater to the few visiting guests and conduct their own investigation into whether or not the hotel is haunted.

Charming, sweet, quirky, mysterious, spooky and when it needs to be, scary. Ti West delivers another smart, memorable genre piece that is highly entertaining.

This is not a ghost story that sets out to scare you with surprise shocks, like the "Paranormal" franchise. This one develops its characters, lays down the foundation for the mystery and brings it all together in the end which at first glance looks like a "generic" ghost story. However, once you process everything you have seen and perhaps after a second look you may find that there was much more to it then a simple ghost story. The film is open to interpretation but there is no wrong answer, for some it's just a ghost story, for others it may be purely psychological.

It's been said before but this is another "slow burn" thriller like "House of the Devil," another Ti West feature. It doesn't assault you like ADD horror films of late but really draws you in and gets under your skin when it has to.

Hands down, this is the best horror film of 2011.

10-23-11: Horror through the Eyes of America


This interesting documentary looks at how the horror movie has evolved from the early days to modern times. However, it doesn't just simply discuss the history but also looks at how the genre was affected by the times.

Numerous luminaries of the genre and film scholars take part in the discussion. John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Larry Cohan, George A. Romero and Roger Corman are just some of the directors who discuss their films and their place in American culture.
For example, post-9/11 horror segued into "torture-porn" since it was felt that they had to find things that could really horrify an audience since what they witnessed goes beyond horrifying.

This documentary could have benefited from being much longer. It felt like that once they reached modern horror it was rushed through. While it cites many relevant examples of how a horror film relates to the time it was released, I would have preferred more than a Cliff Notes version of the subject.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

10-22-11: Poltergeist IV

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (2011) ** D: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. Lauren Bittner, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Dustin Ingram.

In the late 1980s, a family finds themselves at the mercy of a benevolent entity that has a fixation on the youngest daughter.

In this prequel to the hit sensations "Paranormal Activity" and "Paranormal Activity 2" the hows and whys of all the supernatural events that occurred in those films are revealed.

The film suffers from many problems. Like the Star Wars prequels where fans had in their minds what it would be like, the first two "Paranormal" films left seeds of what happened in the past but the answers, or at least those alluded to, are underwhelming. I suspected that's where it was heading but it failed to deliver on the scare quotient. Compared to the previous endings, this one went out with a whimper.

The scenes where characters carry the camera around felt more stagey then anything. It was like they were going for that "Blair Witch" vibe of the finale but now it's too familiar a set up that it lacks any suspense.

This film has more akin with "Poltergeist" then the "Paranormal" franchise. I kept getting the feeling of deja vu waiting for them to show me something new but they never delivered.

There were a few things that I did like that Joost and Schulman brought to the film. Gone is the low base score that was heard when a scare was coming. I really felt that that took away from really jolting the audience because they knew it was coming. Here, the events happen but you have to be looking for them.

This is the most self-aware film in the series. They know you're looking the scare and take the opportunity to zing you with false scares.

Finally, the best innovation was the fan-cam. The camera is placed on the base of a fan and slowly pans left to right. As it moves back and forth you catch a glimpse of something and you are left at the mercy of the camera to see what's next.

For me, this entry didn't live up to the others. There wasn't a single moment that really gave me the creeps, a few I thought was cool but overall it just wasn't scary enough. I'll always remember the scene in "2" where Katie is dragged helplessly from the upstairs into the basement. I'll always remember the scene in "1" where Kate is dragged from the bedroom and Micah couldn't do a thing. There was nothing like that in this one.

This franchise is starting to give up the ghost.

10-21-11: Nobody puts Shakma in the corner!!

SHAKMA (1990) **1/2 D: Tom Logan, Hugh Parks. Christoper Atkins, Amanda Wyss, Roddy McDowall, Typhoon.

While playing a live D&D style role-playing game, med students and there teacher are trapped inside a building with an enraged baboon out for blood.

The plot device that finds all the students in the building is rather thin but once Shakma is unleashed this film turns into a fun little thriller. After accidentally giving the baboon the wrong serum, one that induces rage, Shakma attacks and kills anyone who has the misfortune of stumbling across his path.

The baboon is highly unpredicatable and can have you on edge. One moment he's just calmly sitting there and the next he's running down the hall with his teeth bared pouncing to attack. When he tries to get through the many doors that our heroes hide behind it's wild and scary. This baboon really wants to get through that door to kill you. Truth be told, the animal wranglers had a female baboon in heat on the other side of the door so he wasn't angry he was just beyond horny.

Needless to say, I recommend this film just to see Shakma. Unfortunately you have to sit through all the human stuff to get to them.


10-21-11: This is a zoo. This is a zoo on drugs.

WILD BEASTS (BELVE FEROCI) (1984) ** D: Franco Prosperi. John Aldrich, Lorraine De Selle, Ugo Bologna.

A series of unfortunate events result in a nightmare for a city. The local water supply is somehow tainted with PCP and the animals in the city zoo are drinking the brunt of it. When the zoo's new automation system fails, the enraged animals are released and spread out into the city. Lions, tigers, bears, oh my!!

