Thursday, February 25, 2021

#2,533. Capturing Reality (2008)


Capturing Reality is a 2008 documentary about… well, documentaries!

Directed by Pepita Ferrari, the movie does feature the occasional clip, but is mostly a “talking heads” style presentation, with such notables as Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens), Werner Herzog (Lessons of Darkness), Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven), Kim Longinotto (The Day I Will Never Forget), Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void), and Nick Broomfield (Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer) discussing what the documentary form means to them, and debating as to whether or not it’s possible for a film to be fully truthful.

Like many movie-centric documentaries, I came away from Capturing Reality with a list of titles I now want to check out, including Paul Cowan’s The Peacekeepers (about the U.N.’s negotiations to avoid war in the Congo) and Nettie Wild’s A Place Called Chiapas (centering on Mexico’s Zapatista National Liberation Army), and while I was ultimately a little disappointed that Ferrari and company didn’t delve into the history of the genre (a brief section on Robert Flaherty would have been nice), I found Capturing Reality - for what it was - to be both insightful and informative.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Thursday, February 18, 2021

#2,532. Deadline (1980)

Deadline, a 1980 Canadian horror flick, tells the story of Steven Lessey (Stephen Young), a well-respected screenwriter of the macabre, whose movies feature barbarous violence and lots of gore. His films have brought in tons of money, yet despite his professional success Lessey can’t seem to get a handle on his personal life, which is unraveling before his very eyes.

One of the most engaging aspects of Deadline is its inclusion of random scenes from Lessey’s movies, all depicting mutilations and murders. In one snippet, two children lead their blindfolded grandmother (who is also bound at the wrists) into a bedroom and set her ablaze, though Deadline’s strangest sequence is undoubtedly the cannibalistic “mass”, in which a group of nuns devours a priest in lieu of receiving communion.

Yet what takes Deadline to another level is how it juxtaposes these moments of fictional terror with the actual horrors that have become Lessey’s life. Much to his chagrin, he and his wife Elizabeth (Sharon Masters) have drifted apart. In fact, it’s fairly obvious to everyone (except Lessey) that she has grown to despise him. At one point, Lessey receives an award from the University where he once taught, and during the ceremony he’s verbally attacked by several current students, who object to the violence in his movies. While Lessey is frantically trying to defend himself, a quick shot of Elizabeth’s face shows her grinning from ear to ear, taking extreme pleasure in her husband’s embarrassment. To further complicate their relationship, Elizabeth is also using drugs, and there are hints that she’s having an affair.

Despite his success, Lessey’s professional life is quickly becoming every bit as chaotic as his marriage; he himself isn’t happy with the quality of his movies, but his producer Burt (Marvin Goldhar) pushes him to keep writing horror because “that’s where the money is”. On top of everything else, Lessey ignores his three kids (played by Cindy Hinds, Phillip Leonard, and Tod Woodcroft), chasing them away while he’s writing and screaming at them when they interrupt his thought process. Ultimately, one of Lessey’s most popular films will have a terrible effect on his family, leading to a disaster that could very well shatter his already-fragile psyche.

And it’s here that horror fans may take issue with Deadline, namely it’s assertion that fictional horror has the power to influence real-life (a charge that politicians, religious leaders, and even some critics have leveled against the genre time and again). When all is said and done, Deadline seems to support this theory. In fact, during an interview, the film’s producer, Henry Less, even went so far as to call Deadline an “anti-horror” film.

It’s a tired argument, to be sure, but if genre fans can bring themselves to look past it, they’ll find that Deadline is a well-made, briskly paced, and expertly acted film, with a number of scenes that they won’t soon forget.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (it might piss you off, but give it a chance anyway)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

#2,531. Constantine (2005)


This is the first time I’ve watched Constantine since its theatrical run, and for some reason I was disappointed by it back then. Though I have no idea why; based on the DC Comics / Vertigo graphic novel and directed by Francis Lawrence, Constantine is a stylish, action-packed tale of angels, demons, and one man’s struggle to keep both in check.

Because he attempted suicide as a teen, John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) knows his eternal soul is damned. But he hopes that, by exorcising demons and casting them back into hell, he might redeem himself in the eyes of God.

