Friday, September 17, 2021

#2,617. The Collector (2009)


The Collector has enough blood and gore to fill up two horror movies, but it’s the film’s more suspenseful moments, skillfully executed by first-time director Marcus Dunston, that really impressed me.

Arkin (Josh Stewart), a former convict, does odd jobs for his employer Michael Chase (Michael Reilly Burke), a well-to-do executive whose family recently moved into a new house. In dire need of cash to pay off a loan shark, Arkin breaks into the Chase homestead while the family is away and heads straight for their wall safe.

But as the would-be thief will soon discover, someone else had the same idea, only his fellow intruder, a masked psychopath known only as “The Collector” (Juan Fernandez), is after much more than money.

Though tense and frightening, The Collector does, at times, push the believability envelope to its breaking point (you may find yourself asking questions, like how did the Collector rig so many elaborate traps in only a few hours?). But in the end, it was such a thrill ride that I had no trouble suspending disbelief while watching it.

In fact, I was totally caught up in the cat-and-mouse game that develops between Arkin (who does his damnedest to stay hidden) and The Collector (the way director Dunston shoots these scenes, occasionally letting his camera drift above the action to show how close the two characters are to one another, enhanced the suspense). And as the movie’s villain, The Collector is one eerie dude (we see his glowing eyes through the mask, and it’s enough to send a chill up our spine).

As for the film’s gore, it’s pretty gnarly; The Collector rigs the house with everything from hooks to bear traps, to a pissed-off guard dog, all of which inflict their fair share of pain (in addition, there’s a scene involving a cat and lots of glue that had me on the edge of my seat).

The Collector proved to be one hell of a low-budget horror movie, and was so good that it actually spawned a sequel (2012’s The Collection). Don’t miss it!
Rating: 8 out of 10

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

#2,616. To Your Last Death (2019)


An animated action / horror film from director Jason Axinn, To Your Last Death is insanely brutal, but oh-so-much fun!

Having survived the deathtrap set by her billionaire father (voiced by Ray Wise), which claimed the lives of her three siblings, Miriam DeKalb (Dani Lennon) is approached by a supernatural entity known as the “Gamemaster” (Morena Baccarin), which offers Miriam a chance to go back in time and alter the outcome of this tragedy.

Though confused and frightened, Miriam accepts, only to discover along the way that there’s more at stake than she could have ever imagined.

Filled to its breaking point with sleazy characters (even Miriam’s brothers and sister have their dark sides) and bloody gore (there are axes and guns aplenty, yet, surprisingly, the film’s most memorable mutilation comes courtesy of an electrical outlet), To Your Last Death also dabbles in fantasy (i.e. - the Gamemaster subplot), making it one of the more unique animated films I’ve seen in some time.

Add to this the fact that it’s narrated by William Shatner, and you have a movie you’ll want to immediately move to the top of your queue!
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Monday, September 13, 2021

#2,615. Metamorphosis (2019)


South Korea has been knocking it out of the park in the 21st century, churning out one genre classic after another. From vampires (Thirst) to zombies (Train to Busan) to giant monsters (The Host), South Korea filmmakers have proven themselves the new masters of horror.

Metamorphosis, a 2019 possession-themed film directed by Kim Hong-Sun, tried to continue the trend, only this time the results were mixed.

Following a botched exorcism, which resulted in the tragic death of a teenage girl, Father Joong-Soo (Sung-Woo Bae) decides to leave the priesthood. But before he can hang his crucifix up for the last time, Joong-Soo receives a frantic call from his older brother Gang-Goo (Dong-Il Sung), whose family is being terrorized by a malevolent spirit.

Will Joong-Soo regain his confidence in time to save the day, or will the evil entity win out in the end?

There are aspects of Metamorphosis that work quite well, starting with the family at the center of it all. Having recently moved to a new house, Gang-Goo, his wife Myung-Joo (Jang Young-Nam), and their three kids (Hye-jun Kim, Yi-Hyun Cho and Kang-Hoon Kim), find themselves tormented by a demonic force that doesn’t so much possess his victims as duplicate them. In a very disturbing scene, daughter Hyun-joo (Yi-Huyun Cho) is awakened one night by her father Gang-Goo, who leers at the poor girl as she lays helpless in bed. Only it isn’t her father; it’s the demon, which can take the form of any family member at any given time. Much like the alien creature in John Carpenter’s The Thing, these transformations cause paranoia to run rampant in Gang-Goo’s household, with nobody sure who can be trusted, and who can’t.

And like 1982’s Poltergeist, we care about Gang-Goo and his family, making what happens to them all the more terrifying. In addition, Metamorphosis features a number of surprising twists as it story plays out, most of which prove effective.

Where the movie stumbles is in its depiction of the demon itself, when in its true form. The opening sequence, where we witness Joong-Soo’s failed exorcism, has a familiar, “been there, done that” feel to it, and as a result never generates the thrills it should. Unfortunately, the final confrontation between good and evil is just as humdrum, with a plot twist that was lifted right out of The Exorcist!

Still, Metamorphosis, shortcomings and all, is good enough to warrant some attention.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Saturday, September 11, 2021

#2,614. The Saphead (1920)


Notable today for being Buster Keaton’s first feature-length film, The Saphead - even at 77 minutes - seems to drag on incessantly.

Part of the problem is the story, which is about as exciting as watching paint dry; Nicholas Van Alstyne (William H. Crane) has made a killing on Wall Street, and is none too happy that his philandering son Bertie (Keaton) is only interested in spending the money he makes.

Hoping to teach Bertie a lesson, Van Alstyne kicks him out of the house and refuses to allow him to marry Agnes (Beulah Booker), the love of Bertie’s life.

But when Van Alstyne’s unscrupulous son-in-law Mark Turner (Irving Cummings) tries to steal his millions out from under him, Bertie’s ignorance of the stock market’s inner workings may be the only thing that can save the family fortune!

Keaton is predictably excellent as the not-too-bright Bertie, and the scenes in which he’s featured are easily the best (especially the big finale, where Bertie darts around the exchange, tackling brokers and inadvertently buying up stock).

Unfortunately, The Saphead contains far too many scenes without Keaton, none of which are memorable, and the film’s main plotline – Van Alstyne’s purchase of stock in the Henrietta Mining Company and his son-in-law’s attempt to snatch it away - is as dull as they come.

Keaton completists will enjoy seeing the master in an early role, but everyone else would be better served watching The General instead.
Rating: 5 out of 10

Thursday, September 9, 2021

#2,613. The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)


Based on Norton Juster’s 1961 children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth is a (mostly) animated adventure that will likely appeal to kids under the age of 12.

