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Review restricted to a couple observations
10 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I consider this film wonderful, and any praise I have for it has already been said, and recognized, on this excellent thread of reviews. However...

A couple of observations of this film's brilliant sense of detail I have to mention. The first is a case of what I think is mistaken interpretation.

Much has been said about the colour saturation of the flashbacks, compared to the contemporary storyline (dull grey compared to vibrant) and I have to respectfully disagree. I think this is based on a certain, strikingly done, sequence.

I experienced a three-quarters eclipse here in Montreal, during the 1990s. That eerie, other-worldly cast of colour on the world was like nothing I've seen ever since. Except in "Dolores Claibourne"! That sense of colour, during the "murder sequence", was the work of an art director who has seen an eclipse and registered its exact look, and recreated it precisely for this movie., with a perfect sense of colour.

What has been praised as the symbolic was, in fact, a brilliant approximation of a visual reality rarely seen.

My other observation, much more modest, is how people tend to absorb the speech patterns, and witticisms, of those most important in one's life. Notice Vera saying Dolores "has a hair across her ass" -- guess whose repertoire that expression came from. Then, notice how many of Dolores's big statements are essentially paraphrases of Vera's grand bon mots from the past, as we find out in flashbacks. ("Sometimes all a woman has left is being a bitch...")

A huge part of these women's unlikely friendship is a mutual intellectual fascination.
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They Wait (2007)
Vancouver ghost story is a real gem!
31 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A young Canadian, mixed-race family (he's Asian, she's Euro, and they have a westernized 11-year-old) have their prosperous life in go-go modernday Shanghai interrupted by a mysterious family death back home. This takes them back to Vancouver's Chinatown, where they experience culture shock in reverse. The couple find themselves at odds over the very cultural pressures they once fled, while their little boy, a born psychic like his denying mother, finds himself the innocent target of malevolent spirits. From there the terror mounts.

An extremely well mounted and well written supernatural thriller, both quietly eerie and scream-inducing horrific. Believable characters (nothing "Cleavers" about this troubled but loving couple) and no cheap thrills -- any horror moments are clearly explained in this one, as part of its intricate plot. Sometimes to a fault -- the odd snatch of dialogue is a bit too explanatory -- but it feels like a great horror director hit-and-missing at a great skill, in his movies to come.

Another great treat of this film is spotting those wonderful older Chinese character actors, whom I've seen around for years, doing their "Rosemary's Baby" turn as fabulously diabolical oldtimers.
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Exquisite sleaze
14 December 2006
1971's "Doctors' Wives" is a piece of vintage garbage I've waited decades to see, and it's every bit as splendidly awful as I've long anticipated. This is a sterling example of big budget Hollywood trying to keep up with the hippy era sex revolution, while appealing to suburban Squaresville tastes, and the results are as unappetising as walking in on your parents in the backroom at a leather bar. In other words, it's a vulgar abomination, and required viewing.

"God, am I horny!" announces Dyan Cannon, providing the film's tasteful opening line. She's the resident nympho of the wives in question, and they're playing bridge at their country club. She tells her neurotic rich cronies that, as a public service, she's going to sleep with every last one of their husbands, and report back to them exactly what they're doing wrong in bed. Hours later she's shot dead, while caught in the act with the first of her conquests. The conquest survives, and we're treated to endless and nauseating footage of real life open heart surgery, as the character has the bullet graphically dug out of him. This, of course, was shocking stuff for an early 70s mainstream movie, and its blatantly exploitational marketing gimmick. The rest of the film is exactly the kind of glossy soap opera that starred the likes of Lana Turner a decade earlier, but overlaid with grimy layer of smut. Not much genuine sex and nudity, mind, but an all star cast of middle aged imbeciles debasing themselves with humiliating sexual revelations.

The murder, you see, has come as a wake-up call to the various wives, who decide it's about time to "get with the times" and spice up their marriages. One WASPy iceberg has a fling with a studly intern, while another pumps herself up with an aphrodisiac cocktail of morphine and champagne. This makes her thrash around on the carpet like a cat in heat, as she seduces her bored surgeon husband fetish style, with hopes of winning back his affections. He, meanwhile, has been having an affair with his head nurse, a noble single mother of a sick little boy -- but their love dare not speak its name because she's (gasp!) black. Another of the wives, meanwhile, is an out-of-control drunk whose husband saves her from suicide by drowning, which lures him back to bed for a sympathy lay. The funniest of the lot is a frigid shrew who confesses to a lesbian fling with the murdered harlot ("It was a hot night and I was wearing no bra, under a see-through blouse…") Her husband, played by Gene Hackman, reacts by swatting her repeatedly with a rolled-up newspaper.

