Saturday, April 18, 2015

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #82: The Birds

1963.  Hitchcock.  The Birds.  Really, that is all one needs to write.  Anyone who has seen it knows how powerful a film it is.  Anyone who hasn’t seen it has avoided it simply because they are afraid.  It is a scary, scary film, and that’s something sorely missing from today’s theatres.  That fear doesn’t come from a masked, unstoppable killing machine; a puppet on a tricycle; or even a ghost in a television.  It comes from nature, it seems to have thought behind it, and it comes without warning.  That’s what makes it terrifying.

Tippi Hedren plays the lead female, Melanie.  While visiting Bodega Bay, California she is attacked by a seagull and it is all downhill from there.  Soon hundreds of birds of all sorts are attacking people in the town.  Attacking.  Stopping.  Attacking again.  Without reason.  Without a pattern.  It is nerve destroying and Hitchcock knows it. 

Yes, the special effects aren’t special to modern audiences.  You kind of forget that, though, while you experience it.  The film is just that engrossing.  Watching it, you understand why the director was a master of his craft, and you hate him for it.  How many people left the theatre after seeing this and felt their pulse race at the sight of a crow?

I can watch Psycho with no problem.  The movie doesn’t freak me out in the slightest.  This film, however, does the job.  Nature gone wild with no explanation (horror without an explanation is some of the most jarring horror of all).  Paranoid townspeople who manifest reasons for the attacks in what amounts to little more than symbolic magic.  Tension increased by actions and not a film score.  Hitchcock’s work of art has it all, and it is relentless.  Yes, he takes time building the story, but that’s what makes the film work.  It is not for the easily distracted. 

There have been other attempts to capture the magic that is The Birds.   I can’t think of any movie that really succeeded in doing it, however.  Hitchcock created a classic here, and it is one that I think is his best film.  I know purists would disagree with me, but nothing else he has done put me on the edge of my seat like this one did.  This is simply a masterpiece in all the right ways.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Infliction Release Date!

Found footage fans rejoice, Infliction has a release date.  On July 1 you can see it on DVD, digital HD and VOD in the US and our friend to the north, Canada.  It will be all over Netflix, Walmart, iTune, Amazon and all the other usual suspects.

I haven't seen the film yet, but am hoping to soon, and if it is as interesting as I suspect it will be, I will hopefully be interviewing its director, Jack Thomas Smith.  

Set the date.  Dim the lights.  Chill the ham ...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

More Infliction Coming Your Way

If you are in or near Lake Hopatcong, NJ Saturday May 3 and are interested in checking out Infliction, it will be at the Camp Jefferson Theater.  Screenings are at seven and nine at night.  The director will be there for Q & A after the film.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Infliction Coming Soon!

Jack Thomas Smith (Disorder) has a new film coming out this Spring.  Infliction will be out in select theatres and POV and VOD, with a DVD release to follow, naturally.  There are also a few screenings of it at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City on 4/5/14 at 5 pm and at Roberts Chatham Cinema in Chatham, New Jersey on 4/10/14 at 7 pm.  If you attend one of these screenings, I'd love to hear what you think of it.

I'm a sucker for found footage movies, so I am looking forward to this one.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #83: The End

1978’s The End is a childhood favorite of mine.  I saw it when I was around nine years old, and while I don’t think I appreciated all its commentary on the human condition at that time, I did recognize it was something special. 

In the film, Burt Reynolds plays Wendell, and he has just discovered he has about a year to live.  If this were a normal movie, Wendell would do all those things on his bucket list before the sun goes down on his life (skydive, eat at a fancy restaurant, kick a field goal at a famous football field, and so on).  Instead, he figures he shouldn’t wait around for the end to come to him.  No, he thinks he should kill himself, thus ending his life on his own terms.  He does try to tie up some loose ends, and when this fails he swallows a bunch of pills to usher in the great beyond.  Unfortunately, he also fails in his suicide attempt and ends up in a mental hospital where he meets a fellow patient (the excellent Dom DeLuise) who agrees to help him end his life.  At the film’s conclusion Wendell decides he wants to live (in a funny screw-with-viewers scene), but his partner-in-suicide decides to continue their little plan.
In case I haven’t been clear, this is a comedy.

Reynolds directed this movie, and what he did was walk a fine line between tasteless and sublime.  Suicide is not a subject most people would find funny, but it is hilarious here, making this a very brave film.  Reynolds, in tackling this issue, could have tanked his career with this one.  Instead, he showed that not only is he is a mature actor, but also a competent director.    

My memories of this are probably tainted by time (I doubt I would think highly of the slapstick elements now), but as a young boy it taught me that there is comedy to be mined from seemingly taboo subjects and in how people react when confronted with them.  Sadly, this film is virtually forgotten even amongst Burt Reynolds fans (there are some still out there), and it deserves more than being relegated to the dustbin of cinematic history.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film for review, and if you click on a link, I may earn a commission.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #84: Freaks

Theatre audiences in 1932 had no idea they of what was in store for them with this film.  In fact, when test screenings were done, a woman in attendance later threatened to sue the film studio, MGM, because she thought the film caused her a miscarriage.  Folks across the pond could not even see the film for 30 years after its release due to a ban on it.  This was Tod Browning’s Freaks.

