Monday, August 31, 2020

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) Kino Studio Classics Blu Ray Review

 Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) Kino Studio Classics 9/8/2020

Directed By: Gordon Flemyng 

Starring: Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Roberta Tovey 

    So, confession time. Whilst I enjoy the newer television incarnation of Dr. Who I have not actually seen a lot of the older seasons (or series as they are known in England), nor am I that knowledgeable in the rich backstory and lore contained within. But how could I couldn't resist seeing the famous Doctor played by Cushing in all its Technicolor glory. Join Dr. Who (Peter Cushing) the iconic adventurer and Barbara (Jennie Linden), Susan (Roberta Tovey) and Ian (Roy Castle) as they travels through time, explore an alien world where they come in contact with the famous robot menaces the dreaded daleks. Now they must outwit them with the aid of a alien tribe known as Thals. I wasn't sure really what to expect but, wow, this is a really wild and pretty enjoyable movie. Sure it has its share of issues from the shoddy sets, hammy acting (even the great Cushing though he tries his best), and a shall we say interesting plot. 

      Once you can get over its surface flaws I really think its an enjoyable, trippy and breezy little romp. Its exactly the kind of movie you put on to just shut off your brain and let its hooky goodness wash over you in a blissful wave. Its clear that the director wanted to open up the black and white television series by adding color and boy, oh boy, does it pop. Its so in your face at times its nearly psychedelic. I am told that this version of Doctor Who re-tools certain characters and story elements but I actually found it a nice way to dip my toes into old-school Who. Cushing is a large part of what makes this film work for me. As I mentioned above he is kind of hammy in his delivery but the actor always had a dazzling presents that is hard not to love. Cushing sells the character and while I'm sure he is not the most beloved Doctor in the history of the franchise I enjoyed his interpretation a lot. Despite a low budget and a just so-so plot the film has a ton of charms that only a mid 60's British sci-fi could provide. I freely admit I'm not the most knowledgeable Who fan but I still found it a cheesy good watch. 

Picture/Sound: Wow. That is what pops into my mind when I look at this new 2k transfer. This is a very colorful film and the new print really brings everything to vivid life. Skin tones are well balanced and look natural. There is a great clarity to the overall film with artifacts and scratches digitally scrubbed. It's also great to see the way-out production design in all its 2k glory. The sound is great as well with a nice 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through strong with no background hiss or distortion. 

For Doctor Who fans, this disc is loaded with some great features. First off we have a feature length commentary from legendary British genre historian Kim Newman, historian Robert Shearman and Actor,writer, filmmaker Mark Gatiss. The commentary made for a fun listen, especially someone who is very new to old-school Who. 

Dalekamania: A 57 minute documentary about the famous Dr.Who baddies and their cultural impact that they've had. It was really enjoyable and like the commentary added some great history/context. I believe this was ported over form an older Anchor Bay release from the mid-late '90's (I could be mistaken). In any case its a wonderful addition and it was great to see this included. 

Restoring Dr. Who and the Daleks: This 8 minute long featurette explores the huge undertaking and hard work that went into providing the stunning 2k transfer. I love features like this because its important to remember the kind of blood sweat and tears it takes to make these films looking their best.

If you are a Doctor Who fan and completest, while Kino Studio Classics has got you COVERED! Not only does the film look amazing but they cram this disc with some excellent features. They have also released the Cushing follow-up film Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D (1966) which I will be also reviewing.  


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Centigrade (2020) IFC Films Review

 Centigrade (2020) IFC Films Review *Spoiler Free*

Directed  By: Brendan Walsh 

Starring: Vincent Piazza, Genesis Rodriguez

    Based on a harrowing true story, author Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) and her husband Matt (Vincent Piazza) who get trapped in a snow bank with very little in the way of food or water. Now they must survive in the harsh cold. Making matters worse Naomi is pregnant. 

     On paper Centigrade seems like it should work as a white-knuckle, gut-wrenching story of the limits a human will go to survive given some incredible odds. But, like its name sake Centigrade actually left me feeling very cold. Okay, yes, I know this is based on true events but the film strains in explaining how someone survives nearly a month with very little in the way of rations and worse yet strains to make the entire run-time not feel repetitive or cliched. There is only so many times you can see the couple chipping away at now or fighting. It get's pretty dull after awhile and I think a film of this type should be anything but boring. Things to seem to pick up when the baby is born and for at least a little while things get interesting, then once again they fall into repetition. Walsh boldly starts the action right after the big storm has trapped the couple (because, honestly who falls asleep during a blizzard in a country foreign to them?) but I think that this is a big disservice to the film. It's hard to really root or even care for characters that we know virtually nothing about. Some nicely placed flashbacks would have helped break up the repetitiveness whilst also providing some much needed backstory. It's why I think it was so hard to fully connect with either person and it just left me not caring that much. Also, its baffling how a movie that would seem to have built-in high stakes has very little tension or suspense. There are a few moments when you think that help is coming but they do this so early in the film that you know that no rescue is coming. And even if you think they are close to getting out, you know damn well they arent because if they did the film would be over. This is a case where I think this would have made a better short film that was lean and tense and brisk. Yet Walsh (known thus far for episodic work) stretches it out to feature length. I will say that there are some pretty interesting and harrowing moments that kept the movie at least watchable. It also helps that our two leads Vincent Piazza and Genesis Rodriguez do a great job at their respective roles. The limiting camera work also helps to keep things claustrophobic and always slightly on edge. 

This is Branden Walsh's first feature film debut and I'm sorry to say it fails to connect on a human level or work as a purely tense filled thriller. Thankfully though it has some solid acting and a few gut-punch emotional scenes that helps but sadly doesn't save this film. Centigrade feels like a movie that should have wowed but instead  its chilly and detached. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Z (2019) RLJE Entertainment Blu Ray Review

 Z (2019) RLJE Entertainment 9/15/2020 On DVD and Blu Ray

Directed By: Brandon Christensen 

Starring: Keegan Conner Tracy, Jett Klyne, Stephen McHattie, Luke Moore 

       Eight-year old Josh starts talking to a mysterious 'friend' named Z. Of course the parents dismiss this as just a childhood phase until creepy things start happening. Maybe instead of Z, the film should have been titled F, as in Formulaic. We are living in an age where there is almost a glut of new product coming out, which is great on one hand but, it also means that for filmmakers they need to really deliver a feature that stands out among the crowd. Z, struggles to do so. You know doubt have guessed from the plot summary that this set-up is laughable well-worn. I could list a dozen films along this line but I think you get my point. What's frustrating is the film attempts at a interesting subversion of this troupe which could have turned things around yet it does nothing exciting or interesting with it. Worse yet its painfully predictable and doesn't take big enough swings. 

     The already lean run-time of 83 minutes strains with a needless sub-plot involving the mother of Elizabeth. Narrative wise it doesn't really add anything expect to halt the film and any tension it does manage to build. The film also even manages to under-cut its own scares with poorly done CGI. I will say on the bright side the film has a very strong cast with Keegan Conner Tracy giving a performance that is far too good for the material. Jett Klyne similarly brings a ease and realistic turn as Josh and thankfully doesn't fall into that annoying kid category. Even from a technical standpoint Z is a very well made film. Moments are creepily shot, but again there is very little to no weight given to them. It's more frustrating because I think there is a good movie in there somewhere and Brandon knows his craft from a technical standpoint i.e its well shot and put together. Yet its saddled with a screenplay that is underdeveloped, wildly uneven and frankly not very scary. Worst yet the end the film violently shifts gears to the degree it totally feels like we're watching another film. Baffling doesn't even begin to explain the tonal and story shift the film takes in the third act. I think that there are nuggets of good ideas here but the film bogs itself down in cliches and weak narrative. 

The film looks great on HD and clarity is well handled even in darker lit scenes. Skin tones look natural and colors are balanced well. The sound is also great with dialogue coming in clear as does the sound design and music. 

No features are included for this film. 

