Tuesday, August 4, 2020

#2,512. The Captain (2017)

Written and directed by Robert Schwentke, 2017’s The Captain is a Black and White German film set during the final weeks of World War II. 

While trying to escape the authorities, a German army deserter, Willi Herold (played to perfection by Max Hubacher), stumbles upon an abandoned vehicle containing a Nazi captain's uniform. 

Initially, Herold puts on the uniform to hide from his pursuers, but it isn’t long before he starts acting the part, assembling a band of thieves as his own personal army and ordering them to accompany him to a nearby prisoner camp. Claiming he has direct authority from Hitler himself, Herold seizes control of the camp, inflicting harsh punishment on the German soldiers held there, all of whom (like Herold himself) have been accused of desertion. 

Expertly crafted by director Schwentke, The Captain is a brooding, often brutal motion picture about the corruptible influence of power (Herold not only joins the ranks of those who were after him, but becomes the very man he himself had feared the most). Yet what is most disturbing about this 2017 film isn’t the violence (which is plentiful), but the fact that it is based on the true story of a man history has dubbed the Executioner of Emsland! 

Hard-hitting and unflinching in its approach, The Captain features moments every bit as shocking as those Spielberg gave us in Schindler’s List. Believe me when I tell you this is a film you won’t soon forget. 
Rating: 9.5 out of 10 (Watch it now!)

Saturday, August 1, 2020

#2,511. Blinded by the Light (2019)

Now here’s a little gem from 2019 that took me by surprise! 

Based on a true story and set in 1987, Blinded By the Light whisks us to Luton, England, where Javed (Viveik Kalra), a Pakistani teen, changes his entire outlook on life after discovering the music of Bruce Springsteen. Not only do the Boss’s lyrics help him find the courage to stand up to his father (Kulvinder Ghir), a stubborn traditionalist, but Javed also learns how to deal with the racism and bigotry he and his family face on an almost daily basis. 

Kalra is strong in the lead role, and watching his character transform from a shy introvert into a confident young man will surely bring a smile to your face. But it’s the musical numbers, set to the rock ballads of The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, that make Blinded By The Light such a life-affirming experience (the Born to Run scene, where Javed and his friend Roops, played by Aaron Phagura, invade their high school’s radio station now ranks right up there with the street dance in 1980’s Fame as one of my all-time favorite musical sequences). 

Directed with plenty of style - and a lot of heart - by Gurinder Chadha, Blinded By The Light is a coming-of-age tale you won’t want to miss. Highly recommended! 
Rating: 9 out of 10 (watch it more than once)

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

#2,510. Timecop (1994)

Telling you to ‘check your brain at the door’ before watching a Jean Claude Van Damme movie may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but it’s something you’ll definitely want to do before venturing into 1994’s Timecop

Van Damme stars as Max Walker, a U.S. Federal officer whose primary task is to regulate time travel (a reality in the film’s futuristic setting) and ensure that the technology isn’t used for criminal purposes. 

Walker meets his match, however, in Sen. McComb (Ron Silver), an ambitious politician running for President. To secure victory for himself, McComb and his band of thugs travel to various points in the past, using modern weapons to rob, plunder, and - yes - sometimes even kill. 

Can Walker stop McComb, who may be responsible for the death of Walker’s beloved wife Melissa (Mia Sara) years earlier, or will the greedy politician win out in the end?

Timecop raises more questions about the nature of time travel than it could ever answer (like why do some of Walker’s trips to the past cause changes in the future, while others don’t?), but hey, it’s a Van Damme action flick, with generous doses of sci-fi and even a little mystery thrown in for good measure (not to mention the occasionally over-the-top performance by Silver, whose slimeball Senator is, more often than not, the most interesting character in the movie). So don’t try to make sense of it all… that will only spoil the fun! 
Rating 6 out of 10 (worth a watch).