Browning, who did Dracula, made Freaks his baby.  It is, at its heart, a love story steeped in revenge.  Its plot?  Fairly standard.  A female trapeze artist named Cleopatra loves a sideshow midget (“little person” now).  Well, what really she loves his inheritance.  The other circus “freaks,” not knowing how shallow this woman really is, accept her as one of their own at a dinner underneath the big top.  (“One of us,” they chant.)  Wine flows, and so do Cleopatra’s secrets.  She’s been having an affair, and the freaks are none too happy … especially when Cleopatra, in a drunken state, belittles them.  And so hatred is born.  During a stormy night, Cleopatra and her lover are attacked by the freaks, and Cleopatra is left hideously mutilated … forever becoming “one of them.”  (The original film, which was extensively cut, also had the freaks castrating her lover.)

So what sent audiences over the edge?  The freaks were not the products of special effects or makeup.  They were real sideshow performers.  The Living Skeleton.  Siamese Twins.  Pinheads.  The Half Boy.  For audiences not yet exposed to the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, seeing an armless and legless man crawl through the mud toward them with a knife in his mouth was more than enough to cause panic attacks.  Perhaps they were also disturbed by the film’s message: A “normal” human could be even worse than one of these “exhibit pieces.”

Browning’s film cost him his career, and that is a shame.  If you watch it today, even in cut form (which, to my knowledge, is the only version of the film that now exists), it still packs a punch.  It is simply a really good story.  It’s complex.  It’s disturbing.  It’s chilling.  It is mob mentality at its worst, and protective spirit at its finest.  If you haven’t seen it, do so.  It is now considered a classic, but back in 1932 it was one of the first films to truly shock an audience … and continues to do so today.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review, and clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #85: Sid and Nancy

Young hearts beat free tonight.  If ever there were to be a doomed love story to come out of the early punk rock era, it is the story of Sid and Nancy.  Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman), the Sex Pistols bassist, loved Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb), and they both loved heroin.  That’s what ultimately did them in.  Well, to be honest, Nancy died of a stab wound after arguing with Sid, while he overdosed later.  Alex Cox’s 1986 film is his take on their relationship, and what a take it is.

Oldman just about dominates any role he takes on, and this is no exception.  He is Sid in Sid and Nancy.  After watching it, you can’t imagine anyone else in the role.  Webb, who is sometimes mistaken for Courtney Love in this movie (Love has a different role in it, but it’s easy to see why someone would think that), plays Nancy as a loud force of nature who essentially keeps Sid co-dependent, though her love for him is not in dispute.  Again, this is Cox’s take on their relationship, Sid’s relationship with the other Pistols, and the punk rock scene at that time.  It’s not always historically accurate, but it is an emotional piece of art that captures the spirit of a time the music world will never see again.
Cox made a movie that is the equivalent of lying face down in the gutters of New York City.  It is full of depressing, degrading moments of desperation, and it focuses on two characters most of its viewing audience can’t really relate to in any reasonable way.  Despite that, it works.  It is a love story and a cautionary tale.  It is hopes and dreams and heroin, and it doesn’t shy away from the worst aspects of any of those things.

This film may not fit everyone’s idea of a romance, but for those who tend to look at life a bit more honestly, it works.  It’s a film as unique as Sid and Nancy, too, and while it’s hard to picture anyone but Oldman playing Sid, it’s also hard to imagine anyone other than Cox directing.  Of course, it’s a bit morbid to think that if Nancy had not of died we wouldn’t have a film, but so be it.  In the end, this stands as an amazing tribute to love and addiction while at the same time romanticizing and deconstructing both.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I did not receive this film to review, but in fact stole it in true punk rock fashion.  Clicking on a link may earn me some filthy lucre.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #86: The Manson Family

Jim Van Bebber started making The Manson Family in 1988.  In 2004 it finally came out in America.  It is, by and far, a labor of love, and that shows in every minute of this dark, dark film.  You see the title and you think you know what you are about to see.  What you get, however, defies the senses.

Shot as if it were a film and a documentary, it follows the Manson Family up through the infamous murders, and it looks at a group of contemporary Mansonites who are trying to stir the pot anew.  It is a surreal and often disturbing film, and its narrative structure makes it play like an arthouse terror ride into the depths of Hell.  It is also a fictional movie based around real events but shot to look as if it is using actual footage from the real-life participants.  In short, it’s a movie that seriously fucks with you and your expectations.

Bebber had a lot of issues completing this movie, as is evident by the film’s timeline.  Money was a constant source of problems, and at least one actor was fairly nervous while shooting because he was unsure of just what he had gotten himself into.  And what had he stumbled into?  A movie where the depiction of sex and drugs weren’t always just motion picture simulations.  A movie where the blood flowed freely and nudity was commonplace.  It is not for the weak of heart or easily offended, either, as we all know what happened in that murder spree that took Sharon Tate and her unborn child (and a host of others).  For some, a movie that revolves around that particular crime can be nothing but disrespectful and there is no amount of reassuring that can sway that feeling.  That said, those people are wrong.

Bebber, despite all the problems, created a something very close to a masterpiece that is more a nightmare than a film at times.  Upon finishing it you will feel like you just did a ton of acid and got trapped in an abandoned amusement park.  It’s not pleasant, and it’s not meant to be.  It is, however, meant to make people talk, and in that it succeeded quite well. 

Roger Ebert, the man who made me want to be a film critic, gave it one of the most even-handed reviews I have ever read for it; he understood quite well what Bebber had accomplished.  Ebert, who called the film “an act of transgression so extreme and uncompromised, and yet so amateurish and sloppy, that it exists in a category of one film -- this film,” understood that the director had done something beyond the norm.  At the conclusion of his review he stated that the film was “remarkable,” successful and “uncompromising,” and then wrote, “That doesn’t mean I think you should see it.”  That sums up The Manson Family experience quite well.