Recently, however, things have gotten more intense than usual; the chain-smoking Constantine is dying of lung cancer, and the demons that possess the innocent are bolder than ever. When the death of a pretty mental patient named Isabel (Rachel Weisz) is ruled a suicide, her twin sister, police detective Angela (also played by Weisz), turns to Constantine for help (Angela believes there’s no way Isabel, a devout Catholic, would risk damnation by taking her own life).

But there’s more to this situation than either of them realize, and, quite possibly, more on the line than even Constantine can handle.

Keanu Reeves is solid as the title character, but it’s the supporting cast that truly shines, including Tilda Swinton (as the Archangel Gabriel), Pruitt Taylor Vince (as the alcoholic Father Hennessey), and – especially - Peter Stormare (whose brief appearance as the Prince of Darkness marks my favorite moment in the film).

Though CGI-heavy, the effects aren’t bad (I especially liked the film’s depiction of hell), and there are individual scenes, like Constantine’s first exorcism, that work wonderfully.

My initial objections aside (whatever they might have been), I really enjoyed catching up with Constantine, and look forward to watching it again in the near future.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Thursday, February 4, 2021

#2,530. John Dies at the End (2012)

Don Coscarelli, writer / director of such genre favorites as The Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep, and the Phantasm series, reached deep into his bag of tricks for 2012’s John Dies at the End, and what he pulled out of it is nothing short of amazing! Billed as a fantasy / sci-fi / horror / comedy, John Dies at the End is unlike anything you’ve seen before, a movie overflowing with creativity that will have you laughing out loud at the same time you’re scratching your head, trying to make sense of it all.

Based on a novel by David Wong, John Dies at the End follows the exploits of… well, David Wong (played by Chase Williamson)! Relating his story to reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), David recalls how, with the help of a new street drug called “Soy Sauce” (which allows it’s users to see- among other things - future events and creatures invisible to the naked eye), he and his best friend John (Rob Mayes) battled everything from shapeshifters to slimy bugs, all in an effort to figure out who (or what) had traveled from another dimension to try and take over the world.

That’s about as good a synopsis as I can give you, but there’s a lot more going on in John Dies at the End than a simple, humdrum fight to save humanity. In the opening sequence alone, David (looking back from some point in the future) relates the story of his trusty hand axe, which he broke twice: once while cutting the head off a dead skinhead, and then again when he had to chop up an enormous, otherworldly bug. And if you think that’s strange, just wait until you see what the rest of the movie has in store for you. There are flying mustaches, bratwursts that double as cell phones, ghostly doors into other dimensions, and a Jamaican fortune teller / drug dealer named Robert Marley (Tail Bennett), who inadvertently provides David with his first hit of “Soy Sauce”. And believe me - even this is just scratching the surface!

Loaded to its breaking point with one strange (and often hilarious) scene after another, John Dies at the End is guaranteed to surprise the hell out of you every two or three minutes.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (What are you waiting for? See it now!)

Thursday, January 28, 2021

#2,529. Locke (2013)


Some movies are designed for a communal experience, to be viewed on the big screen in a packed theater. Locke is not one of those movies; it is best seen when you are completely alone.

And “alone” is exactly what the lead character is for the duration of this stunning 2013 film. A life-altering phone call has Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), loving family man and hard-working foreman, making a late-night drive to London, abandoning his workplace on the eve of the biggest moment of his career.

Knowing full well his actions will likely cost him his job, his wife (voiced by Ruth Wilson), and everything he holds dear, Locke nonetheless is compelled by family history to undertake this journey, and will spend the entire hour and a half trip on his cell phone, trying his damnedest to salvage the life he worked so hard to build.

Writer / director Steven Knight’s Locke is incredibly bold in its approach; it’s a one-man show, set inside the lead character’s car. Fortunately for Knight, he cast the perfect actor in the title role. Tom Hardy is brilliant as the controlled, ultra-professional Locke, a man everyone has come to rely upon. In fact, I would go so far as to say this is Hardy’s finest performance.