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

#2,509. Event Horizon (1997)

Event Horizon is a creepy, gory sci-fi / horror mash-up from director Paul W.S. Anderson that’s much better than the critics would lead you to believe.  

Sam Neill plays Dr. Billy Weir, a scientist who, years earlier, built and designed a spaceship known as the Event Horizon.  A vessel equipped with a device that could ‘bend’ space (thus allowing it to travel anywhere in the galaxy in a matter of seconds), the Event Horizon disappeared during its maiden voyage and was never heard from again.  

Jump to seven years later, and the ship has suddenly resurfaced, orbiting Neptune. Hoping to discover what happened to his beloved creation, Dr. Weir and the crew of the rescues vessel the Lewis and Clark, commanded by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), travel into deep space to rendezvous with the seemingly abandoned Event Horizon, only to discover it brought something sinister back from its journey into the unknown. 

Neill is quite good as the determined scientist, willing to do whatever it takes to salvage his ship, yet it’s Laurence Fishburne as the surly, smart Captain Miller who steals the show. The special effects are solid - if a bit dated - and the film’s more horrific scenes, which include ample doses of blood and gore, are sure to leave a lasting impression (a brief video signal that the Lewis and Clark manages to retrieve from the Event Horizon, showing the fate that befell its original crew, will send shivers up your spine). 

If you’re looking for some effective sci-fi inspired thrills and chills, you can do a lot worse than Event Horizon.  
Rating 7 out of 10 (worth a watch)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

#2,508. Fatherland (2011)

Directed By: Nicolas Prividera

Starring: Felix Bruzzone, José Celestino Campusano, Lucía Cedrón

Tagline: "Argentina through the words of those who lay buried in Buenos Aires' famed La Recoleta Cemetery"

Trivia: Made its premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival

Written and directed by Nicolas Prividera, 2011’s Fatherland is a very unique documentary. Set primarily within the confines of the famed La Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the film gives the dead one more chance to speak their piece while also casting a light on the politics and philosophies that divide individuals in life, only to fade away with the passage of time. 

Throughout Fatherland, Prividera invites a variety of people to read aloud from selected letters and writings of those who are now buried in La Recoleta (in most cases, these readings are carried out while the person is standing next to, or outside of, the author’s final resting place). The cemetery is quite old; it was founded by the Recoleta monks in 1822, and a large number of dignitaries, former Argentinian Presidents, military generals and even some revolutionaries have been buried there over the years. Evita Peron, wife of President Juan Peron and a well-respected humanitarian whose exploits were popularized on both stage and screen (Alan Parker’s 1996 musical Evita, starring Madonna in the title role, was based on Peron), is laid to rest in La Recoleta. Hers is obviously the most visited gravesite in the entire cemetery; over the course of Fatherland, a class touring Le Recoleta pauses there for a quick history lesson, and a group of elderly citizens sing a song praising the former first lady. Also buried in La Recoleta is Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, general and president who overthrew Evita’s husband in 1955 and forced him into exile (one of Fatherland’s most poignant moments comes late in the film, when an anonymous letter, written by a member of the group that kidnapped and executed Aramburu in 1970, is read aloud at the former leader’s graveside). 

Of course, the above examples are just scratching the surface; many letters and essays are read during Fatherland’s 100 minute runtime, some dating back to the middle of the 18th century, when Argentina was in the throes of revolution and civil war. We hear from both sides of these events, and it’s interesting to note that some of these former adversaries in life are now interred only a few hundred yards from each other. 

Even La Recoleta itself isn’t immune to the effects of time; in one of the film’s more noteworthy sequences, Prividera shows us several laborers repairing the cemetery (portions of La Recoleta are in terrible shape. There are walls with missing crypt covers, exposing the coffins within them to the elements, and some monuments have been broken or nearly obliterated). He then punctuates these images with a shot of the final resting place of David Allena, who was himself the caretaker of La Recoleta from 1881 to 1910. 