Watch it if you think you can handle it.  Avoid it if you have any doubt.  If you do watch it, understand that you’ve never seen anything like it prior and nor will you ever see anything like it again.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I did not receive this film to review.  If you click on a link, I may earn a commission.  If you click on a link, leave something witchy.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #87: Thriller -- A Cruel Picture

When director Bo Arne Vibenius set out to make the most commercial movie ever, little did he suspect what impact 1974’s Thriller: A Cruel Picture (one of its many titles) would have on future cinema.  If this movie hadn’t of been made, we would have never had Elle Driver in Kill Bill.  That role was directly inspired by Vibenius’ Frigga character, played by the amazing Christina Lindberg, whose first centerfold spread in a men’s magazine (Lektyr) happened while she was still in high school.  This movie that inspired Tarantino may not be the most commercial movie ever made, but it sure raised a few eyebrows.

Frigga is a young woman who was left mute by a sexual assault in her youth.  One day she accepts a ride from a stranger and quickly finds herself forcibly addicted to heroin and pushed into prostitution.  When she angers the man who did this to her, she gets her eye taken out to teach her a lesson.  Not one to just take her lot in life lying down, Frigga uses her money to buy weapons and take martial arts classes in order to extract her revenge on all who have wronged her.  (Kind of like a low rent The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.)  Prime exploitation stuff. 

As if the subject matter weren’t controversial enough, the eye removal scene was actually filmed with the cadaver of a young female who had recently committed suicide.  The film also had hardcore sex scenes added to it to help boost revenue. 

Those who have watched a lot of exploitation will tell you that this Swedish film isn’t actually all that rough and tumble, and they are correct.  It would shock the hell out of the average moviegoer used to Julia Roberts and superheroes, but all things considered, it really isn’t as nasty as it sounds.  In fact, at times it almost seems like a made-for-television movie.  So why do I have it on the list?

Thriller has a certain quality to it that you can’t quite put your finger on.  It’s definitely a product of the early ‘70s, and it feels like a foreign film trying to be American.  Vibenius, who directed and wrote the film under a pseudonym, tried something fairly gutsy and stylized, and had very little money with which to do it.  What he created wasn’t exactly what he was trying for, I’m sure, but it was something magical.  No one who has ever seen the film has ever forgotten it … no matter what title they saw it under.  (My favorite being Hooker’s Revenge.)  It’s that kind of courage that’s missing from a lot of cinema.  Sure, filmmakers have grand ideas, but how many have ever said they were going to make the most commercial movie ever created and then threw in a mutilated corpse, rape, drug addiction, copious amounts of nudity and blood, and hardcore sex scenes?  Bingo.  No director in his or her right mind would attempt such a thing … and then try to make it artistic!  The audacity of Vibenius is amazing.  I can only find that he has written and directed three films in his short career, but this one is actually more than enough.

Only in the ‘70s…

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I did not receive this film for review.  Clicking on it may earn me a commission.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #88: Hard Candy

How many good movies are out there that center around pedophiles … besides Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?  Few.  It is difficult to make a good movie about a pedophile because the subject matter is so loaded.  What if you make a movie about a pedophile who sets up an encounter with a teen girl in order to have sex with her, but she isn’t what he expected?  What if she, Ellen Page in this case, turns out to be the predator … and she’s really good at it?  Can you make a good movie about a pedophile then?  Yes.

Hard Candy is such a fun film to watch.  It turns viewers’ expectations on their head as it presents a pedophile (or at very least an ephebophiliac, though an assertion is made that he may be a pedophile, so I will stick with that) as someone you may actually have some (but very little) sympathy for as he is seemingly tortured.  That’s a real fine balancing act to pull off effectively.  Too far in one direction and you have what lazy critics call “torture porn.”  Too far in the other direction and you have a creepy movie about a sympathetic pedophile.  Director David Slade and writer Brian Nelson walk that high wire the entire running length.  They understand the danger they have placed the plot in, and they give the audience credit for being intelligent enough to see what they are doing.  In that sense, Hard Candy becomes an act of trust between the filmmakers and audience, while the entire film itself is based around lies (a pedophile who lies to lure a teenage girl to his home, and a teenage girl who pretends to be a victim).  Once you start delving into the implications presented in the picture it is hard to dismiss it as a mere thriller.

I have heard it asked how such a young girl (she is 14 in the film) can outwit a grown man who has obviously partaken in such acts before.  There are, of course, a thousand different answers that can be given, but I think one that hasn’t been discussed much is that even as teenagers, girls are very aware of their sexuality, even moreso than boys, who are controlled by their own sexual urges and have little in the way of understanding them.  Girls realize the control their sexuality has over others.  Really intelligent girls know how to use this to their full advantage, and men often underestimate this skill despite the fact that they curse it so much instead of respecting it.  When it comes to sex, few men ever make it out of their teenage years, while teenage girls are forced to grow up faster.  They know what those leers mean and those “accidental” touches indicate.  That is how Page’s character pulled it off.  She knew what drove men … especially men turned on by teenage girls.  Watch any episode of To Catch a Predator, which is really nothing more than pedophilia you can feel good about, and you will see the same ideas in action.  Men will travel hours, ignoring every sign that says he is about to be entrapped, simply because of the promise of a sexual encounter with a girl.  Most men are controlled by sex plain and simple.

