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!)