What could be a pretty cool premise for a thriller turns into your typical animals attack exploitation movie. For the most part the situations that the animals find themselves in come off as unintentionally funny as opposed to scary. A polar bear wanders into school, a tiger finds its way onto a subway train that is between stations and so on. The only effective sequence was when a cheetah was chasing down a woman in a VW bug.

The acting is bad but because this was the english language dub they seem to come off as being worse. Perhaps the original version with "proper" english subtitling is slightly better but not by much.

This is not something you wanna watch just for the sake of watching it. You'll find more enjoyment watching it with a crowd and reveling in their reactions to the events unfolding on the screen.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

10-21-11: You can never trust a rat.

WILLARD (1971) ***1/2 D: Daniel Mann. Bruce Davison, Elsa Lanchester, Sandra Locke, Ernest Borgnine

Willard is a meek man who's put upon by his elderly mother and mocked by his employer but does what he must because he's expected to even though it results in him hating his everyday life. One day when told to exterminate some rats he has a change of heart and somehow the rats begin to show their appreciation. Gradually their numbers grow and he begins to train them. Once he is pushed over the edge, Willard calls upon his new friends to help carry out his revenge.

Willard is a quiet thriller. Considering the subject matter, it's not flashy or over the top in anyway.

Davison is effective as Willard and Borgnine plays quite the bastard as his boss. You couldn't buy the premise if Davison didn't buy into it with his performance. You simply accept that the guy has a strange connection with rats. The hows and whys are never explained but not necessary.

This film, while not necessarily scary, features a lot of rats. However, it's the twisted rat race that Willard and his boss are in that is the heart of this picture.

Worth a look...if you don't have a fear of rats!!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

10-20-11: Tale as Old as Time, Song as Old as Rhyme

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991) ***** D: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise. Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury

Of all the animated Disney films that followed it, not one has ever come close to matching the sheer power and majesty of this retelling of the classic fairy tale.

Very much an opera, where the songs tell the story, this film perfectly blends Broadway with cinema into a haunting and moving experience for all ages.

A young girl is held captive by a hideous beast who must find a way to win her affection or he will remain a beast for the remainder of his life. The castle is occupied by numerous enchanted objects that try to show Belle that there is more to the Beast then her eyes can see.

The music and lyrics by Menken and Ashman deservedly won the Oscars for Song and Score. At times light, breezy, witty and at others dark and foreboding, every song is a show-stopper. The opening number "Belle" is as grand as any Broadway number. "Be Our Guest" is rollicking and festive. "Beauty and the Beast" is haunting and moving. "Gaston" is hilarious. "The Mob Song" is dark and sinister. One great song after another provides this film with the heart but the story and acting provides it with its soul.

The vocal performances are unparalleled. The singing is top notch, all songs were performed by the actors. O'Hare and Benson are excellent as the leads but the other actors steal the show.

What can I say I loved this movie. It's at the top of list of favorite Disney films, not including Pixar.


I've seen this when it first came out in 1991. I also watched in 2002 when it was reissued in IMAX with a new song added "Human Again." The film did look great in IMAX. However, while the new song was entertaining it didn't seem to add anything to the story and felt redundant. A few lyrics in "Be Our Guest" actually cover what is in this new song and that's all the audience really needed to know about the castle's occupants.

The film is going to be reissued in 3-D in January 2012. Having seen "The Lion King" in 3-D I would have to say the 3-D isn't necessary. You don't need a gimmick to get people to see this film, the film sells itself. Either way, I'd say see it in a theatre when you have the opportunity.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

10-20-11: An Incurable Addiction

I've been a professed movie fan for most of life. I readily admit I haven't seen ALL the films that a movie fan is suppose to have seen, I'm working on it, but ask anyone and they can tell you I have seen a lot. In fact, I recall back in July of 2005 I watched over forty films in the theatre. That's over forty films in 28 days. The only days I wasn't in a movie theatre were July 4th and the two days I was reading "Half-Blood Prince". The films were a mix of first-run, free preview screenings and repertoire cinema. From "Casablanca" to "Revenge of the Sith," from "Sunset Boulevard" to "Charlie and Chocolate Factory," from "Double Indemnity" to "The Devil's Rejects." So movies are my incurable addiction and repertory cinema is a means to fuel that addiction.

There simply are not enough repertory cinemas out there. I'm not talking about the art house theatres but the theatres that show a variety of films on a daily basis. New films, old films, forgotten films, films you either haven't seen in a theatre or simply have never seen before. When living in South Jersey, I only knew of one such theatre in Philadelphia, the Theatre of the Living Arts. I remember a friend and I went to a midnight screening of "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" and were paranoid heading home on the train. In Los Angeles, there are four repertory cinemas that I frequent and I actually feel sorry for fans in other cities that don't have access to establishments such as these.