Hard Candy is not a disturbing film.  In fact, it is quite tame.  (And, let’s be honest, the writer and director could have made this even more of moral swamp to drown in, but decided to let the audience off easy.)  Almost all of the damage done to the pedophile, played well by Patrick Wilson, is psychological … until the end at least.  If it were remade today, one has no doubt that would be remedied … and the film would then fall off that high wire I mentioned earlier.  As it stands, it is a subtle and smart commentary on the notion of victims, predators and prey, and what it means to be any of those things.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me a commission. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #89: Akira

Akira is the most beautiful anime film I have ever seen.  The animation in it is so well-done that at times I forgot it wasn’t a live action feature.  That alone would be enough to get it on this list, as visually it is unlike any other animated film, but the story is also quite unique and ranks up there with the best in science fiction … even though it ultimately fails.

The movie is based on a manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed the film (at his insistence in order to keep creative control).  It concerns a teenage member of a biker gang with psychic powers who releases a terrible force (Akira) upon the world while his fellow bikers and the Japanese government attempt to stop him.  It is far more in-depth than that, but you really must see it to believe it.  Understand, however, that this is not an anime film for children, and it earns its R rating.  It is violent and intellectually stimulating, but it is also very flawed, as Otomo himself has stated.

The manga this film is based on is amazing.  It is over 2,000 pages of pure, dystopian science fiction that fully realizes Otomo’s vision.  The film, however, due to time restraints and whatnot, loses well over half of what happens in the manga, and has an ending that leaves viewers scratching their heads.  At that point the film and the manga seem like two entirely different creatures, and it is what ultimately makes the film feel as if it failed on one level, even though the movie was actually finished before the manga was completed.  Regardless, everything prior to that ending is a well-realized vision that has inspired films like The Matrix for obvious reasons.

Anime has tackled serious subjects, a fact non-fans may have a hard time accepting.  To them I offer this film.  The issues it presents are mature and done in such a way as to open up many debates.  Chiefly: What does it mean to be God?  How far should a government go to protect its people?  How far should people go to protect themselves?

Heady stuff for a cartoon, but no one will mistake it for Disney.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #90: Heckler

I bought Heckler (2007) on a whim because the documentary, which was an examination of hecklers and how comedians deal with them, sounded interesting … and it was three bucks and 99 cents.  I liked a lot of the comedians (Lewis Black, David Cross, Bill Hicks, Bill Maher to name a select few) in the film, too, and I appreciate some of star Jamie Kennedy’s comedy.  I figured I couldn’t go wrong.  What I got was so much more than I anticipated, however.

I’ve written about this film before.  What seems like a simple look at the role of hecklers in a comedian’s life actually becomes a much deeper exploration of the role of the critic versus the role of the artist or entertainer.  As I’ve worn both shoes, I found the film to be equally fascinating and depressing, and it caused me to examine some of what I had written in the past about certain performers.  The film was as surprising as it was vexing … and it was only vexing because it was right.

Heckler went straight to DVD, and critics and their criticisms were as to be expected.  I think some critics took the film a bit personally, however, while others did some awkward backhanded compliments, almost as if they could not give a decent review to anything starring Jamie Kennedy.  I also think many of those critics not only missed the point, but inadvertently ended up proving it. 

As a documentary on heckling, it may have seemed like it fell kind of flat because it appeared that its focus shifted.  If you believe that, though, you aren’t paying attention.  When Kennedy takes on the critics, he is pointing out that what they are doing is just another form of heckling … only they are safe behind a keyboard.  It also shows that Kennedy is perhaps deeper than anyone cared to credit him with, and those things are what make this film worth viewing.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #91: Wicked City

Within the opening minutes of the 1987 anime Wicked City (Yôjû Toshi), a man and woman have sex and the woman turns into this spider-like thing with a fang-filled, gaping maw vagina.  Things get weirder from there.

I am not the world’s biggest anime fan.  I find it hard to connect with the films on many levels, but when it is done well it is unlike any kind of animated or live action film out there.  This one falls into that category, though it didn’t get the best reviews when first released.

The Black World and our world have an agreement to co-exist in peace, and when the time comes to renew this pact, a militant group wants to ensure that a new treaty will not be agreed upon.  Two Black Guards are enlisted to see to it that the agreement is seen through without a hitch, but nothing really goes as planned, and the man they have been tasked with protecting, the powerful Mayart, ends up saving them … and that’s when we learn all is not as it seems.  Of course not. 

The film, which features copious amounts of sex, rape and other violence, has been called misogynistic, sadistic and brutal.  That’s partially true.  It’s also imaginative and disturbing in a way few other animes have ever achieved.  It took chances that panned out and made for a captivating movie. 

Interestingly enough, this movie, which was also known as Supernatural Beast City, was also made into a live action feature which differed from the animated one on many levels, though it was still fun to watch.

I don’t have many animes on my 100 Favorites list, but this one has earned its place here.  It may be dark and a bit nasty, but it sure as heck beats the crap Disney keeps vomiting forth year after year.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review. Clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #92: The Gates of Hell

The first Lucio Fulci film I saw was 1980's The Gates of Hell (a.k.a City of the Living Dead).  I had read about it in Fangoria, so I thought I knew what to expect.  I was, as I sometimes am, wrong.

As with any Fulci film, The Gates of Hell’s plot is a bit … abstract.  What you need to know is that a priest in Dunwich (Lovecraft, anyone?) hangs himself and opens up the Gates of Hell with his suicide.  Zombies with some pretty strange powers are then let loose upon the town.  Later, a reporter who is investigating what is happening in Dunwich, finds out that this is all part of a prophecy, and he and a psychic then try to put an end to the horror.

The film was banned in Germany and was cut in England due to scenes such as a head getting drilled and a woman throwing up her intestines.  The intestines, it should be noted, weren’t fake.  They were really sheep intestines that she had in her mouth and had to actually vomit forth, though a fake head was used for close-ups.  And they say DeNiro gets in character.  I don’t think he ever puked up animal guts.  Live maggots were used for a rain scene, as well, but that hardly matters after putting sheep parts in one’s mouth.