Several strong actors lend their voices in supporting roles, including Wilson, Olivia Colman, Andrew Scott (especially good as Locke’s panic-stricken co-worker), and a young Tom Holland (as Locke’s son, Eddie), but this is Hardy’s show, and he is mesmerizing from start to finish.

If you think there’s no way an almost 90-minute single-setting drama can keep you on the edge of your seat, think again. Locke is a modern masterpiece.
Rating: 10 out of 10

Thursday, January 21, 2021

#2,528. The Dead Don't Die (2019)

The 2019 zom-com The Dead Don’t Die strikes the perfect balance between a genre outing and a Jim Jarmusch film, and I had a great time watching it!

The normally quiet town of Centerville is thrown into chaos when the dead start rising from their graves. Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and his deputies Ronnie (Adam Driver) and Mindy (Chloe Sevigny) do what they can to protect their town, but it’s Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), Centerville’s very strange funeral director, who might ultimately prove most useful in defeating the zombie horde.

The Dead Don’t Die gives us the macabre and the quirky in equal measure. The characters, played by such Jarmusch regulars as Murray, Driver, Tom Waits (as Hermit Bob, a vagrant who patrols the nearby woods), and a few others are always interesting, and that little trait that the director gives his zombies - each one uttering a single word that encapsulates what we assume was most important to them while they were alive - was a nice touch (the first two zombies, played by Iggy Pop and Sara Driver, can only say “coffee”, which might explain why they attacked the local diner). All of the citizens of Centerville are a little bizarre, but none more so than Tilda Swinton’s Scottish undertaker, and I loved where they ultimately went with her character.

Headshots and all, The Dead Don’t Die is still very much a Jim Jarmusch film; the morning after the attack at the diner, Chief Robertson is called to the scene, where he makes the gruesome discovery. Before long, both of his deputies also turn up and walk into the diner - one by one - to see the carnage for themselves. In most other films, we’d only see the mutilated corpses when Chief Robertson arrived, then the faces of Donnie and Wendy after the fact, when they walked back out. But Jarmusch spends time with his characters, and follows each one inside to give us their initial reactions to the bloody mess in front of them (by doing so, we, the audience, see the gory outcome of the undead attack three separate times).

But The Dead Don’t Die is a zombie flick as well, with all the high drama and dread that goes hand-in-hand with the subgenre (in one very intense scene, Chief Robertson is finishing off as many of the walking dead as he can when he happens upon a zombie who used to be a good friend).

I really enjoyed The Dead Don’t Die, so much so that I’d now rank it right up there with Mystery Train and Dead Man as one of my favorite Jim Jarmusch films.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (see it immediately!)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

#2,527. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017)


Directed by Mouly Surya, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts crosses genres to tell the story of Marlina (Marsha Timothy), who lives in a remote area of Sumba, an island in Indonesia.

Having lost both her child (which is buried just outside) and – more recently - her husband (whose unburied corpse still sits in the corner of her front room), Marlina now finds herself completely alone.

One day, she’s visited by several men, including Markus (Egy Fedly), who intend to rob and rape her. Marlina turns the tables on her would-be assailants, however, by poisoning the majority (they demanded that she cook them dinner) and beheading Markus while having sex with him.

Determined to see justice done, Marlina packs up Markus’s head and sets out for the local police station, meeting her pregnant friend Novi (Dea Panendra) along the way. But two other crooks in Markus’s entourage discover what’s happened and are hot on Marlina's trail.

As played by Marsha Timothy (who won Best Actress at the 2017 Stiges Film Festival for her performance), Marlina is one of the strongest characters in recent cinema, a woman still reeling from her personal tragedies who nonetheless refuses to play the victim for Markus and his cronies.

In addition to its formidable lead, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is often quite funny (even after spotting the severed head that Marlina is carrying, Novi does nothing but complain about her pregnancy), and with its sparse landscapes (beautifully photographed by Yunus Pasolang) coupled with the music of Yudhi Arfani and Zeke Khaseli, the film gives off a definite western vibe as well.

Expertly executed and featuring strong feminist themes, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is one of the most unique, unsettling, and gorgeous motion pictures I’ve seen in quite some time.
Rating: 10 out of 10