Bored with life, young Milo (Butch Patrick, aka Eddie in The Munsters) is given the surprise of a lifetime when he’s whisked away to a magic kingdom, where words and numbers are at odds with one another and everything seems to be topsy-turvy.

Aided by a watchdog named Tock (voiced by Larry Thor) and a pretentious Humbug (Les Tremayne), Milo attempts to set things right by freeing the Princesses of Rhyme (Patti Gilbert) and Reason (June Foray), both of whom were banished to the Castle in the Sky.

Produced by Chuck Jones (who was also behind the excellent Rikki-Tikki-Tavi), The Phantom Tollbooth is a wildly creative animated film that teaches kids the value of words and numbers, as well as the power of positive thinking. During the course of his travels, Milo encounters dozens of characters, including the “Whether Man” (Daws Butler), Kakophanous A. Discord (Cliff Norton), and a race of lazy globules known as the Lethargians (Thurl Ravenscroft), all the while discovering how rewarding it can be to learn something new.

Though geared towards children, The Phantom Tollbooth has moments that will please older viewers as well (the scene where Chroma the Great, voiced by Shepard Menken, “conducts” the sunset is a definite highlight).
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

#2,612. Georgia Peaches (1980)


A TV movie designed to capitalize on the success of The Dukes of Hazzard, Georgia Peaches (aka Follow That Car) is a mindless bit of fluff from producer Roger Corman.

Dirk Benedict plays Dusty Tyree, a stock-car racer who dabbles in illegal moonshine (the movie opens with one very improbable car chase, in which Dusty does everything he can - including setting the entire street on fire - to outrun the local police).

Dusty’s girlfriend is Sue Lynn Peach (Terri Nunn), a mechanic whose sister Lorette (Tanya Tucker) is on her way to becoming a country music star.

The threadbare plot (the three leads agree to work undercover for the U.S Treasury Department, which is trying to bust the film’s heavy, played by Sally Kirkland) is just an excuse to stage more car chases, and there’s plenty of country music as well. It’s all fairly harmless, and if you grew up a fan of The Dukes of Hazzard, Georgia Peaches will be right up your alley.

Just don’t expect to remember it the next day.
Rating: 6 out of 10

Sunday, September 5, 2021

#2,611. Man in the Shadow (1957)


A year before he directed the masterful Touch of Evil, Orson Welles appeared in this crime/ western, playing Virgil Renchler, owner of the Golden Empire ranch and the most powerful man in the small town of Spurline.

One day, Ben Sadler (Jeff Chandler), the new sheriff of Spurline, receives a report that Juan Martin (Joe Schneider), a Mexican hired hand employed by the Golden Empire, has been murdered by the ranch’s foreman, Ed Yates (John Larch).

But when Sheriff Sadler tries to investigate, he finds himself facing off against not only Renchler and his cronies, but the entire town of Spurline as well!

Directed by Jack Arnold (who also helmed The Creature from the Black Lagoon), Man in the Shadow is a taut, slick modern western that’s also an effective thriller. Chandler is excellent as the Sheriff determined to see that justice prevails, and Welles is predictably engaging as Renchler, who isn’t so much the heavy as he is a man backed into a corner by those working for him (he was as surprised as anyone to learn Martin had been killed). The scenes in which these two characters verbally spar are the film’s best.

Also superb in supporting roles are John Larch as the treacherous Yates and Colleen Miller as Skippy, Renchler’s kind-hearted daughter.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, September 3, 2021

#2,610. Byzantium (2012)


Neil Jordan’s Byzantium is the supremely endearing tale of two centuries-old vampires, Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan).

Forced to flee the city, the two make their way to a seaside village where Clara strikes up a “friendship” with a lonely guy named Noel (Daniel Mays), whose mother recently passed away. In need of companionship, Noel invites Clara and Eleanor to stay with him in his family’s spacious hotel.

But just as their lives seems to be settling down, the two vampires are once again confronted by the secrets of their past.

Saoirse Ronan is solid as Eleanor, the introspective, conflicted young girl who longs to share her life’s story with new friend Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), but it’s Gemma Arterton as the savvy, occasionally violent Clara who steals the show (an early scene, set in a strip club, establishes the character’s brutal nature while, at the same time, proving she can take care of herself).

In Jordan’s skillful hands, Byzantium is both a fascinating character study (of two women’s very different approaches to their unique circumstances) and an intriguing mystery (my favorite moments in the film are the flashback sequences, during which Jordan patiently reveals the tragic details of Clara’s and Eleanor’s lives, including why they must remain in hiding).

Thoughtful and mesmerizing, Byzantium is a vampire movie you won’t want to miss.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

#2,609. Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic (2010)


Though loosely based on the 14th century poem The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, 2010’s Dante’s Inferno was directly inspired by a video game of the same name (developed by Visceral Games and released by Electronic Arts).

Having survived the Third Crusade, the brave knight Dante (voiced by Graham McTavish) now must descend into hell to save his beloved Beatrice (Vanessa Branch), whose soul has been claimed by Lucifer himself (Steve Blum).

Aided by the poet Virgil (Peter Jessop), Dante fights his way through the nine circles of hell, but will he fall victim to his own sins and weaknesses along the way?

With six different directors lending their talents to the project, Dante’s Inferno is always interesting to look at; I especially enjoyed the filmmaker’s interpretation of the 2nd circle (“Lust”), while the 3rd circle (“Gluttony”) was as gross as it was visually exciting (Dante faces off against Cerberus, the Hound of Hell, who at one point swallows Dante whole). The film is also incredibly violent; each circle features an action sequence, and copious amounts of bloodshed.

Yet as impressed as I was with the movie’s style, I was never emotionally invested in its story; it always felt like I was watching someone else play a video game (which makes sense, I guess, taking into account its inspiration). In addition, the final segment, when Dante battles Lucifer, was a major let-down (it was the weakest portion of the movie, when it should have been the strongest).

Fans of the video game and anime in general will find a lot to love about Dante’s Inferno. As for me, I only liked it, and not as much as I hoped I would.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

#2,608. Climax (2018)


Gaspar Noe’s Climax is a masterwork, a style-infused journey into hell that will linger in the mind for days.

A group of young dancers gathers at an empty schoolhouse to practice their routines. But their all-night rehearsal mutates into a hallucinatory nightmare when someone laces their sangria with LSD.

The ensemble cast is beyond impressive, anchored by Sofia Boutella’s amazing performance as Selva, a choreographer (a role that essentially makes her the lead character).