The movie is not what I’d call a “great” film, but it is a fun one full of Fulci moments of head scratching madness.   It nearly left me in a state of awe, as it was so obvious this was not the product of an American mind.  It was horror that could only come from some sort of deranged foreign maestro.  Would George Romero think of using teleporting zombies?  No, and that is what makes this film so crazy.  The unthinkable is thought and done. 

The Gates of Hell, as it was released in America and how I fondly remember it as, is a work of flawed genius, but I guarantee you haven’t seen anything quite like it.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review, and clicking on a link may earn me some dough.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #93: Voodoo Rhythm -- The Gospel of Primitive Rock 'n' Roll

As far as music documentaries go, Voodoo Rhythm: The Gospel of Primitive Rock ‘n’ Roll is one of those that must be watched before you die if you like music that is outside the norm.  It did something that music documentaries often fail at: it gave me new insight into its subject matter.  More on that further in.

I reviewed this film for Film Threat some time ago, and interviewed the director, M.A. Littler, about it on the same site for my Excess Hollywood column.  That’s how much I enjoyed the film.  I did not say it was without its faults (namely that it could isolate those who don’t like the types of music the Voodoo Rhythm record label provides), and I stand by that assertion.  To let something like that keep you away from it is a crime, however, especially if you consider yourself open-minded when it comes to music.
For some history, Voodoo Rhythm is out of Switzerland and puts out the most eclectic sounds you could imagine.  One man bands.  Swamp rock.  Pure rock ‘n’ roll.  Funeral music.  Blues.  Zydeco.  Country.  Many of the genres are primarily considered American, but most of the bands on the label aren’t from America.  Because of that, you get an almost magical take on the music … something that has been lost by a lot of our bands over here, and this film documents just what makes these bands and Voodoo Rhythm special.     

Littler took a small label with not enough followers, and captured its spirit on film.  When I saw this feature, I was already a fan of these acts and the label, but I knew little about either or the man behind the label, Reverend Beat Man.  Voodoo Rhythm helped change that.   If anything, Littler helped make me an even bigger fan.  I don’t know if I can say that about any other music documentary, as those are rarely filled with new information for fans.  Perhaps you’ll find out that your favorite singer has a love of toast or something, but for the most part you know all the key points because you’ve learned about them elsewhere.  Voodoo Rhythm, on the other hand, had very little written about it in America other than some reviews.  Until this documentary, all my info came from Beat Man in e-mails or his bombastic press releases.  This film opened up the story, and that’s why it is one of my favorite films of all time. 

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did receive this film for review many moons ago.  If you click on a link, I may earn some cash. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #94: The Sinful Dwarf

If you’ve seen The Sinful Dwarf you haven’t forgotten it.  The 1973 Danish film starred Torben Bille as Olaf, a sick little man who lives with his alcoholic, ex-showbiz mother in a boarding house they own.  When he’s not hobbling around playing with toys, he’s luring attractive young women to the house where they are abducted, chained up in the attic, injected with heroin and turned into prostitutes.  Oh yeah, Olaf and mommy also smuggle heroin via a toy store.

Did I mention that Bille was apparently a host for a children’s television program prior to this and then later worked in the adult film industry?  Yeah, it’s a creepy movie.

The regular version of the film, with some of the strangest opening credits ever, is bad enough to watch.  The XXX version has about four minutes of hardcore sex scenes thrown in to amp up that perv factor to the nth degree.  That said, chances are that if you have masturbated to this film, you’ve probably committed some sort of sex crime.  I don’t think many would disagree.

From all reports, this film did very little business when first released in its native land.  Danes apparently have some sort of aversion to a drooling dwarf sodomizing women with his cane.  I, however, have no such qualms and relish this film just for its utter insanity.  It is such a product of its time that it couldn’t have been made in any other era than the early ‘70s. 

You could go your entire life not seeing this movie and not a thing will change for you.  Life is so short, however, and there are so many films out there that are just more of the same.  Boring comedies.  By-the-numbers action flicks.  Another Resident Evil.  Why not see this one?  I guarantee you can use it as a conversation starter at your next mixer.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film for review, and clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #95: Zombie

Zombi 2 was released as Zombie in America.  The 1979 film is not, however, a sequel to Zombi, which was the overseas title for Dawn of the Dead.  It also went by Island of the Living Dead, Zombie Island, Woodoo, and Zombie Flesh-Eaters.  Confused yet?  Don’t be.   Lucio Fulci’s film is a classic of zombie cinema and it is so over the top that it has inspired bands and has had scenes used in commercials.  What would expect from a movie whose tagline is “We Are Going to Eat You”?

The movie opens with an apparently abandoned yacht showing up in a New York harbor.  There’s really a zombie aboard, however, and it kills a cop.  Soon after the attack, the daughter of the yacht’s owner and a reporter are on their way to an island to find out just how all this happened.  It turns out that the island’s dead are zombies and after surviving their onslaught, the two take a zombie back to New York to prove their story.  It’s a little too late, however.  The cop who was attacked has turned into a zombie himself and the undead are taking a chunk out of the Big Apple.

The film has two really memorable scenes.  The first is an underwater piece where a zombie fights a shark.  No.  You didn’t read that wrong.  It’s a pretty cool moment in zombie cinema history.  The other scene involves a woman who is attacked by zombies who are beating their way through a door to get at her.  One zombie grabs the back of her head through a hole in the door and slowly starts to pull her toward him.  The problem?  There’s a massive splinter pointed right at her eye.  The ensuing eyeball violence is as disgusting as it is tension filled.