Along with being quite beautiful (Prividera often focuses his camera on the picturesque statues and mausoleums that adorn the cemetery), Fatherland is also thought-provoking. Many of the country’s leaders and finest thinkers were at one point willing to fight and kill for a cause or an ideology. Now, decades or even a century later, the concepts and philosophies that separated them have faded into obscurity, and are all but forgotten. 

But there’s more to Fatherland than a commentary on the futility of social and political conflict; the movie also gives voice to the dead. So often, a cemetery is seen as nothing more than a collection of headstones, a place where the dead lay silent. Fatherland reminds us that the deceased were once very much alive, and were as passionate about their beliefs as anyone living today. 

Unfortunately, Fatherland does run a bit too long; Prividera could have gotten these points across in half the time. Also, the readers who recite the various texts are often flat, doing so with little emotion, which occasionally made me lose interest in what they were saying. But even with its flaws, I found Fatherland to be one of the most intriguing documentaries I’ve seen in quite some time.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

#2,507. Next of Kin (1982)

Directed By: Tony Williams

Starring: Jacki Kerin, John Jarratt, Alex Scott

Tag line: "There is something evil in this house"

Trivia: This film was one of many featured in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood where it was praised by Quentin Tarantino

A film that Quentin Tarantino once called “A horror movie unlike any other”, director Tony Williams’ 1982 Ozploitation horror/mystery Next of Kin is, indeed, an exceptionally unique motion picture. 

After the death of her mother, a distraught Linda (Jacki Kerin) begrudgingly returns home to become the manager of Monteclare, a retirement community that’s been owned and operated by her family for years. After settling in, Linda quickly reconnects with her old boyfriend Barney (John Jarratt) while also befriending Lance, an elderly resident played by Charles McCallum, but it isn’t long before her initial apprehension at taking over the family business turns into an all-out paranoia. 

It all begins when one of the home’s occupants is found dead in a bathtub. While trying to figure out what happened, Linda starts digging into Monteclare’s rather shady past, and soon after finds herself being tormented by an unknown person or persons. Linda is convinced that the local Doctor (played by Alex Scott) and the home’s longtime assistant manager Connie (Gerda Nicholson) are conspiring against her, attempting to drive her mad. But are they the true culprits, or is the turmoil being caused by someone else entirely, someone who shares a bond with Linda that she herself doesn’t even realize? 

First and foremost, Next of Kin is a beautifully shot motion picture. Director Williams set out to style the movie like a European film, drawing particular inspiration from Bernardo Bertolucci (a key sequence was clearly influenced by a late moment from Last Tango in Paris). In addition, the movie’s cinematographer, Gary Hanson, borrowed several techniques made popular decades earlier by Alfred Hitchcock and a handful of others (one scene - a dream sequence - uses an effect reminiscent of one seen in 1958’s Vertigo). Overhead tracking shots, Steadicams, and dolly shots pop up throughout Next of Kin, and often when you least expect them, adding quite a bit to the overall experience. 

Performance-wise, the cast is strong, especially a young-looking John Jarratt (Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek) as Linda’s love interest, and Jackie Kerin herself, who is not only likable as Linda but also plays her as an incredibly strong-willed heroine. Director Williams said one of the reasons he made Next of Kin was because he had no interest in copying the American slashers that were popular at the time, in which female characters served mostly as victims. In this film, Williams not only gives us a female lead but one who proves to be the toughest character in the entire movie. Even during those moments when she thinks she’s losing her mind, Linda remains resolute (one night, the lights inexplicably go out at Monteclare. To ensure the residents are ok, Linda begins searching the rooms, and while doing so encounters things that make the audience leap out of their seat. Yet she takes each new discovery perfectly in stride). Linda does eventually lose her cool when she’s pushed to the brink of insanity, but even then she proves that she’s not someone to be trifled with. 