But the real star of Climax is director Gaspar Noe, whose reliance on long takes - coupled with his skilled camera movements - intensifies the dread that builds as the story unfolds. Noe’s approach to the material brings an undeniable energy to the early dance scenes, which gives way to a terrifying descent into the abyss once the characters have been drugged, some revealing their innermost secrets and prejudices in a way that is positively chilling.

I was blown away by the craft on display in Climax, and by the time the end credits rolled I was completely drained.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Sunday, August 29, 2021

#2,607. Captain John Smith and Pocahontas (1953)


I’ll say this for Captain John Smith and Pocahontas: it crams a hell of a lot into 76 minutes!

Based on actual events, this 1953 film whisks us back to 1607, when John Smith (Anthony Dexter) was the designated leader of Jamestown, Virginia - Britain's first colony in the New World. Low on food and surrounded by hostile natives, Smith and his good friend John Rolfe (Robert Clarke) try to secure the future of Jamestown by making peace with Powhaten (Douglas Dumbrille), chief of all the tribes.

It’s at this time that Smith meets Pocahontas (Jody Lawrence), daughter of Powhaten, who saves his life and eventually becomes his bride.

But even if he does reach an agreement with Powhaten, Smith’s leadership remains tentative at best, as he is opposed at every turn by fellow settler Wingfield (James Seay), a gentleman of high birth who only came to America to find gold.

Like I said, things move quickly in Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. Director Lew Landers managed to squeeze a lot into the movie, including a handful of skirmishes between the settlers and natives.

Yet despite it’s brisk pace, the movie isn’t particularly memorable. The performances are mediocre at best (Dexter is somewhat bland as Smith), and the action scenes, though plentiful, never generate much excitement. Captain John Smith and Pocahontas isn’t a bad film, per se, but it could have been better.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Friday, August 27, 2021

#2,606. Taking Woodstock (2009)


I always thought Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock would be the perfect companion piece to my all-time favorite documentary, 1970’s Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music, but I have yet to watch them back-to-back because I can’t decide which should play first! 

Set in the summer of 1969, Taking Woodstock stars Demetri Martin as Elliot Teichberg, a New York-based artist whose parents, Sonia (Imelda Staunton) and Jake (Henry Goodman), own a bargain-basement “resort” in the small upstate town of White Lake, near Bethel, New York. 

Hoping to earn some extra money to save his parents’ floundering business, Elliot decides to expand his annual music festival, and contacts Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff), whose upcoming Woodstock rock venue has been turned away by nearly every small town in the area. 

Together, Elliot and Michael strike a deal with farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), who agrees to let them use his land, and just like that, Woodstock, the most famous (and infamous) music festival in history, was born.

Taking Woodstock is, at times, a very funny movie; Staunton is hilarious as Elliot’s intensely angry mother, and Dan Fogler (leader of the Starlight theatre group, which rents the barn adjoining Elliot’s property), Emile Hirsch (a PTSD-stricken Vietnam vet) and Liev Schrieber (a cross-dressing ex-marine) get their share of laughs as well. 

But more than anything, Taking Woodstock is a celebration of the festival itself. Like the 1970 documentary, Lee utilizes split screens throughout the film, occasionally showing us the same scene from different perspectives, and some of the more recognizable images from those three days (the mud slides, the nuns flashing the peace sign, the brown acid, etc) are lovingly recreated. 

I’ve seen Taking Woodstock four times now, and it always makes me wish I could have been there (I was born two months too late). Woodstock was an iconic event, and all the chaos, the insanity, and – yes - the magic that made it so memorable has been captured by Lee and his cast, and is here for the taking. I love this movie!
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

#2,605. Subway (1985)


Luc Besson’s Subway gets off to a rollicking start; a thief dressed in a tux is driving down the highway, chased by another car (carrying four guys, also wearing tuxedos). It’s a thrilling sequence, the kind you would expect from the filmmaker who’d eventually give us La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element.

But Subway is not an action flick; it’s a comedy / romance set in the bowels of the Paris Metro, and while most of what follows isn’t nearly as exciting as the opening, it’s still a good deal of fun.

The well-dressed thief on the run is Fred (Christopher Lambert), who has just robbed a house belonging to Helena (Isabelle Adjani), the wealthy wife of a powerful man. Among his ill-gotten gains is an important file, which Fred agrees to return to Helena in exchange for a healthy ransom.

See, Fred is basically a vagrant, who lives in the tunnels and corridors of the Metro alongside his friends and occasional accomplices The Roller (Jean-Hughes Anglade) and The Drummer (Jean Reno). But Fred quickly realizes Helene is more to him than an easy mark; he finds that he’s actually in love with her, and Helene, bored with her life of privilege, might be falling for Fred, too!

While the remainder of Subway may lack the excitement of its opening sequence, it is nonetheless a stylish, high-energy film from start to finish, and we spend enough time with Fred and his buddies to realize they’re life’s lovable losers, just hoping to get lucky. Which, it seems, is exactly what happens to Fred when he “meets” Helene; he can’t stop thinking about her, at one point calling her at two o’clock in the morning to hear her voice.

Lambert, Adjani, and the rest of the cast are strong (including Michael Galibrau, who is quite funny as the hard-nosed Chief of the Subway’s security force), and while the story takes a few sharp turns along the way (there’s a subplot about Fred putting together a band), Subway is always entertaining.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Monday, August 23, 2021

#2,604. San Francisco (1936)


Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, San Francisco opens on New Years’ Eve, the final moments of 1905. Blackie Norton (Clark Gable) has lived in San Francisco his entire life, and owns “The Paradise”, the city’s most popular nightclub. 

Though he has a good heart, Blackie has always been a bit of a scoundrel, and not even his childhood friend, Father Tim (Spencer Tracy), can make him change his ways. 

Then Blackie meets Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald), a wannabe opera singer from Colorado. Despite her squeaky-clean persona (she’s the daughter of a parson), Blackie falls head-over-heels in love with Mary, and hires her to perform at his club. But will Mary stay at "The Paradise", or was she meant for bigger and better things? 

Gable plays Blackie as larger-than-life, a guy everyone knows and most people love, while Jeanette MacDonald is given ample opportunity to show off her amazing singing voice (her rendition of the tune “San Francisco” is a highlight). And even though the character of Father Tim is something of a cliché (the kindly but streetwise priest who tries to get the hero to see the error of his ways), Tracy delivers a subdued, restrained performance that makes you buy everything he says hook, line, and sinker. 

And then there’s the story at the center of it all; much like 1933’s Deluge, San Francisco is an early disaster film (an opening title card mentions the earthquake that destroyed the city in April of 1906, and the movie concludes with this very tragedy). Yet because the characters are so engaging, - the events so well-played – you completely forget about the catastrophe to come. So when the earthquake does strike (and it strikes hard), we’re as devastated as the characters themselves.