Fulci is no stranger to horror films, and this is Fulci at the peak of his game.  From the opening shots of the zombie on the yacht to the hordes of undead in New York, this movie does almost everything right.  Yeah, it is corny in places and the acting is what you’d expect from a Fulci film, but he is considered a master for a reason.  If you are a zombie fan (and these days it is the in thing to be – like eating organic and being bisexual), and you haven’t seen this … well, you aren’t really a zombie fan.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review, and if you click on a link I may earn a commission.

Friday, November 16, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #96: Hostel

Hostel.  Just that very title has probably made some of you groan.  Torture porn.  Homophobic.  Juvenile.  Gross.  Those are just a few of the words and phrases some critics, many of them lazy, used to describe it.  I’ve written about torture porn quite a bit, but let me comment once again on the phrase and how it is used with this film.

Torture porn implies a film is made to get audiences off on the violence.  It’s an unoriginal phrase used to dismiss a movie out of hand.  When it came to Eli Roth’s 2006 film, it was done with the same intent and it was the go-to term for critics too uninspired to come up with their own ideas on it.  The fact of the matter is that Hostel is a good film that is far deeper than many people give it credit for, and that could be because of the way it was hyped.

Roth and executive producer Quentin Tarantino played up the film old-school exploitation style.  (I have no doubt that the other executive producer, Scott Spiegel, had a hand in that decision making process, too.)  It was getting banned.  It was too gruesome for theatres.  So on and so forth.  Classic exploitation.  Many of the critics who tackled the movie weren’t even old enough to be aware of the exploitation tactics of yesteryear, and far fewer are educated in the history of film.  That was readily apparent in some of the reviews that surfaced.  To their credit, however, it looked like a film that would be easy to dismiss.

The plot reads like a groaner.  Two young American males and a male foreign friend are backpacking across Europe.  Actually, they’re drinking, drugging and fucking their way across Europe.  You know, acting like college kids from America tend to act when they are away from home – the ugly Americans.  When they meet a peer who tells them of a hostel in Slovakia where the women just love boys like them, they are on their way before you can say “erection.”  What they don’t realize is that they have stepped into a place where the elite from around the world pay good money to have their way with people, and these three young, dumb and full of cum tourists have been sold to the highest bidder.  Let the torture begin.

If you haven’t seen the film, that synopsis won’t make you rush out to watch it.  In fact, you’re probably thinking, “How isn’t this torture porn?”  If that’s all the story was, I’d have a hard time defending it.  But it is what is being said with the story that elevates this movie beyond the tired torture porn label.

First and foremost, something that oozes out of every frame is the notion of excess, the aforementioned ugly American and arrogance.  Americans can act however they want wherever they are.  The world is ours to do with what we want, and we have a privileged birthright.  The story starts with those ugly Americans, but it ends with capitalism (a theme explored at greater length in the sequel) showing that country of origin means jack shit when you got green.  You are a commodity, and no amount of John Wayne entitlement swagger and self-righteous ignorance is going to save you.  That was so obvious I was surprised some critics missed it.  They may have been too worried about the film’s supposed homophobia to care, however.

“Homophobic” is a term often used to define Roth and his films, including Hostel.  I don’t know Roth, so I can’t speak to whether or not he is homophobic.  I’d say he’s probably more ignorant than homophobic if you are to use his films as a guideline, but, again, I don’t know him. In this film, the characters call each other “fag.”  They react poorly when a strange man on a train touches one of their knees.  And by “react poorly,” I mean just that.  They don’t bash the guy.  They are surprised and maybe disgusted, though the one whose knee was touched later shares a nice moment with the same man outside a bar.  That scene is neglected by writers who attack the film for its supposed homophobia.  I wonder why?

Roth has said the dialogue he writes for these characters is how young people talk.  Granted, not all young people talk this way, but enough of them do.  Ryan Wilson II wrote a piece on about this very issue.  In it he states, “You are not supposed to cater to an audience what people do in ‘real life.’ A movie is fake; it's a representation. The dialogue in the movie does not at all represent the way we talk. All this combined is supposed to help whatever point you're trying to promote. Whatever your heroes do in the movie, endorses a set of views. You are in charge of everything in your movie, from the things the characters say to what they wear. If you are not careful, you may be saying something you never meant to say.” A filmmaker can cater to whatever he or she wants, and if you want to make a film feel more realistic, one of the ways you do that is through dialogue.  Wilson states that the dialogue is not the way “we” talk.  I don’t talk that way, but people do.  Adults and kids.  Roth is portraying that in this film, and no matter how many letters people write to Fangoria, he has a right to do that.  I wouldn’t call Roth homophobic based on the content of this film or any of his films.  His defense of the use of the term “fag” has been less-than-stellar, which leads me to believe his crime is ignorance rather than homophobia, but really, should he be made to defend this?  It is a fictional film with characters speaking as some people speak.  Is this a viable criticism to be launched at directors, or have people gotten so sensitive to certain issues that the use of realistic dialogue in a film warrants concern?  Perhaps I’d be less inclined to dismiss this if other directors were being taken to task over similar concerns.  As it stands, the accusations seem less about homophobia and more about Roth.

Hostel and Roth both rubbed people the wrong way for a multitude of reasons.  It got so bad that it was hard to tell if the poor reviews were due to the film or the fact that Roth was making movies.  When I would defend it to people, I would be met with grief much of the time.  The common refrain would be, “You are reading too much into it.”  Perhaps the problem was that they were reading the wrong things into it; people’s reaction to the film tends to say more about them then it does the work.  You can see John Carpenter’s The Thing and think it’s a monster movie, or you could say it’s a monster movie that has something to say about the paranoia of the Reagan years.  Much of it is perspective.