I have seen John Carpenter's "Halloween" so many times but I had never seen it in a theatre. I went to a screening of it and it was like I was watching it for the first time. It was large and in your face. Seeing it with an audience just brings a whole new energy to the experience, even more so if you know there are people seeing it for the first time and you hear their shrieks in the background. This is just one example of a typical viewing experience at a local repertory theatre.

Lately, I have reached the point where I'm willing to wait to see certain movies at home. I have a decent set up for movie watching so I have to decide if it's something I want to experience in a theatre or not. If the opportunity presents itself where I can see something I missed or had never seen in a theatre I will see it in that setting when possible. I jumped at the opportunity to see "Casablanca," "Sunset Boulevard," "Double Indemnity," "A Streetcar Named Desire" in the theatre. I had never seen them and seeing them this way was the way to go. Sometimes at home when I see a film for the first time that I really liked I wish I had seen it in the theatre.

On the flip side, if it's a movie I've seen countless times it's always a fun experience to see it again in the theatre. Over the years I've seen, to name a few, "Buckaroo Banzai," "Howard the Duck," "Flash Gordon," "Jaws," "Aliens" back on the big screen. Watching these films at home is one thing but to sit there in the dark, popcorn in hand, sipping a soda is a different beast all together. At home I have distractions in the theatre it's just me and the images on the screen.

When possible movies should be experienced in the setting it was originally intended. Repertory cinema cultivates that experience and there should be more of this across the country. Granted the big chains will have an occasional revival screening, "Airplane," "Top Gun," for example, but it should be something done on a regular basis. Despite the advances in home theatres, nothing will replace the experience of watching something in the movie theatre.

Case in point, "Silverado" is one of my all-time favorite westerns. I saw it when it was released in theatres and have seen it countless times on VHS, laser disc, DVD and Blu-ray. However when I watched it again in the theatre for the first time since it opened, in 70mm no less, I was a little kid again. Watching it at home did not give me that same giddy feeling.

So if there is a repertory theatre in your area, embrace it, support it, frequent it because it's the only way you can see films in their proper setting.


As I mentioned there are four repertory theatres in the Los Angeles area.

The American Cinematheque at the Egyptian and The American Cinematheque at the Aero

The Egyptian is located in Hollywood and is a gorgeous, opulent, classic movie theatre. The Aero is located in Santa Monica and is a smaller, traditional theatre. The Egyptian screen is large while the Aero's screen is about the size of a smaller screen at an AMC. They show all sorts of films often times in themes. One program screened classics like "Casablanca," "Double Indemnity," "The Maltese Falcon," "Sunset Boulevard," "On the Waterfront" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." All movies I had never seen and my first viewing experience was on the big screen. Classic. Many screenings are often followed by a Q&A with people involved with the film. As a card-carrying member of the Cinematheque I must say this is one of the best repertory theatres around.

The New Beverly Cinema

This theatre is like my second home. They screen all sorts of films typically as double features. At $7 per ticket, you will not find better entertainment for your buck. It's a traditional style movie theatre with a screen about the size of a smaller AMC theatre. Films range from classics to camp, from schlock to horror. Programs range from midnight screenings, double features, triple features, and all-nighters. Occasionally they'll have special screenings with Q&As that follow. This theatre is owned by director Quentin Tarantino and will continue to be programmed as the premiere repertory theatre in the country.

Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre

The Silent Movie Theatre in Hollywood is just that, a silent movie theatre that has become a great repertory theatre. The programming is very different from your traditional repertoire theatre. Here they program films because it would be just so bats**t cool to see them in the theatre with an audience. For example, "Halloween II," "Elm Street 3" and "Friday the 13th 4" all played as a triple bill. These guys just love movies and love sharing them. Occasionally they will have Q&As after screenings, sometimes post screening receptions in the back. This is the first theatre I've gone to where they just flat out served free beer. As a card-carrying member of the "Cinefamily" I can honestly say that theirs is by far the best membership program I've ever joined.

You can't go wrong with any of these theatres. If you haven't visited them, do so. Do so now!!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

10-17-11: Paradise at what cost?

PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY (2011) **** D: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky.

In 1993, three 8 year old boys were murdered in the backwoods of an Arkansas town. Three teenagers were arrested and charged with the murders. In 1994, they were tried and convicted and have been in prison ever since.

1996's "Paradise Lost" looked at the case as it happened and left a very clear impression that there was something wrong here and that these boys may very well be innocent of these crimes.

2000's "Paradise Lost 2" looks at the presented evidence and drives trucks through the countless evident holes in the prosecution's case against the West Memphis Three. The directors moved from filmmakers to advocates for their release. This film brings up questions about the stepfather of one of the murdered children.

2011's "Paradise Lost 3" picks up the story when new evidence was presented in 2007. Thanks to the advances in forensic science, evidence that was unattainable then was available now. The film looks the new evidence and the impact it will have on their case.

The film expertly recaps the first two films while delving into how the new evidence paints a different picture that would hopefully lead to their release.

Events that transpired in the two previous films are turned on their ear as the new evidence points in a different direction that the filmmakers and viewers never considered.