Available 9/15/2020

Bad Education (2019) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

 Bad Education (2019) Warner Archives 9/8/2020

Directed By: Cory Finlay 

Starring: Hugh Jackman Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Welker White,Geraldine Viswanathan

     Based on a true story of a real life of a well respected and well loved superintended Frank (Hugh Jackson) and the scandal that shook his community. Cory Finlay was certainly an interesting choice to helm this HBO film having only directed one other feature, the darkly funny satirical Thoroughbreds (2017), which I consider a great film. No one that would predict he would get something more mainstream, yet maybe its not that weird of a choice. After all Bad Education and Thoroughbreds delves head first into a bleak character studies but also injects a nice balance of humor. Both just so happen to be well crafted and engaging films. What can I say expect that I was engrossed from the very first minutes of the film and it hooked me until the very end. The screenplay by Mike Makowsky is extremely well written with dialogue that feels natural and real but also crackles. It's fast pace and tight structure makes the run time just fly by. What could have easily been a boring by-the-numbers story about embezzlement is wisely framed into a complex character piece. Its so interesting to see the well oiled machine that is Frank Tassone come so completely undone by his own greed. Having the focus be as much on the characters as the scandal itself is such a stroke of genius. Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney both take the already brilliant screenplay and bring it to life. Jackman is able to shed his rough Logan exterior for the buttoned up suit wearing Frank and with it brings depth to the role. Seriously, if you forgotten how wonderful he is at acting this should re-confirm that. And, as good as Jackman is its Janney who steals the show. This might just  be her best performance in a resume filled with great roles. And bringing these two actors together in a scene is like capturing lighting in a bottle. Seeing two talents at the height of their respective careers working along side each other is a marvel to behold. Neither one tries to dominate the scene and both play off each other extremely well. New comer Geraldine Viswanathan also is great and can hold her own against this superb cast. It wouldn't shock me if she won an Oscar of her own someday. This movie succeeds because of its sharp writing and Oscar worthy performances. 

The film looks great in HD especially considering it was shot on newer high-def equipment. The great cinematography and use of sometimes harsh over-lighting is highlighted in this transfer. Skin tones look natural and things dont look blown out in terms of over lighting. The sound is great as well with dialogue coming through crystal clear.  We get three mini featurettes recorded virtually during COVID. 

Based on A True Story: This three minute featurette explores the real life event that inspired the film. Shot virtually we hear from the director, writer and actors on the real life scandal. 

The Perception of Perfection: A three minute long featurette that talks about the inner-workings of Frank and his character. Again, its interesting to hear from the filmmakers and cast. Finlay gives us some very interesting scene specifics that I enjoyed. 

Hugh Jackman & Allison Janney: Virtual Conversation: This three minute long virtual session, as it says in the title talks to stars Jackman and Janney. 

All three are short, sweet and to the point, and, all offer a nice insight into the film, its backstory and the production. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Fantasia Fest 2020: The Old Man Movie (2019) Review

 Fantasia Fest 2020: The Old Man Movie (2019) Review 

Directed By: Oskar Lehemaa, Mikk Magi 

Starring: Mart Avandi, Oskar Lehemaa

Before I start let me say: I love movies, I love the escape they give me and how truly awesome and magically they are. Writing and reviewing about film helps me celebrate the medium whilst also highlighting and insanely talented filmmakers and actors. And, I never have seen myself as someone who took pleasure in taking down bad movies and I generally like to showcase positive, yet be honest with what maybe doesn't work about an otherwise great, good or even just good enough movie. 

    Having Said That: There are those are exceptions when I see a movie so bad and wrong on many levels that it's hard not to truly express my feelings. I feel like I owe it to the few people who read my reviews to be honest yet constructive. Oh Boy, here we go. The Old Man Movie is truly one of the worst films I've seen in a long time. Not in a fun so bad its enjoyable way, just in a painful deep hurting kind of way. If you are tempted to still see this movie afterwards well, thats on you. The plot (of what there is) centers around three city kids that visit their crazy old grandpa. And some nonsense about cows with exploding udders, milk lots and lots of milk. Really calling this a narrative is probably way more generous than I should be. This movie is claymation and it started out alright, acting almost like a edgier Wallace and Gromit. Yet, any kind of clever or interesting ideas quickly devolve in a circling drain of crass and crude jokes that are pointless and features animation that is just so ugly to look at. 

    Even more disturbing is some very nasty sex jokes involving or made around children characters That actually creeped me out a great deal. The thing is this easily could have maybe worked as a 10 minute short film but the directors stretch it out for nearly 90 minutes and again, it was actually painful to slog through. Now, before you accuse me of being a film-snob, I love a good low brow edgy comedy, even a silly and dumb one. But Old Man has no redeeming value and substitutes wit and well timed humor with just the sickest laziest sight gags. Ever wanted to see an old man blow into a pigs ass whilst he grandkids watch in glee? Seriously,  what the actual fuck? Oh and it also is so timely in its "take down hippies" sub plot which is weirdly long and adds nothing to the plot (of what there is of it). I always try to say something nice or good about a film and, while it was hard I will say that from a technical standpoint the film is actually fairly well done. Though all that is wasted on a deeply underdeveloped creepy (and not in a good way) crass crude movie with sophomoric humor aimed at adults. 

This is hands down the worst film I've seen thus far featured at Fantasia fest 2020 which until this had been damn good. Again, if you still want to see it out of some morbid curiosity well, I warned you. Honestly, it was so bad and baffling I was mentally drained and had to take a break before writing this review. 

Fantasia Fest 2020: Survival Skills (2020) Review

 Fantasia Fest 2020: Survival Skills (2020) Review

Directed By: Quinn Armstrong 

Starring: Stacy Keach. Vayu O'Donnell, Tyra Colar, Spencer Garrett, Emily Chisholm 

      Framed as a 80's era VHS training tape the film narrated by Stacy Keach (known any as The Narrator) introduces us to Jim (Vayu O'Donnell) a bright peppy 'every man' and we go through his year on the police force. The jolly optimistic man soon discovers that his job isnt all its cracked up to be in this savagely funny satire. On the surface Survival Skills is a very basic even thread bare plot -yet, its thanks to Quinn Armstrong's brilliant use of wit and white hot satire that it takes a just OK premise into a darkly funny and harrowing journey. By the end the film had me shook and 'reeling' in the best possible way.  I hate comparing other filmmakers to one another but in this case I couldn't help but feel like Armstrong was channeling the great Quentin Dupieux in terms of the surreal living comfortably right next to the real. Now, admittedly Survival is no where near as insane as a Dupieux outing yet it strikes just the right cord between weird, surreal and the heartbreaking real. 

    The film uses a lot of fourth wall breaks. Now, I can already hear the groans but, hear me out. Quinn does an amazing job at transcending and even brilliantly incorporating those breaks into the narrative. It's something that is incredible hard to pull off well but damned if he doesn't do it beautifully. I've seen other films attempt this to some degree of success but maybe nothing this polished and evocative.  The scratchy, low-fi VHS quality is sure to make us older film nerds happy yet taking this a step further this too is used in clever ways to highlight important moments. For example, the more wear our hero Jim experiences the more wear on the VHS tape there is.Not to mention some very jarring scratching screeching sounds bridging some scenes.  That my friends is fucking brilliant. Using chapters ala a training video is a cool and interesting way of highlighting important narrative points and I haven't seen that done before. There is even a  hilariously sitcom segment involving Jim and his Dad (R. Hamilton Wright). Another example includes Jim's girlfriend in her 50's era typical 'have a good day routine' yet the camera lingers on her after the 'bit' is over and suddenly we see her almost robot-like not sure what to do when he's not on screen. It's funny on a surface level yet also has some sinister undertones in the meta-text of the scene. That's the kind of playfulness this film takes advantage of and its really makes for a wholly wild and interesting watch.

     I love when a movie surprises this jaded critic and stuff like that deserves all of our praise. It's almost kind of hard to write a review for a film that just needs to be seen to be believed (and yes I know how corny and cliched that sounds) but its true. This is a comedy first and foremost  but Quinn doesn't spare us on the bleak, depressing and harrowing aspects of Jim's job. It's not easy to balance comedy and dark subject matter yet thanks to a well structured and smartly written screenplay the two tones work in harmony. Besides a great script what really sells this film and its somewhats subtle sometimes not so subtle subtext is the actors. Stacy Keach, beloved cult star is so damned amazing in this (and really anything he does) and he brings the right amount of hammy and hard boiled to the role. Its a joy, no, a honor to watch such artistry at work. Seriously, you have to be dead inside not to get excited when you see this gentlemen on screen. Playing our smiley peppy hero Jim is Vayu O'Donnell. O'Donnell brings a quiet dread, sympathetic, harrowing and above all funny performance. Like Keach, he knows the line between over-the-top and never actually skirts it, yet comes deliciously close. At the end my heart really bled for this character. Honestly, I could go on and on because everybody is so fantastic in this film. 