Few films that year polarized critics like this one, and I find that kind of refreshing.  It opened up dialogues on horror, homophobia and, in some circles, the nature of money and the behavior of Americans abroad.  Unfortunately, the horror and homophobia crowded out far too much of the underlying social messages about money and the ugly American concept.  Say what you will, but Roth wanted to create a movie that people saw and talked about, and he succeeded … and maybe that is why so many critics damned him for it. 

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review, but if you click on a link I may earn some money so that I can bid on people to torture.


Monday, September 10, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #97: Fahrenheit 9/11

Damning George Bush Jr. was something at which Michael Moore excelled.  When he spewed it all out on film, you got Fahrenheit 9/11.  Bowling for Columbine may have given Republicans fits, but this film put them firmly into stroke country.

Moore’s film is all about taking the Bush administration and the media to task for a presidency and war  (and a war on terror) that Moore felt was false and dangerous.  Disney tried to stop the film.  It got out.  Some reporters claimed there were distortions of truth.  Moore cited his sources.  Republicans claimed it was biased.  The rest of the world answered with, “Duh.”   Moore used the words and actions of the media, politicians and U.S. soldiers to get his point across, and in doing so created what was at the time (and still may be) the highest grossing documentary ever created. 

If there is a problem that plagues this film, it is a problem suffered by most documentaries of any worth  – they preach to the converted.  Republicans weren’t going to this movie and coming out changed people.  They weren’t going to this movie, period.  At the 2004 Cannes Film Festival it received a 20 minute standing ovation.  That didn’t come from conservatives … at least not American conservatives.  (Conservatives overseas are not of the pro-American ilk.)  It also didn’t come from people whose eyes were opened by it.  It came from people who already believed what Moore had on screen and who were happy he was able to present it the way he did.  I am one of them, though I wasn’t at Cannes.

Moore’s film have caused him to suffer from the usual attacks, whether it was the class-baiting look at his net worth, the juvenile digs on his weight, or the more justified questions on his use of facts.  Some even used the fact that it was pirated in Cuba against him, as if he had some control over that.  It was, as expected, a feeding frenzy on Moore.

I can’t think of any other documentary in history that has won so much acclaim and enraged so many at the same time.  If that alone was its claim to fame, it wouldn’t be making my list.  The fact that it did that and is actually a great film is what put it here.  His latest documentaries may not be making the same impression upon me, but this one is gold.


Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  If you click on a link I may earn a commission.

Friday, August 24, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #98: Unforgiven

 I find most modern westerns to be frightfully boring, though they are our version of the samurai movie.  As a child, however, I enjoyed Clint Eastwood in his Sergio Leone films.  I was introduced to them by my father, and while the complexities of the stories and characters never entered into my young mind, watching them again as an adult made me realize that my younger self was onto something.  Those films stand apart from other westerns and my admiration for them did not carry over to other films in the genre.  Then came Unforgiven.

I’ve written about this film before.  If you’ve seen it, you know it is one amazing piece of work.  It is a bit slow in places, but this is purposeful.  What you are witnessing is a slow boiling pot, and these days audiences aren’t used to that sort of thing.  When this movie reaches its boiling point it becomes a harrowing and very realistic portrayal of the nature of violence and man.  In that sense, this film becomes almost an extension, a natural progression even, of the Leone works.  Eastwood’s character has a name now, though that doesn’t matter.  The life he is leading at the beginning of the film is the one he could easily be leading after those Italian masterpieces.  The place he ends up, though, puts him right back to where he started, and it is amazing.  He may not be as comfortable on a horse, but he knows his way around a gun.

Eastwood’s film, which won multiple Oscars, is dedicated to Leone.  That dedication couldn’t be more fitting, and if no other western were ever made, this would be an excellent last word on the genre both symbolically and artistically.  After viewing it I had to ask myself, “Where else does this genre have to go?”  Nowhere.  Unforgiven was the journey and the destination.   It almost makes you feel bad for anyone foolish enough to even try making a western now.  Maybe in another few decades something will come along to challenge this, but I think it is highly unlikely this will be unseated as the king of westerns any time soon.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film for review purposes.  Clicking on a link could earn me a fistful of dollars.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #99: Bowling For Columbine

Bowling For Columbine is not about guns, but I believe when Michael Moore started making it he thought it would be. Make no mistake, guns definitely play a role in the film, but they are the symptom of what Moore paints as America’s bigger problem: fear.

In full disclosure, I will state I don’t support gun control. I don’t think that is any kind of answer to the problems in America. I also enjoy most of Michael Moore’s work, though I sometimes find it off-base. Not this film, though.

If there is one thing that could have been done better in Moore’s film it would be that he should have went into even more depth on the nature of fear, what it does to people, and how it is used by institutions to control a populace. Fear sells. Fear works. The news media knows it. Governments, religions and schools use it. When Moore managed to capture this in his film (though in a fairly slight way compared to how it works in the real world), he touched upon something most of mainstream liberal America never even thought about themselves. Not only were they victims of it, but they used it, too. And they used it just as well as their friends on the Right. Few would ever admit that, though.

Columbine’s mass school shooting may have inspired Moore, but he’s always been a muckraker. When the Right called “foul” before it saw the film and said it was about the evils of the gun and would push the nation toward greater gun control, it played right into the director’s message. It was one of those moments that defined irony. Moore may not be for everyone, and the way his message got across may rub people the wrong way, but that doesn’t negate it.