As a whole, the trilogy looks at how broken the justice system is and how one individual can have undo influence on a trial because of their ultimate ambitions or blinded by their egos. It's a resounding testament that all levels of law enforcement and criminal justice should be forced to watch.

While the outcome is a good one, it still leaves a bitter aftertaste because justice still had not been served. Not for the victims and not for the West Memphis Three.

10-16-11: Look... up in the sky, it's's's a bird?

Q-The Winged Serpent (1982) *** D: Larry Cohen. Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree

While investigating a series ritual killings, a detective begins to wonder if there is any connection to the rumors about a giant winged serpent that has been sighted around the city. Meanwhile, a petty thief runs afoul of some criminals and stumbles across something while trying to hide.

Q, plain and simple, is a fun monster movie. Leave all logic at the door and just enjoy the show.

As absurd as the story is, the actors just throw themselves into the role and you buy the fact that a giant monster is assaulting NYC. The visual effects are old school stop-motion creature effects. The creature looks fantastic. Again, logically you'd wonder how anyone couldn't have seen this thing before considering how big it is but whatever.

The performances are quirky and campy. The film is more funny then scary which I'm sure was intended. The banter between Moriarty and Carradine is very funny.

The humor in the film makes it an enjoyable ride. The creature looks great. Despite being nearly 30 years old it still holds up as a memorable genre piece from the '80s.

10-16-11: The Cliff Notes of J. Edgar Hoover

THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER (1977) ***1/2 D: Larry Cohen. Broderick Crawford, Michael Parks, Rip Torn, Jose Ferrer,

Written and directed by Larry Cohen(Q, It's Alive, The Stuff), this biopic chronicles J. Edgar Hoover's reign as America's "Top Cop" from the late 20's to his death in the late 70's.

The picture plays like a Cliff Notes version of Hoover's decades long run as the director of the FBI. Highlighting many key moments in history and looking at what Hoover was doing at the time. It briefly delves into the man's private life looking at his failed relationships, his relationship with his mother and his relationship with the few close friends he had.

The performances are solid across the board. Crawford is particularly good as Hoover. He really conveys the angst and weight that his position entails. Michael Parks is also quite good as Bobby Kennedy.

Overall, it's a decent biopic that while it isn't the all-encompassing tale one would expect it does a good enough job of showing you what you need to see about the man and his mission.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

10-15-11: I Scream For Ice Cream

THE STUFF (1985)*** D: Larry Cohen. Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris

A conglomerate of business men hire a corporate spy to find out what's in a dessert sensation that is taking the country by storm. He discovers that "The Stuff" is a deadly organism that inhabits and takes over the minds of those who ingest it.

I remember seeing this when it first came out in theatres and that I didn't really like it all that much. It wasn't all that scary just weird. Now being a bit older I recognize the satirical humor that was so lost on a fifteen year old.

The visual and make up effects are still pretty good for an '80s low budget horror film. As rediculous as the premise may be, everyone just buys into it and deliver amusing performances. Most notably Paul Sorvino's gung ho General.

While by no means a classis, Cohen's film is still an entertaining piece of '80s b-movie horror. It's everything you'd expect from a Cohen film which can be good or bad but always fun.

10-15-11: The Third Part in Larry Cohen's Phone Trilogy

MESSAGES DELETED (2009) ** D: Rob Cowan. Matthew Lillard, Deborah Kara Unger, Gina Holden.

A screenwriter/college professor checks his messages and is shocked to hear a call from a complete stranger begging him to save them from a killer. As the body count mounts he struggles to piece things together and keep the ever suspicious police at bay.

That is the premise of this thriller written by Larry Cohen. This is more or less a "Phone Trilogy" as Cohen also penned the "Phone Booth" and "Cellular." Two other thrillers that revolved around communication between hunter and prey via telephone. Those were much better films.

For a movie that is clearly self-aware about story cliches, after all the protagonist is a screenwriter, it finds itself dishing one cliche after another. There is no real level of suspense and if you're paying attention you'll have already figured it out.

The film's only saving grace is Cohen's dark wit when taking jabs at the business of screenwriting itself. Other than that, you're better off watching "Phone Booth" or "Cellular" and skipping this one.

Friday, October 14, 2011

10-14-11: Everybody Cut, Everybody Cut

FOOTLOOSE (2011) ***1/2 D: Craig Brewer. Kenny Wormald, Julianne Hough, Miles Teller, Dennis Quaid.

Let's here it for the boy, let's give the boy a hand. This remake is actually quite good.

Another '80s favorite is given the remake treatment and is in many ways as good as if not better than the original. The remake is pretty much the same as the original, beat-for-beat. Changing things up here and there. It is now more contemporized for the 21st century. After a tragic accident that took the lives of five teens, a town bans dancing and loud music. In the original, I think it was because it was all deemed sinful and morally corrupting.

Wormald and Hough are likable in the Bacon and Singer roles. Wormald can definitely dance. His anger dance really puts Bacon's through the ringer. Teller is just as memorable as Chris Penn was. The always dependable Quaid does a decent job as the minister.