San Francisco delivers the goods in every way imaginable (it’s even a rousing musical at times) and is the kind of grand, lavish entertainment that MGM turned out in the ‘30s and beyond. Don’t miss it!
Rating: 9 out of 10

Saturday, August 21, 2021

#2,603. 1917 (2019)


A number of strong films were released in 2019, from Quentin Tarantino’s newest opus Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood to Mike Flanagan’s excellent Doctor Sleep, a sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining.

But as far as I’m concerned, Sam Mendes’ epic World War One tale 1917 was the movie of the year.

To prevent the slaughter of an entire regiment, Lance Corporals Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) volunteer to travel across no-mans-land and into enemy territory to deliver a message to Col. MacKenzie: call off your upcoming attack.

If the two are successful, they will save the lives of some 1,600 men, including Blake’s own brother. If they fail, the regiment will be walking into a trap set by the Germans.

Utilizing long, continuous shots, 1917 puts its audience smack dab in the middle of the action, as if we’re walking alongside Schofield and Blake in real-time. It’s a unique approach, pulled off brilliantly by Mendes and his crew, but more than that, this stylistic choice shows us, in no uncertain terms, just how quickly danger can sneak up on the unsuspecting soldier (an early scene in the German trenches, involving a rat, is the first of many such sequences).

The moment the two leads start their mission, 1917 moves forward at full-throttle, maintaining a high level of excitement and tension that never lets up until the end credits roll. Skillfully executed by everyone involved, from the actors straight through to the production designers, 1917 is destined to stand alongside Grand Illusion, Gallipoli, and All Quiet on the Western Front as one the greatest WWI films of all-time.
Rating: 10 out of 10

Thursday, August 19, 2021

#2,602. Vamp (1986)


A fun, funny vampire comedy by director Richard Wenk, Vamp is one of those endearing movies that, regardless of how goofy it gets, you can’t help but love. 

To impress their potential fraternity brothers, pledges Keith (Chris Makepeace) and A.J. (Robert Rusler) agree to find a stripper for the frat’s big party later that night. Borrowing a car from the wealthy yet dim-witted Duncan (Gedde Watanabe), they head into the city, where they stumble upon the After Dark strip club. 

The main attraction at the club is the mysterious Katrina (Grace Jones), but when A.J. tries to hire her for the night, he quickly discovers that neither she nor the After Dark are what they appear to be. 

While watching Vamp, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it must have influenced Tarantino’s script for From Dusk Till Dawn (a strip club used as a front for bloodthirsty vampires), and like that movie the vampires in this 1986 film are vicious when they’re hungry (the scene with Grace Jones and Robert Rusler is particularly brutal). Along with its bloodthirsty beauties, Vamp is a funny flick (Watanabe gets his share of laughs as the needy Duncan, as does Sandy Baron as Vic, the seedy manager of the After Dark), and the blending of comedy and horror is one of the film’s strongest attributes. 

Performance-wise, Chris Makepeace is decent as Keith, though he’s often upstaged by both Robert Rusler (so good as the scheming A.J.) and Dedee Pfieffer (as Allison, the ditzy stripper with a heart of gold). The standout, though, is easily Grace Jones, who, without delivering a single line of dialogue, is both sexy and charismatic as the lethal Katrina (her dance routine is the highlight of the movie). 

If you enjoy horror comedies, you should immediately move Vamp to the top of your must-see list. 
Rating: 9 out of 10 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

#2,601. The Night My Number Came Up (1955)


This lesser-known Ealing Studios release plays like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone.

While at a party in Hong Kong, British Naval Commander Lindsey (Michael Horndem) tells some of the other guests, including Air Marshall Hardie (Michael Redgrave), Hardie’s personal assistant McKenzie (Denholm Elliott), and government official Owen Robertson (Alexander Knox), about a dream he had the night before, in which the plane the three men were scheduled to board the next day along with 5 additional passengers crashed off the coast of Japan.

Though they initially laugh it off, Hardie, McKenzie, and Robertson soon find themselves worrying when even the most unlikely details of Lindsey’s dream start coming true.

Supposedly based on a true story (lifted from the personal journal of British Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard), The Night My Number Came Up is an intriguing supernatural thriller, yet it’s the more dramatic moments, when the passengers on board the plane slowly realize they may be in great danger, where the film truly shines.

Redgrave, Elliott, and Knox deliver top-notch performances, as does Shelia Sim, playing yet another passenger. The script, smartly written by R.C. Sherriff, delves a little into the issue of fate versus free will, and even though we know up-front what’s ultimately going to happen (it’s revealed in the opening scene), the movie nonetheless remains tense throughout.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Sunday, August 15, 2021

#2,600. Pride and Prejudice (1940)


Over the years, there have been several big-screen adaptations of Pride and Prejudice (I particularly enjoyed Joe Wright’s 2005 version with Kiera Knightley), yet few matched the star power of director Robert Z. Leonard’s 1940 translation, which featured a cast that would have impressed Jane Austen herself. 

The arrival of two wealthy bachelors, who have taken up residence in a nearby estate, has given hope to Mrs. Bennet (Mary Boland) and her quest to find the perfect husbands for her five daughters: Elizabeth (Greer Garson), Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan), Mary (Marsha Hunt), Lydia (Anne Rutherford), and Kitty (Heather Angel). The gentlemen in question, Mr. Bingley (Bruce Lester) and Mr. Darcy (Laurence Olivier), do eventually meet the Bennet sisters, with Bingley falling head-over-heels in love with Jane. As for Darcy, he undertakes a tempestuous relationship with Elizabeth Bennet, who rejects him at first because she thinks he’s a snob. 

Anyone familiar with Jane Austen’s 1813 novel knows this synopsis only scratches the surface; there are many additional characters , all of which were perfectly cast in this film, including the patriarch of the Bennet clan (Edmund Gwenn, aka Santa in the original Miracle on 34th Street) Bingley’s prudish sister Caroline (Frieda Inescort); the Bennet’s boorish cousin Mr. Collins (Melville Cooper); and Darcy’s headstrong Aunt, Lady Catherine De Bourgh (superbly portrayed by Edna May Oliver). 

Yet despite its outstanding supporting players, Pride and Prejudice belongs to stars Garson and Olivier, whose scenes together are, without a doubt, the film’s most memorable (Garson is especially splendid as the bright, stubborn Elizabeth). 

The sets and costumes are also top-notch, but it’s the performances that made this version of Pride and Prejudice the classic that it is. 
Rating: 9 out of 10

Friday, August 13, 2021

#2,599. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)


Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive is an intensely unique and utterly fascinating vampire movie, portraying the undead not as tortured souls or bloodsucking monsters but as witnesses to history, who have learned to appreciate art, literature, music, and what it truly means to be alive.