   On paper this shouldn't work but it does. You have a genius script brought to life by its performers. This is even more incredible when you take a step back and realize that this is Quinn Armstrong's first feature, having previously worked on shorts (including a short based on this feature). The fact that this filmmaker already has these kinds of skills behind the camera makes me think, look out this filmmaker is going places. 

A darkly brilliant take down of Reagan era police-force that sticks with you long after its over. 

Black Gravel (1961) Kino Classics Blu Ray Review

 Black Gravel (1961) Kino Classics 9/1/2020

Directed By: Helmut Kautner 

Starring: Helmut Wildt, Ingmar Zeisberg, Peter Nestor, Hans Cossy 

    Black Gravel from 1961 marks the the US HD premier of German director Helmut Kautner from Kino Classics. And, oh boy did they pick a hell of a film to start with. Black Gravel tells the story of a post-World War II Germany, more specifically a little village by an Air Base. The little town has been thrown into vice and black market dealings as well as shortages of vitals like housing, water and food. Robert (Helmut Wildt) is a sleazy young man that deals in black market gravel and other shady things. One night he accidentally runs over a young couple and things get even worse as he avoids detection.  Mixed up in all of this is Roberts old flame Inge (Ingmar Zeisberg). 

    Bleak, gritty and a challenging watch. Kautner film pulls zero-punches in its deeply cynical view-point of post World War II life in Germany, focusing its lens on the dens of vice and corruption that ran wild after the war was over. I say its a challenging watch because its a very depressing and at times uncomfortable watch. But, at times feels like a slog to get through the nearly two hours of nihilism. And, our only viewpoint character is Robert, a pretty disgusting person. Helmut wants us to feel some sympathy for him but it's a pretty tough sell. Gravel, would have been better suited as a tight thriller but, sadly never builds the same kind of tension that something like The Wages of Fear (1953) does. Though I will say the film is amazingly well shot with incredible camera work and a style that is rooted in Noir German expressionism and features some amazing lighting cues. For example, scenes in a smokey hazy bar scenes really captures this seedy underworld perfectly and you can almost smell the cigarettes, beer and sweat. The beautiful visual flare is an interesting juxtaposition from a movie that is soul-crushing and languishes a pool of murder, regret and sadness. The film itself came under fire for some anti-Jewish scenes but the director argued that the film was not intended as a antisemitic piece (more on that later). Having that said the offending scene of a man in a bar being called a anti-Jewish slur, then moments later finding out he was a Holocaust survivor is deeply uncomfortable, yet also very out of place.  I think a lot of talent went into making Black Gravel from a technical standpoint, yet I feel like the story isn't as developed as it could have been and its frankly a bit of a choir to get through if I'm being completely honest. 

     The film came under fire of its supposed antisemitic message, yet the director denies that that was his intention. It had been cut slightly with a few new scenes added. Kino Classics features both the original unedited transfer stunningly remastered as well as the Distributor Cut for completion sake. This is the extra mile that is why i LOVE Kino. Both editions look amazing with very little to no dirt, scratches or artifacts. As I said the film wasn't my cup of tea but it was visually breathtaking and this new transfer highlights that. The sound is also great with a healthy audio-track. Dialogue comes through clear as does the sound design. The film features a commentary by historian Olaf Moller. It's a very well done track that features a lot of historian context that is important when watching this film. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Fantasia Fest 2020 The Oak Room (2020) Review

 Fantasia Fest 2020 The Oak Room (2020) Review 

Directed By: Cody Calahan 

Starring: RJ Mitte, Peter Outerbridge, David Ferry, Ari Mullen, Nicholas Campbell 

   Cody Calahan's The Oak Room is one of those movies that is kind of hard to define genre wise. Surface level its a thriller but, at least, thats the way the trailer markets it is. However, I'd say its a subtle, creepy haunting family drama that is quietly invaded by a thriller. A raging snowstorm brings Steve (RJ Mitte) into a bar at closing time. The owner Paul (Peter Outerbridge) is shall we say not too happy to see him. You see, it seems that Steve owes Paul and other people money, but more personally the grizzled bar tender hated the way Steve wasn't there for his estranged father. What ensues is a night of stories, mistaken identity and murder. 

     After the credits rolled on The Oak Room I felt like I was sucker-punched right in the gut. I just sat there for a little while still thinking about what I just watched and letting it all sink in. This feeling wasn't so much because the film was gory or partially intense for that matter. No, it was the extreme  melancholic tone that did it. Filtered through this cold, bleak backdrop the film's core is about father and son relationships and, without going into detail the fact that it centered on a son estranged from his father was painfully relatable. The Oak Room opens up like a typical thriller with a stranger in a ski mask coming into a bar on a dark snowy night. But from expectations are subverted to my delight and probably others groans. 

     What plays out is a very uncomfortable and at times tense drama and its clear the filmmakers were going for something darker, more unsettling. The core themes I think work because they are ones many people can connect with on different levels. This is one of those movies that demands and rewards your strict attention. Even having said that a second viewing might be needed. As for satisfying story telling goes it could have used some improvements. While I applaud the film for going for more gut wrenching emotions rather than a typical crime-thriller I still think some plot points could have been better presented.  Real talk I can see some people, especially more mainstream or casual viewers not enjoying this film. It's a slow burn of a film even for its brisk runtime of under 90 minutes and, as I said its not what you`d call a traditional narrative wise. The ending will also split people but damn if I didnt think it was brilliant. One element that I think truly ties this film together is its cast. RJ Mitte of Breaking Bad fame is outstanding! He brings layers to the character, swaying from smart-ass and cocky to sympathetic to kind of creepy. Playing Paul the bartender is Peter Outerbridge. Like Mitte Outerbridge gives a layered and realistic performance that is subtle yet effective. The two play off each other incredibly well. But, let me be clear everybody is fantastic in this film and each performer brings this story and place to life. The entire film is this dread-filled, depressed film that is as icy and brutal as its locale. Its' a movie that works on a cerebral, emotional level rather than a paint-by-number crime film. And, frankly any movie that leaves me kind of raw and still thinking about it long after the credits roll is a damn worth while film. 

A soul-crushing and engrossing film that will stick with you long after its over. 

Death on the Nile (1978) Kino Studio Classics Blu Ray Review (Spoiler Free)

 Death on the Nile (1978) Kino Studio Classics 9/1/2022

Directed By: John Guillermin 

Starring: Peter Ustinov, Bette Davis, David Niven, Mia Farrow, Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Jon Finch

     With the big budget remake of Death on the Nile coming out next year (hopefully), it seems very fitting to talk about the original film version from 1978, which of course was adapted from Agatha Christie book first published in the UK in 1937 and a year later in the US. Now, I have not read this book so I wont be making any comparisons between book and film and will be strictly reviewing the film. During a luxury trip, an heiress is killed, with everybody seemingly having a motive for the crime. Now, its up to the legendary detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) to discover who the murder is. This is the second of four, star studded murder mystery. And, it is excellent. First off lets talk about the cast. Holy crap its amazing! You have old Hollywood stars like Bette Davis and David Niven sharing the screen with rising stars like Mia Farrow and Jon Finch, and character actors like George Kennedy and Angela Lansbury. Then you have Maggie Smith playing a queer coded character, a very bold move for the time. All the actors some how find a way of sharing the screen, each bring something exciting and thanks to director Guillermin's they all feel like they are on the same page. Even the more hammy performances feel suited to the world crafted by the filmmakers. 