Brewer keeps it light and breezy with plenty of dancing and music. Many songs from the original soundtrack are rerecorded to good effect. I like the new take on "I Need a Hero."

It's a toe-tapping good time that is a remake worthy of the name "Footloose".

10-14-11: One Thing Leads to Another

THE THING (2011) ** D: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Eric Christian Olsen.

In the winter of 1982, US scientists in the Antarctic investigate a nearby Norwegian research facility and unleash a deadly shape-shifting alien that can assume the form of anything it kills, man or beast. That is the premise of John Carpenter's sci-fi/horror remake masterpiece "The Thing." This film is a prequel and chronicles the events that transpired at the Norwegian base camp.

This film is very reverential and referential to Carpenter's film. From the score, to the credit fonts, even going so far as using the same shots to establish scenes. When it is linking up the prequel to the original, it works. They took iconic, memorable moments from when MacCready and Doc toured the camp and show how things turned out as they were. Who can forget the guy whose wrist was slit and the frozen blood coming out of the wound? Well, now you see how he got that way. Or the mound of flesh and bone with two faces in the snow? Here's how it came to be. The tying things together and when recognized it is fun.

However, its main problem is that it lacks the level of suspense and awe that Carpenter did so flawlessly before. Unlike the original, this one lacks any sort of moment that would leave an indelible impression on the viewer. Nothing really stuck with me after seeing it. Another drawback is the over reliance on CGI. There are many scenes where they clearly used practical effects and they were great. All of the creature effects in the Carpenter's film were practical and created by make-up legend Rob Bottin. They should have used the same approach in the prequel.

It's an okay companion piece to the original but other then linking plot points it isn't all that necessary.

10-13-11: The Boy Who Cried Vampire

FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) ***1/2 D: Tom Holland. William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Chris Sarandon.

A teen who loves old-horror movies has trouble convincing everyone that a vampire has moved in next door.

This is a fun '80s horror gem that still holds up even to this day. While I still think the 2011 remake was better, the original still stands on its own as a well made horror-comedy.

Overall, the performances are spot on. Ragsdale and Bearse win you over as the teenage couple. Sarandon exudes charm and menace as Jerry. McDowall is just perfect as Peter Vincent. However, my one qualm with the film is, I felt this way when I first saw it in '85 and still do, Evil Ed as played by Stephen Geoffreys is just plain irritating that I didn't like him. I'm sure it was meant to be amusing but I just found him annoying.

Great touches of humor through out, great practical effects, great make up, not to mention a great '80s score.

If you want your horror with some sly black humor, the original is for you. If you want a straight up horror-thriller, then the remake is where you wanna go. You can't go wrong with either one.

Monday, October 10, 2011

10-10-11: It's only the end of the world...what's the big deal?

MELANCHOLIA (2011) ****1/2 D: Lars von Trier. Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling

"Melancholia" is a film about the end of the world. It is also a film about two sisters.

The film begins where it ends as we witness the Earth's final moments. However, unlike most doomsday films the images are very surreal, dreamlike, lyrical, moving.

This is a disaster film that looks at depression and the toll it takes on the individuals and the people around them. Justine, powerfully played by Dunst, is coming apart and her sister Claire, played equally well by Gainsbourg, does her best to support her.

As the titular planet makes its way towards Earth, how these people react to their imminent end is a powerful and moving experience. Seriously, what would you do in the final moments?

The performances are outstanding with Dunst deserving an Oscar nod. Not your typical von Trier film but easily one of his best.

This is my favorite film of the year, so far.

10-08-11: Young Frankenstein...minus all the comedy.

The American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood ran a Frankenstein triple feature. I've seen all three films but that was when I was just a kid so I would have to say this was the first time I've really seen these films.

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) **** D: James Whale. Colin Clive, Mae Clark, Boris Karloff.

A scientist gives life to a lifeless creature, a creature he created from body parts collected and stolen from local cemeteries and universities.

A solid adaptation of Shelley's horror classic is played straight with touches of comedy peppered throughout.

Clive is great as Frankenstein and Karloff brings life to the role he is best known for.

I can see how this film would have been deemed terrifying back in the '30s. Nowadays, it's not all that scary but it's still a great yarn.

It's not over-the top or overblown as it would have been done today. At 70 minutes, it's a quick, stream-lined fantasy that's well worth viewing.

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) **** D: James Whale. Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, Boris Karloff.

So apparently the whole Jason/Michael/Freddy survives after meeting a certain death can be traced to this franchise. This sequel picks up immediately after the first one ends and we discover the Creature has indeed survived what looked to be his doom.

The tone shifts in this sequel that many believe to be one of the finest horror films ever made.

Two things bothered me when I watched this. First, the film opens with Mary Shelley and friends discussing the events in the first one. She then proceeds to tell the next part of the story. This prologue just didn't seem necessary and was too self-aware and indulgent. Second, I bought into the reality of the first film and how it can be plausible. In this film we are introduced to Dr. Pratorious. Another scientist who wants Frankenstein's help. He shows the doctor some of his experiments. Living people 4 inches tall that he grew in a lab. These two moments took me out of the story which is not a good thing.

