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Strange Things Are Afoot, 19 November 2017

A magician in a carnival -- who actually can read minds and levitate people and objects -- works with a super-intelligent chimp named Alex, who can also talk.

Whether this is a bad movie or a so-bad-it-is-good movie will be up to the viewer to decide. I mean, either way we have to all agree it is pretty bad, right? But it does have a certain charm.

The "talking" ape is bizarre, because he basically just grunts and says nothing of value. There is a creepy 40-year old man who sexually assaults a teenage girl... and the next day she announces to her father that they are getting married. What? There is a mad scientist with s poorly dubbed German accent. Why? And a dead wife who is never fully explained.

Visconti, 14 November 2017

Having recently been uprooted to Milan, Rocco (Alain Delon) and his four brothers each look for a new way in life when a prostitute (Annie Girardot) comes between Rocco and his brother Simone (Renato Salvatori).

Censors demanded that four scenes be cut or the film would be confiscated and the producer prosecuted; however, after negotiations, producer Goffredo Lombardo agreed to darken the critical scenes within the film with filters; two of these darkened scenes were omitted entirely.

This attempt at censorship may be the most interesting part of the film. Yes, it is celebrated. Yes, Roger Ebert loved it. And it is certainly worthy of praise. But it does run long and is not overly interesting. A great film from a technical standpoint, but not particularly entertaining.

Zoologiya (2016)
Tverdovsky: Kafka Meets Cronenberg, 11 November 2017

A middle-aged zoo worker Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova) still lives with her mother in a small coastal town. She is stuck and it seems that life has no surprises for her until one day she grows a tail and turns her life around.

The first thing this film does right relates to the tail that Natasha grows and how it remains unexplained by the film in general or by the medical professionals she visits in particular. In fact, the doctors do not even seem all that surprised by the appendage when it surely is the only time they had seen such a thing. One doctor briefly says something like, "Oh, I see" before continuing on with his day without missing a beat.

The setting is also wisely chosen as we have a community that accepts witchcraft over rational explanation. In most places, a tail might be seen as a medical oddity, or something to be gawked at, but not the sign of devil worship. Rural Russia, at least as it is presented here, is quite the interesting place. And indeed the country is rife with superstitions, far more than in the United States. For example, they say unmarried people should not sit at the corner of the table as this will lead them to become spinsters. Nonsense? Not to many Russians. So seeing the devil in an extra appendage may not be out of the question.

Critic Jessica Kiang says the director "overloads his simple, provocative premise with too many clashing ideas, which blunts its potential impact and obscures its message". And multiple reviewers have commented on how Natasha sees too much of her self-worth through the eyes of her beau. This, they say, ruins any uplifting or individualistic message the film might have. But perhaps these reviewers are missing the point? Is it necessary for the film to be uplifting or liberating? It may, in fact, be a stark realism we are given — with the conceit being the tail of course. One might find it perfectly natural to express more self-esteem when loved and then later be disheartened when you find the love was misplaced. Not all movies must have a happy ending or be so neat.

The same can be said for the message being obscured. Perhaps the message is that there is no message. Yes, the tail could be an allegory for something in Russian society… but sometimes a tail is just a tail. A film can be simple and be exactly what it presents itself to be. And this is not the work of David Lynch. Anyone who claims to fully understand "Lost Highway" or "Mulholland Drive" is a liar; "Zoology" is neither of these, but a story that is as plain as the nose on one's face (or tail on one's coccyx).

The Arrow Films Blu-ray has a 12-minute interview with actor Dmitriy Groshev (who played the doctor), where he acknowledges the meaning of the film is hard to express. He also talks of the differences between Russian and English audiences, and how average Russians fear the idea of subtext. There is also a 24-minute video discussion with critic and Eastern Europe cinema expert Peter Hames about the latest breed of Russian directors.

Terrible or Not?, 11 November 2017

A mad doctor (Luis Aceves Castañeda) builds a robot in order to steal a valuable Aztec treasure from a tomb guarded by a centuries-old living mummy (Ángel Di Stefani).

The film is the sequel to "The Aztec Mummy" and "The Curse of the Aztec Mummy", both released earlier that year, and a large portion of the film consists of an extended recap of the first two entries in the series.

English-language dubbing rights were subsequently acquired by entrepreneur K. Gordon Murray, who distributed the film nationally in 1964, on a programmed double bill with "The Vampire's Coffin", as Young America Productions. Subsequently, he syndicated it to TV, as one in a package of dubbed Mexican horror films which eventually gained a following in the US by their appearance on the USA Cable Network.

Now, by all appearances this seems like a bad movie. And it probably is. But is it as bad as it appears? For one thing, most of the public domain versions look terrible, or at least some of the scenes do. Would a better print improve things slightly? Also, in America we have a dubbed version, so maybe some of the goofy line delivery is not really as over-acted as it sounds.

The Beginning, 11 November 2017

Town miser Gideon Hackles (Barnard Hughes) spends Halloween hiding IOU's in his house, which he then rigs as haunted and invites local kids to search for the IOU's so he can scare them. This year, he gets his comeuppance.

Exactly why "Tales From the Darkside" is not as celebrated today as "Tales From the Crypt" is beyond me. As a child, "Darkside" (and its successor "Monsters") were the far superior, scarier choices. Even the theme song is much more disturbing.