    Nile of course has a huge scope. The film takes place during the '20's and we get a lush, lavish and detailed production design that feels suited to the time period. Not to mention the amazing locales that are so breathtakingly shot by the legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes, The African Queen). Screenwriter Anthony Shaffer was a true genius in his field, having turned out classics like Frenzy (1972) for Hitchcock, Sleuth (1972) and The Wicker Man (1973). Here he adds a layered, darkly satirical, funny outing, which is filled with dialogue that crackles with the kind of wit and brilliance of Golden Age Hollywood with the more boundary pushing freedom of the '70's. Mix this with thrills, twists and turns with some generally satisfying moments and you have a hell of an enjoyable ride.  If you liked Knives Out (2019) you should make this a must watch. 

The 4k transfer just dazzles! As I said the film has a big scope with some wonderful locale's and rich production design and this new transfer celebrates that. Seriously, its just awe-inspiring and I think its safe to say that the film has never looked this good. The sound is great with a well balanced track and dialogue comes through crisp and clear. The disc features some nice features.  

Making of Death on the Nile: This vintage featurette includes rare interviews with the cast and crew shot during production. Its always fun to see these vintage feature's especially seeing the interviews being conducted with actors still in costume. 

Like The Mirror Crack'd (1980) this disc features the a wonderful and lively commentary,with Steve Mitchell, Nathan Thompson and Howard S. Berger. The trio are really fun, informative and and I really enjoyed every minute of it. Commentaries are my favorite features, but some can be a slog. When you get these brilliant scholars together, you know your in for a good time! They are chocked full of great information and I enjoyed it alot. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Barge People (2018) RLJ Entertainment DVD Review

The Barge People (2018) RLJ Entertainment Aug 18th 2020

Directed By: Charlie Steeds

Starring:Kate Davies-Speak,  Mark McKirdy, Carl Anderson, David Lenik 

    Two sisters and their boyfriends go off on whats suppose to be a fun holiday to the British countryside. Though, because this is a horror movie their time is anything but peaceful and idyllic. What they find is hideous creatures that thirst for human blood. So, basically anytime you see a really cool cover, most likely means the movie is probably not that good. Hey, thats just video renting 101 from back in the day. I should know better but I decided to go ahead and check out this movie anyways. Oh boy, what a mistake that was. The Barge People starts out promising with a pretty good and effective opening scene explaining the disappearances in the British countryside's canals. It's set up a nice mystery element and I thought, "Oh cool, maybe Steeds will keep the creature mysterious".  Cut to, two seconds later and we see one the titular creatures. So much for building any kind of tension or suspense. 

    This movie falls into the category its too bland to be good yet too boring and uninteresting to be so-bad-its-enjoyable. What we are left with is a movie that feels like a slog, filled with cliches, painfully annoying characters and dialogue that is as wooden and awkward as the acting. Seriously, I dont know why writers have to cram their movies with people that are so unlikable or so-one-note. Like, Steed tries to flesh out his characters but it just falls flat. Here's the other thing, I think Steed has a problem with the very well worn but also, very true statement of, you know, sometimes less really is more. 1979's Alien didnt feel the need to throw out an alien in the first few minutes but instead, built the world and characters, then throw them into this situation with the creature. As I said the film opens with a cool little mystery and then it just ruins it almost right away. It's hard to make a good creature feature because it's such a large market but one that is rarely done correctly, because you need to do something interesting and new within the sub-genre but also have the kind of money to pull it off. The film brings an interesting aspect to the table with the setting but doesn't really do anything with it. Also, this film weirdly takes itself far too seriously. Because, if you know you dont have the talent or skill to pull off a movie, why not just take some really big swings and just go for it? If they were having some fun with the genre then it might have made for a more enjoyable watch. If you like blood and gore this movie delivers but honestly the budget for effects is kind of thread bare and it really shows.  Not bad creature designs but the film is a not very fun slog to get through and, at the end of the day a boring creature feature is a carnal sin in filmmaking. 

   The film looks good, having been a newer digitally shot film. There really isnt the kind of grain you seen in older DVD's so, while no doubt the Blu Ray looks better, this looks just fine. The sound is also good with a healthy track. The film features no features. I kind of would have loved some kind of making of or commentary track just to get a sense of what making this movie was like. It is currently available on DVD and Blu Ray with an embossed slipcover which is actually pretty cool.

The Mirror Crack'd (1980) Kino Studio Classics Blu Ray Review

 The Mirror Crack'd (1980) Kino Studio Classics 9/1/2020 

Directed By: Guy Hamilton 

Starring: Angela Lansbury, Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Kim Novak 

     Knives Out (2019) is a return to form of the star studded murder mystery film, and also the 'cozy mysteries' famously associated with the writer Agatha Christie. Yet, Hollywood has been doing these for decades before Rian Johnson's hit outing.  Point in case three new Kino Studio Classic releases: Death on the Nile (1978), Evil Under the Sun (1982) and, the movie I'll be reviewing The Mirror Crack'd (1980). Now, I have not read the book in which this is based, so I wont be making any comparisons. Just strictly will be only talking about the film version. A local girl from a beautiful rural town in Britain is murdered after a Hollywood production blows into town.  With it, two rival actors Lola Brewster (Kim Novak) and Maria (Elizabeth Taylor) a director Jason (Rock Hudson) and producer Martin Fenn (Tony Curtis). Legendary sleuth Miss Marple (Angela Lansbury) must solve now solve the case. First off, let me say that I love big budget murder-mysteries with grand stars-yet its probably not my favorite of its ilk. It's kind of how I feel about the bygone era of big disater movies with big stars shoved in their for maximum box-office returns. Shallow and attention getting sure, but also pretty fun most of the time. However I dont know if this film worked for me.  

     But, let me start with the positives. The cast. I mean, what can you say about such a talented group of people. Lansbury, Taylor, Hudson, Curtis and Novak  all totally shine in their respective roles. Rumor had it Natalie Wood was suppose to play Elizabeth Taylor's role and, as much as I love Wood, Taylor, playing a bitchy fierce Hollywood star wanting to make a come back, is perfect. And Taylor delivers a layered and interesting performance. You cannot help but love seeing Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak (Vertigo) playing rivals and its clear they are both loving the role. 

 Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson are also terrific. But, of course there's Angela Lansbury who is aged up to play the elderly Miss Marple (she was only in her fifties at the time). Though Lansbury said she loved playing the fictional Miss Marple she didnt care for this film. What works about the film is its meta-commentary on Hollywood, but also cultural clashes between the lower and upper class Brits and the American's making movies. And, there is so really fun bitchy, catty moments that make it a fun watch. And as a Dynasty like film, showcasing rich people behaving badly and having catty fights it works wonderfully. But as a mystery film...Not so much. My main issue is there are very little clues or hints given to us the audience, making the 'big reveal' kind of a let down. It doesnt help that the entire affair feels bloated at nearly an hour and 50 minutes. There are scenes that, while yes entertaining, doesn't move the plot forward. I saw this first and then Death on the Nile, and by far Nile is the superior film in my opinion. That film has very little to no filler, whilst Mirror, feels like mostly filler and a splattering of mystery thrown in, because remember this is a murder mystery. Again, its hard to outright hate the film, especially with the Hollywood aspect and Taylor and Novak playing versions of themselves, but a compelling and satisfying murder mystery it does not make. I will say that, again without spoiling it the reveal is clever, but ahhh...not clever enough to have an entire movie built around it. Ironically it would have worked better as a Murder She Wrote episode. For those of you how are not aware, the series and the fiction character which made Lansbury a mainstream star (she was already well known in the theater crowd) Murder, She Wrote (1984-96) was partly based off the Miss Marple character and, in fact the series title is a fun play on the Marple mystery Murder, She Said.. But yeah, there isn't enough here to justify an entire nearly two-hour film, even though, as I said its entertaining, just not as a mystery per se. 

    The film looks great and the transfer makes the most of the directors use of beautiful sprawling locales and big bold colors. Like, the costumes within the fictional movie is just as lavish and grand looking as you might expect a rare big budget period film and they nearly leaped out in this print. The sound is great as well and showcases a score by John Cameron to great effect. Dialogue and sound designs some through crystal clear. The features include a commentary track by historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson. The track is lively and is filled with some great information on the production, the background of the actors and director etc. At times it is just the three gushing about the film but theres enough well researched material to make that forgivable. Well done!! Rounding out the features is trailers and TV Spots. 