As for its story, Next of Kin starts off as a mystery: what exactly is happening at Monteclare, and how does it tie into the past? We get caught up in Linda’s search for answers, and because of the film’s engaging style, I found myself fully invested in these early sequences. The opening half is undoubtedly a slow burn; there are creepy scenes scattered throughout, yet at this point in the movie the horror hasn’t kicked into gear. 

The patience of genre fans will be rewarded in the second half of the film, however (and particularly the last half hour), when Next of Kin crosses into Ozploitation territory, and in a big, big way! The scares come fast and furious, and things get absolutely crazy before the story reaches its end. I would love to talk more about what happens in these late scenes, but I don’t dare; Next of Kin earns its surprises, and I have no intention of spoiling a single one of them. 

While I really enjoyed the opening mystery that Next of Kin explored, I absolutely loved the end! I have a real soft spot for movies that shock the hell out of me, and this film did that several times in the final act. It is a movie I wholeheartedly recommend.

Friday, October 4, 2019

#2,506. The Final Terror (1983)

Directed By: Andrew Davis

Starring: John Friedrich, Adrian Zmed, Ernest Harden Jr.

Tagline: "If you go down to the woods today you're sure of... "

Trivia: The prologue with the couple on the motorcycle was filmed after principal shooting on the movie had wrapped

A cross between Deliverance and Just Before Dawn, The Final Terror is a down-and-dirty, often unnerving horror flick that features a cast any filmmaker would absolutely die for. 

A team of forest rangers, Zorich (John Friedrich), Marco (Adrien Zmed), Nathaniel (Ernest Harden Jr.) and Boone (Lewis Smith), heads deep into the woods on a work detail, one that’s scheduled to last a few days. Hoping to combine business with pleasure, the ranger in charge of the crew, Mike (Mark Metcalf), brings his girlfriend Melanie (Cindy Harrell) along, and she in turn invites her friends Wendy (Daryl Hannah), Vanessa (Akosua Busia), and Margaret (Rachel Ward) to join them. 

Fellow ranger Egger (Joe Pantoliano), who acts as their driver, reminds Mike that a couple was murdered in that same section of forest just a few weeks earlier, and that it’s too dangerous a spot to set up camp. Mike and the others laugh at Egger, who, in a fit of rage, packs up and leaves. It isn’t long, however, before the remaining campers realize that there is, indeed, someone lurking in the woods, a dangerous killer who, if the evidence is to be believed, may just be ‘ole Egger himself! 

Shot in 1981 but not released until 1983, The Final Terror marked very early screen appearances for such future stars as Daryl Hannah (Blade Runner, Reckless), Rachel Ward (Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Against All Odds) and Joe Pantoliano (The Goonies, The Matrix). From top to bottom, every member of the cast turns in a solid performance, but Pantoliano is especially strong as the backwards Egger, the outcast of the bunch who has a knack for pissing everyone off (his first scene, where he attempts to wake up his sleeping compatriots, is especially tense). From the get-go, Pantoliano’s Egger is clearly unhinged, and like the others, we the audience have no problem believing he’s the killer lurking in the woods. Also excellent is John Friedrich as Zorich, a gung-ho Vietnam Vet who is only too ready to take the fight to Egger (there are times when Zorich is even more terrifying than Egger). 

Yet as good as the cast is, it’s the forest itself that sets a convincing, ominous tone. Director Andrew Davis (who also handled the cinematography) offers up a handful of effective night scenes, often setting his camera far away from the characters, as if to emphasize the fact they are completely alone in the deep, dark woods. There are even a couple of creepy set pieces (chief among them an isolated cabin filled with horrific trinkets and severed animal limbs), not to mention an ultra-suspenseful raft trip down the river, at which point the rangers and their female companions realize someone is watching them, and that person is very, very near. 

Save a handful of scenes, The Final Terror is not a bloody film. It is, however, a real nail-biter, and a movie that deserves a much bigger following that it’s ever received.