Adam (Tom Hiddelston) is a centuries-old musician / vampire residing in Detroit. His wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives in Tangiers, and while she enjoys her occasional visits with old friend and fellow vampire Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (John Hurt), she misses her beloved.

So Eve hops a nighttime flight and reunites with her husband of many, many years. But Eve’s troublesome sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) has somehow tracked them down, and her flighty attitude threatens not only Adam and Eve’s happiness, but their everlasting lives as well.

With extraordinary performances throughout, Only Lovers Left Alive paints an idyllic portrait of a vampire’s existence, depicting them as beings who have taken full advantage of the centuries, experiencing all that the world has (and had) to offer. Adam is an accomplished musician in nearly every musical style, while Eve reads a wide array of books, printed in dozens of languages.

Relying on his patented low-key approach, Jarmusch has crafted a singular motion picture; not since The Lost Boys has a movie made vampirism look so damned appealing!
Rating: 10 out of 10

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

#2,598. The Vampire Lovers (1970)


From the late 50s to the mid-‘70s, U.K’s Hammer Films turned out a number of vampire movies, from their 1958 remake of Dracula (titled Horror of Dracula in the United States) and its subsequent sequels to the hugely entertaining 1974 outing Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter

In between, the studio produced a trio of movies based on Sheridam Le Fanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla, dubbed “The Karnstein Trilogy”. The Vampire Lovers, released in 1970, was the first of these films (followed by Lust of a Vampire and Twins of Evil, both 1971). Combining Hammer’s time-honored tradition of period stories and gothic set pieces with a new, more daring approach to sexuality, The Vampire Lovers proved an extraordinary motion picture. 

Set in 19th century Austria, The Vampire Lovers centers on Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt), a young vampire who, soon after the film opens, seduces and kills Laura (Pippa Steel), the niece of General Spielsdorf (the great Peter Cushing). 

From there, Marcilla (now calling herself Carmilla) is invited to stay with the Morton family, where she sets her sights on Emma (Madeline Smith), the daughter of Roger Morton (George Cole). Will Carmilla’s secret be revealed before another innocent dies, or will her reign of terror continue? 

As mentioned already, the set pieces are one of the film’s strengths; the opening sequence, a flashback to when Baron von Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) faced off against the Karnstein vampires, is as creepy as it is impressive (the castle, as well as the adjoining cemetery, is the stuff of nightmares). In sharp contrast, while at the same time complimenting its gothic elements, is the film’s overt sexuality, with Pitt playing the most convincing lesbian vampire I’ve ever seen in a movie (there’s no shortage of nudity, and a scene in which Pitt and Smith wrestle topless on a bed is sensual and disturbing). 

 Hammer’s heyday may have been over by the time the '70s rolled around, but with The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil, Vampire Circus and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, the studio proved their magic was just as strong as ever. 
Rating: 9 out of 10

Monday, August 9, 2021

#2,597. Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles (2018)


Directed by Salvador Simo and based on a graphic novel by Fermin Solis, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles relates the true story of how filmmaker Luis Bunuel (voiced by Jorge Uson) shot his 1933 documentary Land Without Bread in the Las Hurdes region of Spain.

Using money that his good friend, sculptor Ramon Acin (Fernando Ramos), won on a lottery ticket, Bunuel hires a crew, buys a new car to transport the equipment, and heads to the mountainous, rustic Las Hurdes to make what he hopes will be a realistic film about the locals and their way of life.

But Bunuel’s domineering personality, as well as his penchant for stirring up drama, soon has everyone wondering if the movie will ever be completed.

Along with being a very unique biopic (there are flashbacks to Bunuel’s childhood) and a snapshot of Spain just prior to the outbreak of civil war, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a famous filmmaker, whose brilliance occasionally played second fiddle to his enormous ego (though shooting a documentary, Bunuel had no problem staging scenes to get what he wanted, at one point going so far as to force a goat off the side of a cliff and filming the animal after it plummeted to its death).

Unflinching in its depiction of its main subject’s strengths as well as his weaknesses, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is an animated movie that cinephiles will absolutely love!
Rating: 9 out of 10

Saturday, August 7, 2021

#2,596. The Night Strangler (1973)


A sequel to the wildly popular 1972 made-for-TV film The Night Stalker, Dan Curtis’s The Night Strangler once again features the exploits of Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin), a newspaper reporter who moved from Las Vegas to Seattle, where he’s hired by his former editor, Vincenzo (Simon Oakland). 

Kolchak's first assignment: a recent killing in which the victim, an exotic dancer, was strangled and drained of a small amount of blood. As Kolchak digs deeper into this story, he discovers that similar murders have been occurring in that section of the city from as far back as 1889, and repeating every 21 years! 

Much to the dismay of Vincenzo and Captain Schubert (Scott Brady) of the Seattle police department, Kolchak continues to dig, teaming up with researcher Titus Berry (Wally Cox) and belly dancer Louise Harper (Jo Ann Pflug) to try to get to the bottom of this very baffling mystery. 

Directed by Dan Curtis (the man behind the Dark Shadows series as well as the excellent anthology film Trilogy of Terror), The Night Strangler was written by the great Richard Matheson, who also penned The Last Man on Earth, Corman’s House of Usher, and a slew of other genre films and TV episodes. In addition, this sequel features such notable stars as John Carradine (as the editor of Kolchak’s paper), Al Lewis (a homeless guy) and The Wizard of Oz’s Margaret Hamilton (a university professor). 

Yet as impressive as all that is, The Night Strangler would have been nothing without Darren McGavin’s portrayal of Carl Kolchak, a pushy-as-hell newspaperman who refuses to quit until he has the whole story. Also doubling as the movie’s narrator, McGavin shines in every single scene, breathing life into a character you can’t help but love (Kolchak proved so popular, in fact, that he was given his own TV series, which ran on ABC from 1974-1975). 
Rating: 9 out of 10

Thursday, August 5, 2021

#2,595. The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936)


Paul Muni shines as the noted French scientist whose groundbreaking work in microbiology revolutionized the medical field, but what makes this period biopic so unusual is the way it presents its story.

The Academy Award-winning screenplay, co-written by Pierre Collings and Sheridan Gibney, spends a great deal of time explaining the science behind Pasteur’s work. Early on, when he and his colleagues are trying to find a cure for anthrax, which is wiping out the country’s sheep population, we’re treated to numerous slides - viewed under a microscope - showing cultures of healthy blood cells and those infected with the disease.