Fantasia Fest 2020: Special Actors (2019) Review *Spoiler Free

 Fantasia Fest 2020: Special Actors (2019) Review Spoiler Free

Directed By: Shin 'ichiro Ueda 

Starring: Nozomi de Lencquesaing, Hayate Masao, Aver Hamilton Jr 

     One Cut of the Dead released in 2017 but showcased in America last year, was truly one of those rare special movies that refreshed and re-confirmed my love for cinema. Bold statement I know. But, its high-energy and creativity really reminded me of just how fun and magical movies can be. It's nice when even a jaded film critic like myself can discover something new that gets my black heart racing with excitement. So, needless to say I was thrilled to see that director Shin 'ichiro Ueda had a brand new film, and I actually get to see it before it makes its way to streaming platforms and VOD. The film centers around a shy young actor, but the only thing standing in his way is the fact that he faints when he's in high stress or nervous situations. After re-connecting with his older brother, he is introduced to a acting troupe. A very special acting group that apply their craft to real world applications. A woman comes in one day with a pile of money, wanting the group to pretend to join a cult in order to rescue her younger sister and their family run inn. 

    I wasn't sure if One Cut of the Dead was a fluke. You know, maybe it was this director's one great film before taking a nose dive into boring tired imitations. Thankfully,  Special Actors confirms Shin's status as one hell of a great storyteller and filmmaker. It's hard not to draw comparisons between One Cut because both films deal with actors and improve. Yet, Special Actors breaks out of Dead's shadow and acts as its very own thing and acts as a fun companion piece or spiritual sequel to the zombie film. The set up is a classic under-dog story and the lead is likable and relatable enough to pull this off with ease. As someone who has dealt with anxiety and finding ways to cope, it's awesome to see an on screen hero dealing with the same thing. Speaking of, while the film isn't actually a super-hero movie it flirts with that genre with success and also re-enforces it with its core themes. I found myself engrossed in the well thought out and clever plot but also rooting in my seat for the main character. Shin 'ichiro Ueda really understands the hero's journey and how to perfectly sculpt an incredibly satisfying story arc. Throw in some great camera work, acting and a twisty, turny plot and you have a making of a modern cult-classic. I also love this idea of an entirely new world hiding in plain sight ala Men in Black (1997) which is played up to maximum creative effect. Amazingly it may even just narrowly edge out One Cut of the Dead, as while that movie is fantastic this features more depth both in story and substance but also you can see how the director has grown in such a short amount of time.  I can honestly see this director finding a huge loyal fan base and, hell, he might even be the next Bong Joon Ho and I dont say that lightly. I highly recommend this film. 

Funny and had me cheering in my seat, Special Actors is the real deal!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Fantasia Fest 2020: Hail to the Deadites (2020) Review

 Fantasia Fest 2020: Hail to the Deadites (2020) Review 

Directed By: Steve Villeneuve 

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Betsy Baker, Chris Alexander, Dennis Carter. Jr, John Fallon 

 Like many horror fans The Evil Dead and its sequels was a massive window into the genre. It, along with Re-Animator (1985) and Dead-Alive (1992) were turning points in my film education. Needless to say, there have been a lot of documentaries covering all three Evil Dead films, with every major actor and creative outlet being interviewed countless times. So, I was curious what, if anything new Steve Villeneuve's Hail to the Deadites could bring to the discourse.  What makes Hail stand out is that it talks exclusively about the fandom of The Evil Dead series and why it's, like the deadites themselves, never seem to die. So, yeah I might have let out a groan or two, because, while I adore the Evil Dead series (especially the first two) as I said it's been covered to death. 

     Having said that, damned if Steve didn't have me smiling from the very first few minutes and by the end cheering by the finale. With a sea of click-bait negativity online it's great to see the gleeful horror fandom side. And, it just so happens that Villeneuve clear knows how to make a documentary that flows well and its nicely paced, well edited with very lively and down right fun interview subjects. We have a 'splattering' of the Evil Dead cast like Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Betsy Baker (and so on), genre heavies like Chris Alexander, John Fallon and Michael Felsher as well as super-fans. And, its featuring these super-fans that the movie truly finds its heart. The excitement and joy just radiates off these people and it really makes you wanna watch all the films right afterwards, and, I couldn't help but recall the impact these films had on me as a young horror nerd. I always get a kick out of seeing people's cherished props and collectibles as I do that as well.The neat thing is the film is inter-cut with some incredible fan made films, music and art which, again, makes for a much more interesting watch. It's such a cool way to showcase creative artist work while also perfectly tying into the theme of fandom. While the film is light and fun there was one heartbreaking story told by a local DJ named AC McCray. Seriously, it moved me incredible and I think it was a great thing to share in this documentary. If i had to lobby maybe a criticism I would say even at a lean 80 minutes it felt like it could have used a slight trim. I went into this film with reservations but came out of it cheering and if you are even a casual fan, or, like me a die hard one this is very much worth checking out. 

Groovy! A well made film with heart and humor in an age of cynicism. A Must See!  

Fantasia Fest 2020 Dinner in America (2020) Review

 Fantasia Fest 2020 Dinner in America (2020) Review Premiers Aug 21st 

Directed By: Adam Rehmeir 

Starring: Kyle Gallner, Emily Skeggs, Pat Healy, Griffin Gluck, Lena Drake, Lea Thompson 

    I've been a fan of Adam's ever since his pull-no-punches, psychological skull fucking of a film called The Bunny Game (2011) was unleashed onto its audience.. While the film was far from perfect it had something raw, exciting and engrossing about it. I think I knew at this point Rehmeir was a director that, given the breaks had the talent to go places in this business. Since that point I've been in touch with the director and I am happy to see his latest film was apart of this years Fantasia Fest. The film tells the story of a punk-rock singer and pyromaniac named Simon (Kyle Gallner) who happens to meet the shy mousy Patty (Emily Skeggs). The two find a connection despite seemingly being complete opposites. 

     Holy shit. Right from the very first frame Adam's film has a high-energy lunacy that is somehow both grounded in reality yet had a totally off-kilter-ed surreal quality. This alone had me hooked yet the film has a great deal of heart and charm. At its core Dinner in America is a love story but doesn't fall on sappy troupes nor does it feel like its not authentic to its beating heart punk-roots. Wisely, Rehmeir keeps a consistent tone of strange and at times intense but never too-dark or depressing. In my opinion it hits just the right note and damned if I didn't find myself rooting for these two lovable misfits.  The writing is incredible witty, fun and thankfully never goes fully off the rails even though it delightfully skits the line more than a few times. Think of the film as a cross between the painful awkwardness and hilarity of Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) and the strange and quirkiness of Ghost World (2001) (also with Pat Healy) all laced up with studded black leather. 

    What I think really makes this material sing though is the outstanding cast. I cannot say enough about how much Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs crushes their respective roles. Gallner has a bravado that is James Dean, had Dean been a drug-fueled punker with a flare for setting things on fire. He oozes a kind of charm that perfectly accents his bad-ass take-no-shit persona. I believed every bit of his character and damned if he never took it too over-the-top where other lesser actors might. Then you have Emily Skeggs. Again, just  wow. Her turn as Patty is so layered. She's awkward, painfully shy, strange but also I found her incredibly real and very relatable. Not to mention she takes some brave swings that pays off. Her character has the most satisfying arc in the film and, like Kyle, never takes the character into caricature territory. The pair have chemistry and both play off each other so well. It never feels like one is trying to upstage the other. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say I can see both of Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs winning Oscars someday. This for me is what I consider star making roles and I hope Hollywood stands up and takes notice!  And, the supporting cast in also fantastic with Pat Healy (Ghost World), Lena Drake (Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Griffin Gluck (American Vandal) and 80's icon Lea Thompson (Back to the Future) all giving wonderful performances. 

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that this film looks amazing thanks to DP Jean-Philippe Bernier. Bernier has already shot modern classics like Turbo Kid (2015) and Summer of 84 (2018), and choke this up to another great film for the resume.  Couple this with some excellent editing and music by John Swihart (How I Met Your Mother) and you have a great little film. 

Dinner in America is a deliciously twisted and funny take-down of suburban life. 