Once it gets back to the main story, it's fantastic. The Creature is still roaming the woods and Pretorious and Frankenstein set out to create a mate for the Creature.

When they meet, it's an iconic moment that is both amusing and sad but very short.

It's a solid sequel that is actually better than the original.

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) **** D: Rowland V. Lee. Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi.

Years later, Baron Wolf von Frankenstein returns to the village where his father created the creature. He encounters Ygor and is stunned to learn the Creature is still alive.

I actually liked this one the best of the three.

Lugosi is excellent as Ygor. A man who the village tried to execute but failed and he loves to flaunt that in their face. He has a rather obsessive connection with the Creature that Wolf doesn't understand.

Rathbone pulls you in as the Baron and is hilarious as he tries to cover up what he's been doing in his lab especially under the watchful eye of the Burgomaster.

It's a fun film with plenty of mystery and sly humor.


Having seen all 3 it was very enlightening to see where Mel Brooks found his inspiration for the characters in his comedy masterpiece "Young Frankenstein."

It was a great triple-bill that actually made me want to watch "Young Frankenstein".

Sunday, October 9, 2011

10-08-11: Metropolis...shorter...louder...colorer

GIORGIO MORODER'S METROPOLIS (1984) **1/2 D: Fritz Lang. Gustav Frohlich, Theodor Loos.

In 1984, Fritz Lang's masterpiece "Metropolis" was given the contemporary treatment by Oscar winning composer Girogio Moroder.

A new score was composed, songs recorded by many top '80s artists were added and some color was given to some scenes.

In a not-to-distant future, the workers are relegated to the lower depths of the city slaving away over machinery that fuels the city above. After descending into the worker's city, the city architect's son's eyes are opened and he decides to switch places with an exhausted worker.

Having recently seen "The Complete Metropolis" this version just seems to lack the subtext and power that fueled the restored 2 1/2 hour version. This version runs 82 minutes.

The score is fine and the added color is effective. However, the songs at times came off as cheesy. Unfortunately, when focusing on the lyrics the viewer will lose focus on the visuals.

The new subtitling helps with the story that could be deemed convoluted for the average viewer. However, despite it's 2 1/2 hour length, the restored version is very coherent and engaging.

The contemporization of the film simply distracted me from the film itself.

It's worth a look but if you want to see the film as intended find the "The Complete Metropolis."

10-08-11: A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away


In 1997, the classic trilogy was reissued in theatres as a Special Edition with added footage and updated visual effects. The reissue was a huge success financially but left much to be desired artistically.

In 2011, the Special Edition trilogy was released on Blu-ray with more changes that were again met with much disdain from some fans.

STAR WARS (1977) D: George Lucas. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher.
(1977) ***** / (1997) ****1/2 / (2011) ****1/2

The first Special Edition included some cosmetic changes, updated visual effects and some new scenes.

In the 2.0, an attempt was made to clean up as many visible matte lines as possible. There are still some present.

Now in high definition, the added scenes, especially those with new visual effects, look outdated. The CGI almost looks video game level when comparing the work to something like "Avatar". This is most prevalent in the added Tatooine sequences.

There were some added tweaks to the film that really didn't bother much. Such as Ben's new cry to startle the Tusken Raiders.

However, the two things that bothered me in the original Special Edition still bother me to this day. The Jabba scene and the Han shoots first scene.

The Jabba scene also suffers from the CGI being in HD. The main problem with this scene is it stalls the movie, it really serves no purpose to the plot other than to introduce Jabba when he was properly revealed in "Jedi". He doesn't come off as the vile gangster he is in the final film. The introduction of Boba Feet is showy and more importantly this takes away from the reveal when Luke and Ben first see the Falcon, which is when the audience first sees it.

Han shoots first. Wow, what can I say. I hated it then and I hate it now. You can't take a character defining moment that is etched into the memories of millions and say "No he didn't, Greedo shot first." The exchange is still poorly edited and this is the one scene in the Special Edition that I wish never existed.

The original film is still an exciting classic that holds up after a million viewings. However, the Special Edition takes away a bit of that luster hence the lower rating.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) D: Irvin Kershner. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher.
(1980) ***** / (1997) ***** / (2011) *****

The first Special Edition included some cosmetic changes, updated visual effects and some new scenes.

Not a whole lot was tinkered with in the Special Edition of the best Star Wars film. There were some cosmetic changes to Cloud City, this time showing a more expansive city instead of closed walls as seen in the original.

The main added scene is still a head-scratcher as it serves no real purpose except to show an audience what they didn't see but Lucas clearly didn't think they were smart enough to figure out themselves. An added expository scene was added to show how Vader got from Cloud City to his Star Destroyer. On the Star Destroyer, the docking scene is clearly lifted from "Jedi." It really doesn't need to be there.