Documentaries are powerful when done correctly. This film was done correctly and on such a grand-yet-primal scale that it is impossible to come out of the theatre without thinking about it, and I have yet to hear an effective argument against Moore’s thesis that America runs on fear. Brilliant.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me cash.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time #100: Opera

There is a reason why Dario Argento is considered one of the more influential directors of our time. There’s also a reason why the general American movie audience hasn’t recognized him as such. That would be Opera.

Opera is not the best Argento film, but it does exemplify the problems the director has in reaching American moviegoers. An Argento film is more a nightmare than a narrative. He understands the beauty of violence, and he isn’t afraid to make a film feel disjointed in order to get his point across. There is no hand holding, and he often seems to care more about a shot than a plot. When you watch this film as an Argento fan, you are aware of all these things, and if you understand that, you are a bit in awe because what you are seeing is so symbolic and has so much depth to it (much like another of my favorite films of his, The Stendhal Syndrome) that once you are done watching it you can’t help but be impressed by what it has done. Unfortunately, to get there, you have to really be involved in the film, and you have to process what you are seeing … and then you have to remember it. This is not the type of thing the average movie viewer is going to invest time in doing, especially when they think they are watching a standard horror movie, which is what this seems like at first.

The plot is of the stalker/slasher variety. Getting to its conclusion, however, is like boarding a thrill ride designed and run by bath salt addicts. Witness the bullet through the door scene that is so genius that it really must be seen to be believed. Marvel in the film’s iconic shot as the young star is forced to watch a murder. And how is she “forced” into such a situation? She has rows of needles taped under each eye so that to blink brings pain. It’s an iconic image that is often used to sell the film. It is sublime. All of this was incredible, but it only works as a whole if, as I mentioned before, you were really paying attention because unlike the run-of-the-mill slasher film, this has some very heavy messages about violence and sexuality behind it.

I was swept up in this film’s insanity. I also recognized its faults … and promptly ignored them. I watched this already familiar with Argento and his work, and knew what to expect. As usual with Argento’s films, I was enthralled by the violence that appeared before me. The murderer was putting on his show … his own opera, and we, the viewers, were forced to watch. Film lovers got it. Directors got it. The casual viewing audience considered it a toss-off … some with valid reasons. Others had the standard Argento complaint of: “I just don’t get it.” What they didn’t get was that you are meant to experience this film as Betty, the film’s main character. In that sense, it works amazingly well … and it doesn't need to tape needles under your eyes to get you there.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link may earn me a commission.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My 100 Favorite Films of All Time

I am tackling a project on here that I've been thinking about for some time. My 100 favorite films. Not the 100 best films. My favorite films ... a list that is constantly evolving. It wasn't easy to come up with them, and I'm sure the list is going to cause some people to wonder not only about my mental state but also how the hell I ever got to get paid for film reviews. The films that will be on this list are ones I love for many different reasons. There are quite a few I had on it originally that I took off once I thought of a film I liked more. If you ask me in a year or so if this list holds up, I would say it does, but there would be more to be added. The list won't be in any particular order. The number one film won't be my absolute favorite (or maybe it will be). I find that film really changes by genre. It will, however, represent a fairly accurate picture of the kinds of films I like and what makes me appreciate a movie. And it will start with the next post ...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Torturing a Teenage Girl (Or How I Spent My Summer Vacation)

How do you sit and watch a film like The Girl Next Door?  You most likely know what it is about going into it (a young girl is held captive by her aunt and cousins and then tortured and sexually assaulted, often while her younger sister is forced to watch – based on a true story, by the way).  If you read the book, you have an even better idea of what you are in for before the first frame of film hits your eyes.  Are you expecting to enjoy it?  Are you expecting to be repulsed?  Are you expecting to be turned on?

This is a rough film.  Any film where a teenage girl gets her clitoris burned off with a blow torch is going to be unpleasant to watch.  If you aren’t some deviant, you feel for the girl.  You feel for the boy who is trying to do the right thing.  You don’t wish for bad to happen, but you don’t turn away, either.  This was done deliberately in the book.  Author Jack Ketchum wanted the readers to be implicated in the crimes, too, and it worked.  You kept turning pages, though you didn’t want to.  You kept reading, and with this film you keep watching.

To call the film “good” or “bad” misses the point.  It really can’t be judged in such a way.  It is a competent film that does its job.  Is it worth watching?  Of course.  It won’t make you feel good, though.  You won’t turn it off with a spring in your step.  In fact, you may sit numb for a while, mentally digesting that which should not be digested. 

I could go on about moral problems and how to deal with them.  How do you do the right thing when everyone around you is doing wrong?  That’s what this film asks.  That’s too easy, though.  I’d rather ask: How can you sit and watch this?  What is going through your head when you are watching a young girl stripped naked?  What do you think when you see her parched lips?  Would you take a turn with her, swimming in your brother’s sloppy seconds?  Maybe not, but you are watching.  You can’t take your eyes off the screen.  You can’t look away.  What are you thinking?  That’s what I want to know.  Me?  What was I thinking?  Nothing out of the ordinary, really.  My faith in humanity is pretty low.  This movie only reinforced those thoughts.  People, when given the chance, will revert to animals.  They will string you up and have their way with you.  There’s no honor in it.  There’s not even shame.  They are beneath such things.  They don’t know they exist.  The groupthink is too strong.  The will to hurt and punish unhindered clouds all vision.  It takes a special type of movie to convey that in a meaningful way, and this one does it.  I’d advise you to stay away, but by now you’ve already made your choice.  What, however, did you choose?

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive this film to review.  Clicking on a link earns me some cash and may make you a deviant.