Friday, August 21, 2020

Fantasia Fest 2020: The Mortuary Collection (2019) Film Review

Fantasia Fest 2020: The Mortuary Collection (2020) Film Review 

Directed By: Ryan Spindell 

Starring: Clancy Brown, Caitlin Custer, Mike C. Nelson, Christine Kilmer, Jacob Elordi,Sarah Hay

    1982's Creepshow was a blood-soaked love-letter to E.C Comics which perfectly blended the macabre, the funny and the gross out. You had talents like Stephen King and George A. Romero at the height of their creativity along with an incredible cast. Add the brilliant effects wizardry of Tom Savini and score by John Harrison and you have a milestone in the genre. For better or worse all other horror anthologies will be compared to it but none have ever dethroned it in terms of quality and talent. But, some have come damn close, like Michael Dougherty's Trick r' Treat (2007) and, now you can add The Mortuary Collection (2019) to that list. Now, maybe that sounds like a back handed compliment but far from it. I think that being close to the brilliance of Creepshow in the horror anthology terms is high-praise. Let me put in plainer. Holy crap, this movie is genius and I do not say such things lightly. 

     The thing is there are a lot of horror anthologies being made and while some have interesting or even brilliant shorts, but rarely do they ever deliver in terms of an entire cohesive and well made collection. This one delivers the goods and more. A young girl named Sam (Caitlin Custer) interviews for the job at a mortuary run by a sinister looking man named Montgomery Black (Clancy Brown). He regales her with tales of how some of his 'clients' have departed. Mortuary first few minutes are breathtaking. We first get a booming voice-over of Black, cut to a book with the film title, and, having opened it we are propelled into this delightfully spooky world that made me long for crisp fall days, cider, and of course, Halloween. Though the subject matter of the stories are dark Ryan Spindell wisely injects humor into the film and thus things never get too-bleak. Amazingly it keeps a consistent tone throughout the four stories not to mention features maybe one of thee best wrap-around segments in any horror anthology, Creepshow included. I also loved that each story takes place in a different decade (between 50s-80's).  The attention to detail is incredible, but also the film doesn't scream down your throat that this is a period horror film. Its grounded in reality but somehow also surreal and off kilter-ed at the same time. I will say that going in you always expect a few duds in a horror anthology but honestly, not a bad one in the bunch. All the stories zing of smart and mature writing mixed with just enough subversion and wit to keep me invested. The first segment (by far the shortest) is a fun sick Lovecraft inspired outing and the perfect morsel before the main courses. Speaking of, no doubt Ryan was inspired by the likes of Poe and Lovecraft with the themes of tragic love, madness, mutant spawn but I also felt some modern influences like Cronenberg body-horror and Raimi's splatter-y-physical humor. The entire film has a consistent theme of stories and this is a brilliant and simple way to neatly tie the everything together. Again, having this made every part of the film feel like one cohesive work instead of just short films loosely strung together.     

    I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the acting. Cloaked in black with a voice like moldy velvet Clancy Brown is deliciously wicked as Montgomery Black. Brown knows exactly how far to take the character and clearly he is having a wicked good time in the role. Seriously, its like the perfect cross-between Angus Scrimm's larger than life turn as The Tall Man expertly merged with the Creeper ripped straight out of an old E.C comic book. Fantastic! It was truly a joy to see his time on screen. Caitlin Custer is also great and its a credit to her talens that she is able to hold her own against Clancy. Like Brown she finds a sweet spot in being subtle when its called for it but also a little over-the-top. I could go on and on though, as all the actors deliver top notch performances without a sour note to be found. Visually the film is sublime with so much attention to detail in terms of composition, framing, camera work and movement. The look and feel so damn close to a Charles Addams cartoon came to life. I watched this twice and I was still picking up on small details. The film looks like every penny went onto the screen and the end result is a slick looking thrill ride. I can now add The Mortuary Collection as another Must-Watch during the Halloween season and well any old time! 

Visually stunning, gross out and wickedly fun. The Mortuary Collection delivers chills and thrills. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Gaslight (1944) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

Gaslight (1944) Warner Archives June 25th 2020

Directed By: George Cukor

Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotton, Angela Lansbury, May Whitty

Before Silence of the Lambs (1991), before Psycho (1960) Gaslight from 1944 was an early example of psychological thriller. Sure, its not the earliest, with Gaslight (1940), Cat People (1942) and most likely even earlier examples. Gaslight from George Cukor was however a milestone in the sub-genre and well worth watching. Paula (Ingrid Bergman) returns home years after he aunt was brutally murdered. Meanwhile her new husband Gregory (Charles Boyer) is keeping a closet full of secrets whilst he is slowly turning her insane. The term gaslighitng is a term that is firmly implanted into the lexicon. Because, if you say someone is being gas lit or gas-lighting someone, chances are good without any context of the original play by Patrick Hamilton or the various film adaptations. Thats the kind of impact culturally these films have had on the public's imagination. 

     So, lets get it straight from jump. This is classic Golden Age Hollywood at its finest. George Cukor is in top form translating this fog drenched melodrama into pure macabre magic. Visually the film is very much what I call Gothic-Noir, taking its roots from period Gothic overwrought melodrama and the Noir movement taken from German Expressionism, with its dark, evocative lighting, long shadows and heightened sense of mood style. This is Jack the Rippers style London, where every street is foggy, and danger could be tucked in every corner. The plot a very engaging mystery that weaves a web of lies, psychological torture and murder. Cukor's direction is pin-point perfect with the way he handles his incredible cast. Couple this with a rich and haunting cinematography by legendary four-time Oscar winner Joseph Ruttenberg (Mrs. Miniver, The Philadelphia Story). And that cast! Ingrid Bergman is lovely but she has the talent to effortlessly pull of the complex and demanding role of Paula. I mean, you cannot help but feel gutted as Boyer's character uses psychological warfare on the poor timid girl. Her range was truly wonderful and this movie proves why she was such a big star. Charles Boyer who plays the suave but truly evil Gregory. He plays the role with subtly when it calls for but even his more over-the-top moments very feel hammy. Joseph Cotton (another Hitchcock alumni) is also pretty great and oozes charm, talent and a bravado that few stars can pull off. Oh, and we get an early film role for the darling Angela Lansbury. She's not in top form but does a good job in the role. May Whitty, probably best known as Mrs. Foy from Hitchcocks underrated classic The Lady Vanishes (1938). In fact, this almost feels like a Hitchcock film that wasnt directed by the master himself. Thats high praise indeed. So, while preparing to re-watch this film I decided to watch the original 1940 version (also included on this disc!) While the film has some merit, its no where as fully formed or richy photographed or directed as its 1944 counterpart. It just goes to highlight how you can take basically the same material and, with the right screenwriter, director and actors, produce something miles better in every way. 

Warner Archives transfer is stunning! It's rich in its fine detail and truly shows off Ruttenberg's master cinematography. There is hardly a scratch or artifact to be found and the result is a clean looking print. I've seen this movie before in very shoddy transfer so, finally seeing this soaped and looking its best was a true treat! The sound is also great and has a nice robust track. Music and dialogue comes through clear. The disc is also chocked full of great features ported over from previous editions. For completeness the 1940 version is included. While I didnt like it nearly as much as the '44 version its still a wonderful addition. The 1946 Lux Radio Theatre Broadcast version is also included. And finally, the great lady herself Angela Lansbury talks about her role in Reflections on Gaslight as well as other people connected with the film including Bergmans daughter Pia Lindstrom. 

Overall, if you have not seen this film, its a must own. And, if you have the DVD this is well worth upgrading. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Sputnik (2020) IFC Cult Film Review (Spoiler Free Review)

 Sputnik (2020) IFC Films Available on VOD (Spoiler Free Review)

Directed By: Egor Abramenko 

Starring: Oksana Akinshin,Pyotr Fyodorov

So, here's the thing. I will be doing both a spoiler free and spoiler filled version of this review. Having said that, the plot summary and things I will be discussing in this spoiler free version is what is laid out in the trailer. For me it doesn't give away any main plot points and of course in this version of the review I will not talk about the ending. BUT: If you wanna be on the safe side, just watch the film and come back to this. 