Despite that one scene, the Special Editions are just as good as the original version. After seeing it again, it's mind-boggling to think that this came from the same mind that wrote the prequels.

RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) D: Richard Marquand. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher.
(1983) ****1/2 / (1997) ****1/2 / (2011) ****1/2

The first Special Edition included some cosmetic changes, updated visual effects and some new scenes.

There were a number of changes made to this film so technically this would be version 3.0.

Of the three Special Editions, the CGI, for the most part, for the added elements and scenes actually look good.

The key additions were the beak for the Sarlaac, the "Jedi Rocks" segment, the new more expansive ending and music, the appearance of Hayden Christensen as Anakin and for this version the infamous double "No!" and blinking ewoks.

Of all those changes, the only scene that really bothered me was the whole "Jedi Rocks" sequence in Jabba's palace. I cringed when I first saw it and it really annoys me when I watch it. The CGI for whatever the screaming fuzzball is adequate at best. When seeing Sy Snootles the puppet and then her CGI counterpart you can see how the ball was seriously dropped.

The blinking Ewoks were cool except it's not consistent. For some reason only Wicket has the ability to blink.

Of note, the Rancor scene was color corrected and looks better than ever.

While I enjoyed the "Celebrate the Love" ending, I felt the new one was more expansive and reflective. After all, 20 years of Empire oppression has come to a close, it should be a galaxy wide event. The Hayden appearance I can buy as a plot point, when returning from the Dark Side a Jedi returns to as he was before turning. The "No" didn't even bother me.

Overall, I felt the original film was fun but lacked some in originality. The Special Editions really had no impact on my final critique of the film.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

10-08-11: What a tangled web politics weaves.

THE IDES OF MARCH (2011) ***1/2 D: George Clooney. Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti.

Ideals, morals and ambition collide in this political drama directed by George Clooney.

Based on the stage play "Farragut North", the seedy underbelly of politics takes the forefront. All the backstabbing, back-door dealing, manipulating of the facts, burying the truth, not to mention the lack of moral conscience that most people believe is part of politics is ever present.

At times it may be cliched but it is still well acted and directed.

The events depicted are quite plausible and that they could have very well occurred at some point in real world politics. It's a sad truth but there's no denying it. As in the film, loyalty and integrity will always play second fiddle to ambition at all costs.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

10-01-11: 12 horror-filled hours. The 4th Annual All-Night Horrorthon.

The New Beverly held their annual all-night horrorthon, from dusk 'till dawn, 7:30pm to 7:30am. This was my 3rd horrorthon.

Six films were screened with a collection of trailers and shorts scattered throughout the evening.

The slate featured "Beyond the Door," "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," "Hell Night, "Brain Damage," "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "Horror Planet."

BEYOND THE DOOR (1974) *1/2 D: Ovidio G. Assonitis. Juliet Mills, Gabriele Lavia, Richard Johnson.

You know you're in trouble when the film opens with a disembodied voice addressing the audience. In this head-scratcher of an "Exorcist" rip-off, a pregnant woman begins to exhibit odd behavior that goes beyond morning sickness and mood swings.

The story makes no sense but it does have some decent moments of possession and some priceless dialogue delivered by the children. Overall, it was a pretty bad movie.

THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) **** D: Jack Arnold. Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning

An entertaining monster movie that still holds up to this day. This was shown in old-school 3-D with the red and blue 3-D glasses. The 3-D was okay but it really made the film pretty dark.

After discovering a never-before-seen prehistoric fossil, a scientific expedition returns to the site to see what else they can find. Upon arrival they are attacked by a creature that will not let them leave.

Solidly edited and directed, this "man in suit" monster movie is played straight and doesn't devolve into a goofy creature feature. You can see how this film influenced future monster movie classics like "Jaws" or "The Thing."

It's definitely worth a look.

HELL NIGHT (1981) *** D: Tom DeSimone. Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Vincent Van Patten

As part of the initiation, a group of pledges must spend the night in a huge mansion that was the site of a family homicide years before.

This is a fairly entertaining '80s film with all the bells and whistles of a typical '80s slasher film. You have your heroes, you have your killer, now who will survive the night.

I'm rather surprised this one hasn't been remade yet.

BRAIN DAMAGE (1988) *** D: Frank Henenlotter. Rick Hearst, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry

An average, likable guy finds himself under the control of a talking, slimy, brain-like parasite.

I remember seeing this when it came out on VHS. This is the first time I've seen it since and I found myself liking it more then my initial viewing.

It's quirky, bizarre sci-fi-horror with a touch of drama thrown in for good measure.

If you've enjoyed Basket Case or even Frankenhooker, this is worth a look.

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1991) ***1/2 D: Stuart Gordon. Lance Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs, Rona De Ricci, Jonathan Fuller

Stuart Gordon directs this solid retelling of Edgar Allen Poe's classic tale.

A couple is thrust into the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition and the vengeful hand of Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor.

Lance Henriksen is awesome as Torquemada. You can see and feel his angst as he struggles with his emotions regarding a woman prisoner who has been branded a witch.