That’s not to say The Story of Louis Pasteur is all business; there’s a romantic subplot involving Pasteur’s daughter Annette (Anita Louise), who becomes engaged to – and eventually marries – Jean Martel (Donald Woods), a colleague of Pasteur's, and the great scientist is often forced to defend his research, which is repeatedly attacked by Dr. Charbonnet (Fritz Lieber Sr.), the personal surgeon of the Emperor (Walter Kingsford).

But it’s the film’s attention to detail, and the manner in which it honors Pasteur’s legacy, that makes The Story of Louis Pasteur a truly fascinating motion picture.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

#2,594. Daughters of Darkness (1971)


At first glance, director Harry Kumel’s Daughters of Darkness looks like a run-of-the-mill exploitation film (the movie opens with a sex scene, set on a train). But with its multi-layered characters and stylized approach to the material, it quickly becomes apparent this vampire flick has more in common with an arthouse production than it does your typical bit of Eurosleaze. 

The recently married Stefan (John Karlen) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) are honeymooning in the seaside town of Ostend, Belgium. Because it’s the off-season, only one other guest has checked into the spacious hotel: the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig), who is sharing a room with her assistant Ilona (Andrea Rau). 

The hotel’s concierge (Paul Esser) claims he remembers the last time the Countess stayed there, and even though it was 40 years ago, she doesn’t look as if she’s aged a day! 

 Is the Countess a vampire, and if so, why is she so determined to befriend Stefan and Valerie? 

Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Eduard van der Enden, Daughters of Darkness is as much a character study as it is a horror film. Seyrig brings a likability to the Countess, even though we realize early on there’s something sinister about her (she’s immediately smitten with Valerie, and goes out of her way to impress the young bride), and Karlen shines as Stefan, whose secretive nature may be masking a dark side that his new wife knows nothing about (he refuses to tell his mother that he’s married, and a day trip to Bruges reveals that he’s fascinated by death). 

While it does move slower than your average ‘70s horror film, Daughters of Darkness nonetheless offers viewers more than a few cheap thrills, and those with patience will find it a rewarding experience. 
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Sunday, August 1, 2021

#2,593. Welcome to Mercy (2018)


A horror / mystery steeped in religious ideology, Welcome to Mercy stars Kristen Ruhlin (who also penned the screenplay) as Madeline, a single mother who, along with her daughter Willow (Sophia Massa), travels to a remote region of Latvia to visit her ailing father.

Madeline’s mother, Yelena (Svetlana Ivannikova), is none too happy to see her daughter, and tries to convince Madeline to stay at a hotel. But a storm prevents her from doing so, and that night, Madeline has an experience that awakens something inside of her, an evil that, by all accounts, has been with her since she was a little girl.

There’s more to the movie than my synopsis might suggest; after a frightening event that she cannot remember, Madeline is whisked away to a convent to be “studied”, and there meets the strange but friendly August (Lily Newmark), one of the younger nuns, who takes a liking to the new arrival.

Even this is still just scratching the surface, and for a fair portion of its runtime I found Welcome to Mercy a frustrating experience. Whenever Madeline was about to uncover an answer or learn something about her “condition”, the film would take off in another direction, ensuring that she (and, in turn, we the audience) was left completely in the dark.

For a time, it felt like Welcome to Mercy was circling something important (there’s talk of blessings, curses, stigmata, and hints of demonic possession), yet the movie never seemed to zero in on anything of substance, and after a while I began to lose interest.

But then the big reveal arrives, and I admit I was wowed; I didn’t see it coming, and it threw a new light on everything that went before it.

I’m still undecided as to whether or not the destination justified the journey, but the movie is unique enough - and the conclusion surprising enough – to, at the very least, warrant a recommendation.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Capsule Reviews - July 31, 2021

The Day the Sky Exploded (1958) – Widely regarded as the first ever Italian science fiction film, The Day the Sky Exploded (released in Italy as Death Comes from Space) was also co-directed by the great Mario Bava (at least one member of the cast claimed that Bava was the primary director, and not Paolo Heusch, as listed in the credits). An atomic rocket, piloted by American John MacLaren (Paul Hubschmid), takes off from Cape Shark, Australia, bound for the moon. Unfortunately, MacLaren and his ship run into problems while orbiting the earth. MacLaren is forced to eject the capsule, which falls safely on the coast. A miscommunication, however, prevented mission control from destroying the remainder of the rocket, which explodes in a nearby asteroid cluster, fusing hundreds of large rocks together and sending them spiraling towards the earth. Now, MacLaren and a group of international scientists must work quickly to determine if the earth can be saved, or if it’s the end for humanity. The Day the Sky Exploded has its moments; the early scenes, when the rocket first takes off, are exciting, as is the sequence when the ship malfunctions. But the movie relies too heavily on stock footage (I’d guess that at least 20 minutes to a half hour of its 78 minute runtime featured stock footage of one sort or another), and the romantic entanglements, including the scenes with MacLaren’s wife (played by Fiorella Mari), bog the film down. Worst of all is the final 10 minutes, when the powers-that-be scramble to save the world (scientifically speaking, these scenes are borderline laughable). Not a total disaster, but your time would be better spent elsewhere. Rating: 5.5 out of 10

The Invisible Man (2020) – After the misfire that was 2017’s The Mummy, the next generation of Universal’s classic monsters finally get the first-class treatment they deserve in writer / director Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, which puts a nice spin on things by focusing not on the title character, but his intended victim. Tired of being manipulated by her boyfriend, wealthy optics engineer Adrian Griffith (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Cecelia Kass (played superbly by Elizabeth Moss) finally summons up the courage to escape this abusive relationship. Living in fear that her former love will track her down, Cecelia eventually receives the good news that Adrian committed suicide. But her relief quickly turns to dread when she suspects that Adrian, who had been working on a technology that could make him invisible, is not only alive and well but secretly watching her every move. The Invisible Man gets off to a great start; even before we’re introduced to the characters, we witness Cecelia’s well-planned escape from Adrian’s secluded mansion, a sequence that is as intense as they come. And this heightened level of suspense only gets stronger as the movie progresses (a dinner sequence set in a fancy restaurant may be the most WTF moment of 2020). By the time the end credits rolled on The Invisible Man, I was both mentally drained and thoroughly entertained. Rating: 9 out of 10