   We've been getting a new wave of '80's-90's inspired horror films which are not subtle in their love for the decade. Two recent, Rent-A-Pal and Sputnik  are set in these time periods but in a more grounded, less love-letter-y way. Its the latter I am here to talk about. Two astronauts of the Orbit 4 mission come back to earth but only one seems to have survived. It appears that Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) had brutally murdered his fellow crew mate. A Doctor named Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) who is known for controversial methods is tasked with finding out what happened on the mission, as Veshnyakov claims he doesn't recall what happened. It appears that the crew brought some other life form back with it leaving Tatyana and everyone on the base in danger. 

     Here's the thing I will say right from the outset that this movie will not please everybody. If you are hoping for a dumb-creature feature alien movie that you can watch without investing your full time and attention into, well, that is not this movie. However, if you are interested in a alien creature feature that doesn't spare the gore but also has depth, a interesting and ever unfolding plot along with great character developed than you`ve come to the right place. Before I dive into the plot I want to say that this film is such an interesting beast from a visual stand point. It has an understated flare with its uses of primary colors like red but is also very restrained. The entire film has this cold and at times overwhelmingly oppressive feeling. This not only perfectly reflects Russia during the cold war (the film takes place in 1983) but also the military run base which the bulk of the action takes place. Every single shot and camera movement is painstakingly planned out but in some cases it feels like it helps thrust the films action and feels completely justified and organic to the story. For example, there is a brilliant creature level POV shot. Yeah , this is nothing new but it shows me that the director cares about the look and feeling that good camera work can deliver. Along with its cold color scheme  the film has this claustrophobic feeling that puts you on edge the entire time. Plot wise there is honestly nothing really new here, we get a doomed space mission, a killer alien all under the thumb of a big bad government. What helps the film elevate itself from countless others however is how it handles this troupes. In some respect they lean in on them but add a new or thought-provoking spin or they take the troupe but find a sly and clever way to subvert it. It's also more of a moody character piece evaded by an alien movie. Both Tatyana and Konstantin start out as very icy people, with both respected actors giving equally cold performances. Yet, as the film progresses they both let their guard down (figuratively and literally) and they have pretty satisfying character arc's. I will say that the films themes of fear, control, military oppression and heroism are well worn and sure, maybe heavy handed but I still think overall it made for a good outing.  The alien itself is a true work of genius as its rendered in great CGI that looks good drenched in darkness or shown in full light of day. Savage, slimy and frightening, this creature is well developed and executed. 

    Unlike a lot of big blockbuster films that are more focused on "world building" and setting up marketable franchises this movie is a creepy unsettling slow burn of a film. It kept me interested  because of its is evolving plot and, I liked the fact that we, the audience are slowly dripped new bits of information that help shape the overall story.  Its that air of mystery and the fact that it doesn't show all of its cards made it engaging and rewarding. As I said its a movie that you need to put down the phone and pay full attention to. But, people should really do that with any movie. Set up's for the most part are paid off and though the film is nearly two hours there really is no filler material to bog itself down. Even when characters do dumb stuff it's not wasted and these seemingly bad choices help move the plot forward. Thats the thing, the plot is constantly moving and even the quieter moments are narrative important. As I said the film isn't perfect and does have its share of cliches, heavy-handedness and some predictable moments. Despite this, I think the film works because its hardcore on its gore and action but also slows down to be a moody, rich and chilling character study. Incredible this is the directors first feature length film, having previously made two short films Polaroid Love (2008) and The Passenger (2017).  For a first outing this is wildly impressive. Seriously, this guy could really go places given the right projects. 

This film will no doubt be compared to Ridley Scott's epic space-trucker's meets body-count meets space-beasty all in a old dark house setting, otherwise known as  Alien (1979). 

While the film does homage very subtly homage Scott's film, it thankfully never feels like it lives in its very large shadow. It sets its very own tone, characters and motivations that feel grounded enough where you take things seriously but surreal enough to always feel on edge and panicky. 

Egor Abramenko crafts a tense, visually sublime and scary as hell film. Do not watch it alone!

Pizza, A Love Story (2019)

 Pizza, A Love Story (2019)

Directed By: Gorman Bechard

Starring: Lyle Lovett, Michael Bolton, Bill Pustari, Dave Portnoy, Francis Rosselli

Seriously, who doesn’t love pizza? It’s one of those comfort foods that always satisfies. Gorman Bechard’s new documentary Pizza, A Love Story is about the love affair with the famous pie. But, more specifically, the film focuses on the amazing pizza coming out of New Haven. 

So, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure about a documentary about pizza. Don’t get me wrong I love the grease-filled treat as much as the next, but, it seemed like something hooky you might see on the Food Network. This was not the case at all, as it turns out. Thankfully, Gorman spices this documentary up with something very specific. Namely it focusing on three historic pizza places in New Haven: Pepe’s, Sally’s and Modern. We get an in-depth look at the history of all three places featuring wonderful interviews from the current owners as well as life long regulars. Seeing locals is incredibly important because its these folks that are impacted the most by these restaurants. In fact, these three places transcend just being  places to fill an empty belly but, rather a place to socialize and connect with the community. This is what the film makes perfectly clear and it’s the personal touch Bechard brings that truly ties the documentary together. You cannot help but be transfixed by these stories and how each place has improved and brought together their community. If food is done correctly, its an expression of love and that’s what I think the films core theme is.  Had this just been a bland over-baked overview of pizza from all over the place I don’t think it would have had the same connection. I will say, not being from New Haven and having never stepped foot into these places, it is a bit of an alienating experience.  That’s one way to look at it but, another is I was fascinated (and jealous) by the pizza-magic being made before me. I got a rare glimpse into something new to me and I was fascinated. This is certainly not Gorman’s first documentary. You can tell that its well made in terms of its narrative flow and entertaining stories that help shape the crust, I mean crux of the film. The film is overflowing with rare photos and memorabilia that bring everything to life. It was also entertaining to see people like Michael Bolton, Henry Winkler and Lyle Lovett talking about New Haven and its wonderful pizza.

Like the pizza’s themselves, Gorman puts a lot of love, time and respect into Pizza, A Love Story and, the end result is a perfectly baked film.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Fantasia Fest: Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Business (2020) Review

 Fantasia Fest: Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Business (2020) Review 

Directed By: Justin McConnell

Starring: Justin McConnell, Chis Alexander, George Romeo, Justin Benson, Izzy Lee, Heather Buckley, Lloyd Kaufman 

    It may sound cliche and corny but, movies really are magic. For me, they have always been there for me in my happiest times as well as my darkest. Through their celluloid heart beat I and many others can escape into a fantasy land and we need this now maybe more than ever. But the road to making those movies are paved with pain, heartbreak and celebrations. The journey from screenwriting, selling, filming and marketing these films can be literal hell. Its something I make sure I am aware of when I review them.At the end of the day these people deserve respect no matter what you think of their output.  Filmmaker Justin McConnell's film Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Business explores the insane process of bringing a film to audiences. The film is told through a personal diary of Justin and his crew as well as heavy hitters like, Mick Garris, Gulliermo del Toro, George Romero, Brian Yuzna and Lloyd Kaufman. 

       As much as I thought I knew about filmmaking and marketing this movie proved that there is always way more to learn. Clapboard is a total film course on movie making without paying for expensive courses. The interview subjects offer very no-nonsense and at times very brutal, tough-love advice and, honestly, that is exactly what a new filmmaker needs. People who think they will just grab a camera and make the next big-hit really need the reality check and this film offers it. I love how the film offers invaluable perspectives from both veterans of the industry such as Lloyd Kaufman, David Gregory as well as exciting new talents like Izzy Lee, Jenn Wexler and Steven Kostanski. Ever aspect and step of making films from how to deal with critics to funding to marketing and shooting is all covered and its very eye opening. I think what really was interesting was hearing from what producers are looking for. I dont think I've actually ever seen this perspective on film before. This is great all by itself but I think what brings this film together is the personal touch. Through video diaries (some deeply personal) we see the highs and low's of filmmaker Justin McConnell as he navigates the frustrating business of film. He's not afraid to express how is is feeling about the process and for me, it helped me connect with the film. How can you not root for Justin when he clearly loves what he does and just wants to tell stories? 