For this pilot episode, George A. Romero brought together an interesting crew. He co-wrote the script with Franco Amurri, who seems to makes only Italian television... with the exception of writing and directing "Monkey Trouble" (1994). In the director's chair is veteran actor Bob Balaban (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) making his directorial debut -- and he does a fine job!

Pretty Sily Stuff, 11 November 2017

Strategic targets on Earth are being destroyed by an unknown weapon. Government security head Henderson (Don Walters) suspects it's an "atomic ray" originating from the moon! This serial is heavily padded with rocket-suit effects footage first filmed for the earlier "King of the Rocket Men", to which some believe this was a pseudo-sequel. A repainted Juggernaut vehicle from the much-earlier "Undersea Kingdom" serial is also reused here as Retik's lunar tank. All spaceship footage was filmed new for the serial.

As silly as this serial is, it has successfully been influential on popular culture. I mean, "Commando Cody" is still remembered many decades later. And some say it was an influence on later films like "The Rocketeer" (though that is not confirmed to my knowledge).

More a Biopic Than a Noir, 9 November 2017

When Clementi Suborin is found murdered, his secretary recounts to the police the story of his rise from Czech refugee to ultra-rich New Yorker. The tale of betrayal, womanizing and fraud confirms that almost everyone who knew him wanted him dead.

"Death of a Scoundrel" is a fictionalized adaptation of the life and mysterious death of Serge Rubinstein. He was a stock and currency manipulator, a playboy, Café society denizen, convicted draft-evader and murder victim. I had never heard of hi, but now i want to know more.

The film is quite good, but somewhat misleading. It is presented as a film noir, but really is more of a biopic. Within the first minute or two we get a heinous murder, but the remainder never gets gritty like you would expect from the opening.

Borderline (2002) (TV)
Bland, 9 November 2017

During her divorce, Dr. Lila Coletti (Gina Gershon), a criminal psychiatrist, loses custody of her two daughters, partially because her job working with the criminally insane is dangerous.

This has everything necessary to be a good thriller. But yet, it just comes off as boring. Gershon's mouth is horribly distracting and Sean Patrick Flannery is a decent actor but such a horrible human being that it is hard to focus on his performance.

Most disturbing, this film takes its name from a classic film noir. Yet, it has no connection to it, makes no nod to it, and is a vastly inferior film.

Fun Little B-Film, 9 November 2017

A lawyer defends a migrant worker falsely accused of two murders.

What is interesting, first of all, is how the defendant is described as a "migrant worker". That is not incorrect, but I think perhaps the connotation in 1953 is different than in 2017, because now the term would almost exclusively be referring to a Latino employee. In fact, the United Nations defines a migrant worker as "a person who is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national." This, more often than not, would be Mexican farmhands in the case of the United States.

Anyway, the film is quite good. I don't know if it was a feature or a B-movie, as it does give the impression of not having big names attached and perhaps a smaller budget. But for entertainment purposes and a but of suspense, it does the job. In retrospect, it also serves as a great example of early work from director Don Siegel.

Radius (2017)
16 out of 35 people found the following review useful:
Excellent Concept, Strong Execution, 8 November 2017

Liam (Diego Klattenhoff, star of TV's "The Blacklist") wakes from a car crash with no memory of who he is. As he makes his way into town to look for help, he finds only dead bodies, all with strange pale eyes. Liam's first assessment is that a virus is present in the air, but he soon discovers the horrible truth.

This film was born with Fantasia's Frontières Market serving as midwife way back in 2012. Other great films in recent years that came out of this process are "Turbo Kid", "The Void" and "Raw", so the track record is rather strong. (The late George Romero's "Road of the Dead" most recently went through the market and may arrive in 2018.) A few producers were attached and dropped out along the way (hence the multi-year genesis), but ultimately everything worked out.

At first, I thought that perhaps the creators give too much away in their plot description (which I have shortened) and title, but this turns out not to be the case. While the viewer will be more rewarded the less they know going in, the cause of death is only the first in a series of surprises and twists. A far more interesting one awaits.

It cannot be overstated how absolutely wonderful this original concept is. Allegedly, it was inspired in part by the style and format of "Oldboy" (which is not at all obvious) mixed with the plot of an old Superman comic. There are mild horror elements, mixed in with an overall science fiction or supernatural premise. When we find out about the memory of the Santa beard, a mystery element is added. And still further the constant police chase adds an action element, making this a hard film to categorize (other than it is not much of a western or romance!).

The production value is clearly high, and the cinematography from Simon Villeneuve is rich and gorgeous. Charlotte Sullivan's acting seems a little too rehearsed, a little tense and unrealistic. This is a shame, really, because according to her, she approached the role as though she were Kim Novak in "Vertigo" or some other Hitchcock tale, which seems like a strong mindset to use. Diego Klattenhoff hits it out of the park, however. While his character's history and motives are constantly under question, Klattenhoff plays Liam with such warmth that we cannot help but side with him as he goes through this ordeal.

While it is hard to review this film without giving away too much, it really is a must-see. An official selection of FrightFest, Fantastic Fest, and Fantasia Film Festival, everyone else gets to finally see it available on VOD on November 10, 2017. Courtesy of Epic Pictures, the fine folks who gave us "Turbo Kid" and "Tales of Halloween".

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