Moon of the Wolf (1972) – This 1972 made-for-TV horror / mystery is better than its crappy title would lead you to believe. David Jannsen plays the sheriff of a small Louisiana Bayou community, where a string of recent, grisly murders has some people believing a werewolf is on the loose. Bradford Dillman has a supporting role as the town’s most prestigious resident, and Barbara Rush is his sister, who recently returned home after spending a few years in New York City. Also joining in on the fun are Geoffrey Lewis (as the brother of the first victim) and Royal Dano (as a backwoods yokel). The cast does a decent job (Janssen’s understated performance makes him a likable hero), and the mystery surrounding these homicides is what carries damn near the first 50 minutes or so of this 74 minute movie. The final scenes, when the werewolf is front and center, are effectively tense (especially a sequence set in the jail house), and while the ending is a bit of a groaner, it doesn’t spoil what went before it. Rating: 7 out of 10

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Capsule Reviews - July 29, 2021

Blonde Venus (1932) - Josef von Sternberg’s Blonde Venus created headaches for the MPAAD before the cameras even started rolling. Marlene Dietrich stars as Helen, a German stage performer who meets and falls in love with American Nick Faraday (Herbert Marshall), whom she marries. Shortly after the birth of their son, Johnny (Dickie Moore), Faraday becomes very ill (a result of radium poisoning), and must travel to Europe if he’s to have any chance of being cured. In need of money to pay her husband’s mounting medical bills, Helen returns to the stage and becomes an overnight sensation, adopting the persona of a temptress and calling herself the Blonde Venus. It’s during one of her performances that she meets millionaire Nick Townsend (Cary Grant). Spying a way to get some quick cash, Helen essentially prostitutes herself by becoming Townsend’s lover, and earns more than enough money to cover the cost of Nick’s treatment. All goes well for Helen and her son… until Nick, cured of his illness, unexpectedly returns home. When von Sternberg originally submitted the script for Blonde Venus to the MPAAD, he was immediately ordered to revise it. In fact, the script would go through three different revisions before finally getting the green-light. Even still, Blonde Venus, with adultery and prostitution at its center, raised a few eyebrows upon its release, It stands today as a textbook example of a director making concessions to the censors, yet still managing to tell the story he set out to tell in the first place. And with excellent performances throughout, coupled with the “Von Sternberg Touch”, it’s also a classic that everyone should seek out. Rating: 9 out of 10

The Cleansing Hour (2019) – There were times when I almost switched off The Cleansing Hour; the story of a social media-obsessed priest (Ryan Guzman) whose staged online exorcisms draw big audiences, The Cleansing Hour was so bland and by-the-numbers at the start, with obvious characters and trite dialogue, that I thought I was wasting my time watching it. I’m glad I hung in there, though, because the second half of the film (which – surprise! – features an actual possession) was much more intriguing, and even though there were still predictable elements (and some less-than-stellar special effects), I was finally tuned in, and couldn’t wait to see how it all played out. The ending was even better, taking the entire tale in a darker direction than I anticipated. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, and some viewers are bound to lose patience with it just like I almost did. But don’t bail on it… The Cleansing Hour does get better. Rating: 6 out of 10

Counterblast (1948) – After escaping from prison, Nazi doctor Karl Bruckner (Mervyn Jones) - aka the “Beast of Ravensbruck” - murders a British scientist (Anthony Eustrel) and assumes his identity. Posing as said scientist, he takes up residence in a small English town and, with the help of Dr. Paul Rankin (Robert Beatty) and Tracy Hart (Nova Pilbeam) – neither of whom are aware of his true identity – Bruckner begins working on a vaccine to protect his fellow countrymen from a virus that the Nazis plan to unleash on the world. A British-produced spy thriller with a dash of sci-fi mixed in, Counterblast proved more entertaining than expected. Jones is quite good as Bruckner, and what I found truly interesting was that, despite being the film’s lead and the person we spend the most time with, there’s never a moment in the movie when we’re rooting for his character! From start to finish, we want to see Bruckner get his comeuppance. Though not quite as good as Jones, Robert Beatty is nonetheless effective as the lab assistant who comes to suspect his boss is hiding something, and I enjoyed seeing a grown-up Nova Pilbeam (she played the kidnapped daughter in Hitchcock’s 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much), who shines as the intelligent yet naïve Tracy (her romance with Beatty’s character is handled well, and we want to see a happy ending for the two of them). Director Paul L. Stein manages to generate some real tension throughout, even if things do get a bit choppy at the end. Definitely worth a watch (Counterblast is in the public domain, so tracking down a copy shouldn’t be difficult). Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Capsule Reviews - July 27, 2021

Cataclysm (1980) – Also released as The Nightmare Never Ends, this cinematic dreck had three different directors, which might explain why it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Cameron Mitchell stars as a police detective investigating the murder of his neighbor, a concentration camp survivor who, prior to his death, asserted that a jet-setting, twentysomething playboy (Robert Bristol) was also the Nazi commandant who murdered his family some 40 years ago! Turns out, this guy isn’t your average playboy / former Nazi; he’s actually a demon from hell! The film (if you can call it that) also focuses on a writer (Richard Moll) whose newest book, God is Dead, has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. The writer’s wife (Faith Clift) is a devout Catholic, and believes the book will only bring them trouble. She’s even convinced the nightmares she’s experiencing are a warning that Satan is near. How do these two storylines connect to one another? Beats me... and I’ve seen the damn thing! The performances are dismal (even the usually reliable Mitchell and Moll are wooden at best) and the story so choppy and confusing that you can’t make any sense of it. Scenes from this movie were supposedly pieced together to form a segment for the 1985 horror anthology Night Train to Terror. Well, I’ve never seen Night Train to Terror, but here’s hoping they used as little of this movie as possible. Rating: a generous 2 out of 10

Field of Lost Shoes (2014) – Director Sean McNamera’s Field of Lost Shoes is a well-realized, though overly melodramatic motion picture centering on of an actual incident from the American Civil War, where young cadets from the Virginia Military Institute fought and died in the 1864 Battle of New Market. The cast is impressive; though he appears in only a few scenes, Tom Skerritt makes an impression as Ulysses S. Grant, as does Jason Isaacs, who portrays General John C. Breckenridge, commander of the Confederate forces at New Market. Also quite good is Keith David as Moses, the slave and chief cook at the Institute, and the younger cast members, including Luke Benward, Zach Roerig, and Josh Zuckerman, do a fine job as the cadets called into action. In addition, the settings and costumes are quite good, and do their part to bring this era convincingly to life. Alas, the movie is a bit too sentimental at the end, and it’s assertion that many cadets were anti-slavery is undoubtedly a fabrication, added to make its central characters more sympathetic. Field of Lost Shoes has its positives (in addition to the performances and production design, the battle scenes are thrilling), but as an historical account of a real-life, tragic moment in American history, it falls a little short of the mark. Rating: 6 out of 10