Clapboard Jungle takes us through the hellish roller-coaster of filmmaking and I enjoyed the taking the ride. Justin McConnell's film is truly a no nonsense guide to filmmaking. Extremely well done and should not be missed. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Fantasia Fest 2020: The Columnist (2019) Review

 Fantasia Fest 2020: The Columnist (2019) Review  

Directed By: Ivo van Aart 

Starring: Katija Herbers, Claire Porro, Bram van der Kelen

    A writer getting revenge on their online-trolls? Did someone make a movie just for me? Femke Boots (Katjia Herbers) is a successful columnist but is ready to break out of this with her first book. She hits a road block in her book as her cynical editor wants massive re-writes and re-working of her original manuscript. Meanwhile, the flood of online trolls to her online column is getting worse, even including death threats. She goes to the police but they instantly shrug her off and the threats are not taken seriously. In fact, they tell her just to stay off platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Out of curiosity she looks up one of her trolls and to her shock finds that he is a next door neighbor. On an impulse she kills him and cuts off a finger. After the murder something clicks and she is able to write. Now, she must keep killing these online-bullies to keep her creative juices flowing. The issue of online bullying and trolls that try and bring down artists and creative people is something that is sadly just a part of the internet. As amazing as Twitter and Facebook are for connecting people and sharing ideas it can also be used to tear others down. Ivo addresses this and uses it in a the form of a thriller, something that is long over due. I was a bit cautious going into this film because, despite loving the concept this is an issue like this has to be handled a certain way. It cant be preachy but also should be nuanced enough to be thought-provoking. 

     And I think, it balances that very well. Femke Boots is a very likable character but the filmmakers make it perfectly clear that we shouldn't love what shes doing and it doesn't glorify it. Yes, with the first few kills we the audience, cant help but root for her, because I think we've all dealt with online trolls or bullying. Then, I believe its her third victim, he starts to talk to her, and while he isn't innocent of online-harassing there is a humanity we see in him. It's important we get that, because, while yes its a horrible and ugly thing people do, but at the end of the day they are still flawed people. Had this not been in the case I dont think that film would have worked as well as it did. But, the core theme is really brought home in the form of Femke's daughter Anna (Claire Porro). You see, Anna is working on a free speech project at her school. In a wonderfully and brilliantly edited scene Anna gives a speech about how people are being killed in places in Russia for their online comments of rebellion, inter-cut with mother Femke who is literally killing people for their view points. Now, some might groan and say that not only is this not a very apt parallel but its a bit on the nose, and while that is true, I think it helps bring this point home. Its that nuance that I said a film with this subject matter needs. Katija Herbers (Westworld) plays Femke and she does a fantastic job! I think that this role is a key to the fail or success of the film and Herbers brings a subtle but effective performance that is the lynch-pin in the film working as well as it does. Claire Porro is great as well and the two are very believable as a mother-daughter duo. 

    On a technical side the film has wonderful camera work, production design and attention to detail and well done editing. Ivo also crafts a mood that is eerie and dread filled yet grounded in a almost painfully mundane reality. If I had to complain about the film its that I think the ending is somehow both incredibly satisfying in one regard but also maybe a little abrupt. Some critics may say that the core theme is a bit on the nose. And yes, that might be true yet writing and directing is so spot on I think it works despite itself. Again, had all of the trolls been one-sided ugly caricatures and, Femke being made out to be some white-knight, I dont think it would have had the same kind of gravity or depth. The other thing that brings the entire thing home is how darkly funny the film really is. Like, you gotta chuckle at how biblical she is in regards to  how she takes the finger of her victims afterwards. Also there is this horror author that starts seeing Femke and, as morbid as his work is, its actually the light-columnist that is killing people in brutal ways. Its may not be subtle but its a wickedly funny irony. Overall, despite some missteps this a damn good film that, I think is long over-due. 

The Columnist is a darkly funny, twisted and satisfying modern cautionary tale. A must watch!

Friday, August 14, 2020

Fantasia Fest 2020: Yummy (2019) Review

Fantasia Fest 2020: Yummy (2019) Review Aug 13th 2020

Directed By: Lars Damoiseaux

Starring: Bart Hollanders, Maaike Neuville, Clara Cleymans, Eric Godon

      In the last couple years there has been a noticeable up-tick in zombie films. And, actually really good ones. One Cut of the Dead, Train to Busban and Zombie for Sale, all have been entertaining takes on the undead but seemingly never-ending horror sub-genre. Surprisingly, all these films have been made internationally, giving us a cool and interesting cultural take on the living dead.In this case Yummy comes from Belgium. A young couple named Allison (Maaike Neuville) and Michael (Bart Hollanders) and Allison s mother all go to a sketchy bargain basement plastic surgery facility. Allison wants to get a breast reduction and her mother wants a host of work done. But, when a mysterious patient is let loose, a host of zombies are let loose inside the building.

     I think I groaned out loud when I when the films tagline Face-lifts, boob jobs and zombies. Thankfully, the film is not as overtly crass and, its surprisingly a decent movie. For the most part the film is nicely paced, with characters that were more developed than I would have suspected. Director Lars Damoiseaux's zombie film also has a sense of flare, even if its the now over-used neon pop-style used by Bava and later Argento. But, you know what, i`ll give him this one. Yummy is also well edited with camera work that is handled with a lot of skill and thoughtfulness. Though, it does have its host of issues. I think the main one is tone, which it never seems to nail down. Like, it seems to be going for a over-the-top Shaun of the Dead (2004) outing but, unlike Shaun, which expertly balances its horror and drama, Yummy misses the mark. Yes, it has comedy (some of which works, some of which does not), and it has some very well handled (if not a bit predictable) dramatics. But, I dont think it actually marries the two in a way that makes sense. It starts out as a humorous horror film but takes a jarring left turn into a harrowing zombie film. And, for all its gross-out moments and gore (more on that in a bit) it actually could have used some more outrageous or over-the-top moments. In the film it makes several very pointed references to the faculty doing abortions, so much so I was expecting some zombie babies or something like it. Thats the thing though, the film isn't sure when to have fun with the premise and when to take it seriously. 

     Lars Damoiseaux also seems to not know the correct ways to pay off set-up
situations and, also, taking time to introduce seemingly important characters to the story only to kill them off too prematurely.  For example, we are introduced to what we think is going to be a main character who we learn (because he is given a good deal of back story) is a famous television star and is at the clinic in secret. Its revealed that he is there for a penis enlargement. In a very out of the place scene he encounters a woman patient and he decides he wants to, shall we say, give his new implant a test run. It falls off and naturally hes enraged. But, moments later he is promptly eaten by zombies. Not only does it waste what could have been an interesting character but the joke and pay off again, clash with the tone (which by this point is drops the comedy for horror) and isn't satisfying nor does it add or move the plot forward. The filmmakers are strangely took the time to set up this character only to kill him off pretty early. That is sloppy story telling. Its unclear if the film has deeper meta-textual or indeed any views on plastic surgery, you know the main thrust of the film. The view Lars seems to take it, if indeed you can call it having a view, conflicting as, on the one hand the main character Allison is wanting to improve her life by getting her breasts reduced. Yet, later on condemns her mother for wanting to look like a quote "teen-aged whore".  This film wastes the opportunity something interesting about the topic. Its stuff like this that gets into the films own way because, it's actually a good film bar some needless sub-plots, well worn cliches and a lack of anything provocative to say. What I did like about the film is it showcases some decent writing with a female character that is pro-active and, for as much as it leans in on old familiar plot devices, it also subverts things as well. The finale is bleak and actually pretty powerful which I was not expecting. 

At the end of the day, Yummy is a mixed bag, as it is tonally a mess, it weirdly both uses conventional zombie troupes but, also throws some wonderfully nasty little curve balls, works at a break neck pace, yet has some odd filler stuff which makes it feel uneven. As flawed as it is, it is a pretty wonderful splatter film. While gore doesn't make a movie good, I think it makes this one better because it allows you to enjoy it on a base-level of adrenaline fueled guts and gross out moments while also having a decent (but not groundbreaking) story to go with it. I only wish it would have trimmed 10 minutes and maybe swung a bit bigger at times. Had it done this, I could easily see this as a modern classic. As it stands its fun time but never really finds its own voice despite being well directed and put together. If you love gore and practical effects and really good looking zombies Yummy will satisfy. Just keep expectations on the low side.  

Yummy premiered at Fantasia Fest 2020 from August 20th until September 2nd and is completely virtual this year.