The dialogue is very much of the '90s but that doesn't deter the enjoyment of the feature. It has black humor, gore and gratuitous nudity.

It has quite a few memorable set pieces. One in particular is a woman's act of vengeance against the people who are about to burn her.

I remember thinking it was just okay when I first saw it on VHS. I really enjoyed it now.

HORROR PLANET (1981) *1/2 D: Norman J. Warren. Robin Clarke, Judy Geeson, Stephanie Beacham.

On a distant planet, a archaeological dig site is in danger when one of the crew is impregnated by a alien life form.

This "Alien" rip-off just keeps going and going and going and going.

Bad acting, a laughable looking alien, drawn out scenes, definitely yawn inducing...which probably explains why I dozed off a few times during this one.

For the last film, this was a tough one to get through.

Through the course of the evening there were shorts and trailers shown.

HAIR-RAISING HARE (1946) ***** D: Chuck Jones. Mel Blanc

This classic Bugs Bunny cartoon finds Bugs facing off with a big orange hairball and a Peter Lorre-looking mad scientist.

Full of classic sight gags, 4th wall breaking moments, simply a great time.

-There was a short that featured an interview with Bela Lugosi. It ended in bizarre fashion as the exclaimed "Pardon me. I am coming." This brought a laugh from the audience as they didn't know what he was talking about or where that came from. Clearly he was messing with the interviewer as he is seen laughing as she runs away.

-Trailers from various horror films were shown. A few that I remember were Alien, Aliens, Alligator, The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here!, Demon Seed, The Omen.

Overall this was another solid horrorthon. Not as good as the year before, so far my favorite night was my 1st which was for 2nd annual horrorthon. I look forward to next year's event.

Monday, October 3, 2011

9-30-11: Come and See The City of Life and Death

The New Beverly ran a double feature of these two epic war films.

THE CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH (2009) *** D: Chuan Lu. Yuanyuan Gao, Hideo Nakaizumi, Wei Fan

In 1937, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese army laid siege to China's capital city, Nanking and the "Nanking Massacre" began.

This film dramatizes the events of the Nanking Massacre. The film follows soldiers on both sides as well as the civilians that are caught in the middle.

At the risk of sounding insensitive, this film didn't entirely work for me. The atrocities as depicted in the film are laid on so thick to the point that they come off as shock value instead of brutal human drama. Okay here's the scene where they mow people down, okay here's the scene where they rape women, okay here's the scene where people are being herded to points unknown.

Unfortunately many of the scenes came off as just that, scenes instead of a depiction of a historical event.

It may be worth a look but I'm sure there are documentaries out there with more weight.

COME AND SEE (1985) ***** D: Elem Klimov. Aleksey Kravchenko, Olga Mironova.

During WWII, a Belorussian boy desperately wants to join the army and fight for his country. Nothing could have prepared him, or the audience, for the harrowing, terrifying, brutal reality that unfolds around him.

One amazing scene follows another as this boy's innocence is ripped from him as he is thrust into a nightmare that is not easily shaken. The progression of the film starts innocently enough but as it goes on the harsh reality starts creeping in and there is no escaping it.

The performances are stellar. The sheer terror in the boy's face during one of the film's most haunting scenes is a sight to behold.

There isn't much more to say except to say go and see "Come and See".

9-28-11: "Running Scared"...not the Paul Walker one.

RUNNING SCARED (1986) ***1/2 D: Peter Hyams. Billy Crystal, Gregory Hines, Jimmy Smits, Darlene Fluegel

Upon returning from a forced vacation, two cops find themselves in one dangerous predicament after another as they try to take down a notorious drug dealer.

Billy Crystal makes the jump to leading man status in this buddy cop action-comedy. Hines and Crystal help separate this film from the cookie-cutter genre that had yet to break out when Lethal Weapon hit the following year.

Hyams delivers some solid chase sequences and shootouts, a car chase on the elevated tracks around Chicago in particular.

Not a breakout action-comedy but still an entertaining entry that's worth a look.

9-25-11: An entertaining mess of a movie..."1941".

"1941" (1979) ***1/2 D: Steven Spielberg. C: Ned Beatty, Treat Williams, Dan Aykroyd, Nancy Allen, John Belushi.

I was 9 years old the first time I saw "1941." Recently I revisited the film, seeing it on the big screen for the first time in nearly 32 years and I must say that the label put on this film is undeserved.

It's days after Pearl Harbor and the city of Los Angeles is on edge as another Japanese attack is expected.

Spielberg threw in everything and the kitchen sink to make an insane, two-hour slapstick comedy that is hit and miss with more hits then misses. Structurally this film is all over the map but somehow keeps itself together.

Featuring an all-star cast where every character has an arc or moment that adds to the charm of the picture. Numerous memorable set pieces and visual effects fill this overflowing film that is so over-the-top at times that you can't help but enjoy it. Not to mention one of John William's finest scores.

It was indeed a mess of a movie but it certainly was entertaining.