French Quarter (1978) – An incredibly bizarre yet surprisingly intriguing exploitation film, French Quarter stars Alisha Fontaine as Christine, a young woman who, after the death of her father, heads to New Orleans in search of employment. When her new job as a stripper / waitress doesn’t pan out, Christine decides to move back home, but first follows the advice of the barmaid Ida (Virginia Mayo) and visits a voodoo priestess, who proceeds to drug the poor girl. While knocked out, Christine has a dream in which she’s a hooker in the Jazz Age, whose virginity is about to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Though she works for Countess Willie Piazza (Mayo again), Christine –named “Trudy Dix” in her fantasy – meets and falls for talented jazz pianist Kid Ross (Bruce Davison), who would like nothing more than to rescue his new love from her chosen “profession”. Aside from Davison and Mayo (both are quite good), the acting in French Quarter is weak; even Fontaine falls flat more often than not as the lead. I also thought it was a bit odd that, while in a drug-induced state, Christine dreams not only of herself and Kid Ross, but concocts a number of side stories involving her fellow whores, including Coke-Eyed Laura (Ann Michelle) and Big-Butt Annie (Lindsey Bloom), who get into all sorts of mischief on their own. Yet despite its flaws and the occasional exploitative moment (there’s a lesbian scene that pops up out of nowhere, adding nothing to the story), French Quarter gets points for originality, and for offering something a bit more interesting than the standard fare. Rating: 6 out of 10

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Capsule Reviews - July 25, 2021

Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989) - A Finnish musical / comedy directed by Aki Kaurismaki, Leningrad Cowboys Go America is a road movie of sorts, centering on a band from a rural district of Siberia whose shifty manager drags them to America , forcing them to play a variety of nightclubs as they travel from New York City to Mexico. It’s a quirky, sometimes darkly funny expose of a less-than-average band that learns to play everything from country to Rock and Roll (depending on the audience), and doing so just well enough to get paid (though it’s quite telling that the band is never invited to perform a second night). Though more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, Leningrad Cowboys Go America did feature a few moments that made me chuckle (the band’s “traveling companion” is a former member who froze to death in Siberia during an outdoor rehearsal). This movie spawned a series of films, and the band even toured together for a while. Also, keep an eye out for director Jim Jarmusch, who makes a cameo appearance as a used car salesman. Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) – James Cagney delivers a fine performance as silent film star Lon Chaney, taking us from the actor’s early vaudeville days and his tumultuous marriage to dancer Clara Creighton (Dorothy Malone) through to his screen career, when his skills with a make-up brush landed him a number of memorable roles (most notably the title characters in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera). There are times when Man of a Thousand Faces crosses into schmaltzy melodrama (especially the scenes involving Chaney’s relationship with his son Creighton, aka Lon Chaney Jr.), but it’s handled well enough, and Cagney’s performance, coupled with a strong supporting cast (Jane Greer is quite good as Chaney’s second wife Hazel, though it’s Malone’s turn as the self-centered Clara that stands out) and some nifty recreations of moments from the actor’s more noteworthy films do their part to make this a worthwhile biopic. Rating: 7.5 out of 10

The Wolf House (2018) – A vibrant, fascinating animated film produced in Chile, The Wolf House introduces us to Maria (voiced by Amalia Kassai), a young girl who escapes from a German religious cult and seeks refuge in an abandoned house. There, she befriends two pigs, which are also hiding out, but neither Maria nor her new pals are safe because a hungry wolf (Rainer Krause) is prowling just outside , ready to make a meal out of them all. A stop-motion movie co-directed by Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León, The Wolf House was inspired by actual events; the cult that Maria flees is based on a commune in central Chile, founded in 1961 by former Nazi Paul Scahfer and rumored to have abused some of its younger members. This fact alone brings an added layer of intrigue to The Wolf House, but it’s the animation itself – chock full of imagination and not afraid to take the story in some dark directions – that will keep your eyes glued to the screen (rooms morph, as do several characters, and you’re never quite sure what you’ll find when the action switches from one locale to the next). A truly brilliant piece of work! Don’t miss it! Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Friday, July 23, 2021

Capsule Reviews - July 23, 2021

Host (2020) – Along with its many strengths, director Rob Savage’s Host will also one day serve as the perfect time capsule, showing future audiences what it was like to live through the hell that was the COVID pandemic of 2020; characters are sequestered at home, communicating with each other by way of an online Zoom meeting, and when they go out, they wear face masks. On top of that, Host is also a damn effective horror movie. A group of friends, with the help of a medium (played by Seylan Baxter), holds an online séance and inadvertently summons a malevolent spirit. There are some intensely creepy scenes in Host, and with a running time of just under an hour the movie never loses any of its steam. Host is a supernatural tale for the modern age, and will have you poised on the edge of your seat. Rating: 9 out of 10

Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces (2000) – Produced by Turner Classic Movies, this 2000 documentary focuses on the life and career of silent film star Lon Chaney, whose remarkable skills with a make-up brush earned him the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Faces”. We learn about Chaney’s upbringing, and how his expertise at both pantomime and communicating with his eyes were in part due to his parents (both of whom were deaf mutes). In addition we’re shown the physical extremes that the actor went to for many of his roles (the make-up he devised for his portrayal of the title character in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera must have been extremely uncomfortable). Directed by Kevin Brownlow and narrated by Kenneth Branagh, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces features interviews with family members (including archival footage of his famous son, Lon Chaney Jr., recounting stories from his childhood) as well as clips from many of the actor’s most notable films (though known for playing monsters, Chaney’s portrayal of Sgt. O’Hara in 1926’s Tell it to the Marines so impressed the Corps that they made him an honorary Marine). This is a must-see for cinephiles looking to delve into the actor’s filmography (an undertaking I highly recommend). Rating: 9 out of 10

They Nest (2000) – Ordered to take a leave of absence by his hospital’s administrator, recovering alcoholic Dr. Ben Cahill (Thomas Calabro) heads to the crappiest island in Maine, where he recently purchased a vacation home. Soon after his arrival, Cahill discovers that a highly aggressive, carnivorous insect has somehow made its way to this sleepy little inlet, and is multiplying quickly… by laying its eggs inside the locals! Calabro is hit-and-miss as the lead (he’s so goofy at times that we wonder how he ever became a surgeon in the first place), and the first half hour or so of the movie, when Cahill is being tormented by Jack Wald (John Savage), the previous owner of his house, fell flat. Once the bugs take center stage, however, They Nest hits its stride, and there are a handful of gross yet effective sequences throughout (especially when the bugs “burst out” of their human hosts). The supporting cast, including Dean Stockwell as the sheriff and Kirsten Dalton as Cahill’s love interest, is solid, and the finale (by which point the bugs have evolved) is a real nail-biter. Rating: 7 out of 10