What's actually refreshing about this numbing lunacy is how curiously free it is of cheap moralizing. With the exception of the victim and her killer, everyone screws around and are all but congratulated for doing so, as they arrive at better understandings of one another, and the ending suggests that their sordid privileged lives will be more of the same. It plays like a battle cry for the short-lived suburban wife-swapping fad of the sleazy 70s, and worse, it takes itself dead serious. Only in its intentional comedy relief, for instance, is there any mention of STDs. This involves a pretty young med student seducing as many hospital staffers as she can, and tape recording the details of intercourse while performing it, as a Kinsey style master's thesis. It turns out she's spreading the clap like wild fire. This subplot, needless to add, is the only part of the film that isn't hilarious.

As a narrative, "Doctors' Wives" really is a whole lot of absolute nothing -- dirty as a cesspool without even softcore sex; full of shrieking conflict with no dramatic involvement or resolve; and worst of all, it's perfectly set up to be a murder mystery. This, stupidly, is quickly solved and cast aside, in favour of some strange hybrid of degrading chick flick and clueless social document, with gratuitous bits of gore porn, but no suspense or violence. In other words, it's one of those true rarities that manages to miss the broad side of a barn, in terms of any sort of target audience.

That is to say, any audience of its day, since it's now a fascinating freak of unspeakably wretched period cinema, way more fun and thought-provoking for what it gets wrong, than what the same year's highly regarded, and similarly set, "The Hospital" once seemed to get right. That one, from the over-rated Paddy Chayefsky, was a deliberate satire of medical professionals that now seems smug and obvious. The accidental parody of its intellectually challenged contemporary, "Doctors' Wives", covers the same turf with a time capsule crassness that's certainly a lot less boring.

Oh, and did I mention the Carpenters-style theme song, sung by Mama Cass Elliot, about the world being a masquerade ball that goes on and on? Now there's a bit of deep and cool irony to frame the profundity that follows exactly right.
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The Woods (2006)
A Worthwhile Disaster
11 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"The Woods" is the long-awaited follow-up effort from director Lucky McKee, who caught critical attention with his modest but impressive 2002 teen shocker, "May". With an intermediate budget and slated for mainstream release for the past year or two, "The Woods" still hasn't shown up in theatres, and its Canadian premiere at Montreal's Fantasia 2006 leaves an unfortunate impression that it likely never will. It's an intriguing watch for the longtime horror fan, as a sincere American approximation of 70s style Italian giallos, but demands indulgence for just how bloody awful it truly is. Characterization is non-existent and the plot, which amazingly fails to explain any of its climactic events, appears to have lost its thread during scene-by-scene rewrites. The result isn't so much a tribute, but what looks like a frantic Plan B in the editing room, which imitates rather than captures the logic-be-damned nightmare flavour of vintage Bava and Argento.

The influence of Argento's "Suspiria" is evident to the point of plagiarism. The setting is an isolated boarding school for troubled girls, where young Heather (Agnes Bruckner) is sent, allegedly for pyromania, though the film never expands upon, nor utilizes this seemingly crucial character trait. Rebellious Heather is an instant magnet for all sorts of abuse, from both her snooty fellow pupils, and the creepy spinsters who staff the place. She attempts to run away, only to find that the surrounding woods are alive with supernatural menace, driving her right back to the school. This has something to do with a trio of 19th century witches, who got stoned to death or something, and are either haunting the place or hanging around as reincarnated teachers, though it's hard to tell. Meanwhile Heather befriends a couple other social rejects, who mysteriously vanish, and discovers that she has latent telekinetic powers (something else she puts to no future dramatic use.) These the faculty encourage her to develop, which she finds a tad suspicious. Is this why she's here, as a novice chosen for the teacher's blood coven? Or are they preparing her as a sacrifice to the forest demons? Don't even bother trying to figure it out, since she never gets around to it. The confusion merely intensifies when Heather's concerned father (Bruce Campbell) tries to spring her, and the FX budget kicks in, with animated ivy vines snaking all over the place and entangling cast members, for no apparent reason other than an in-jokey "Evil Dead" reference as Bruce dashes about in an axe-wielding frenzy. Never mind that everything up to this point has been dead serious and mostly low key Gothic, and Bruce with his gorestick comedy looks like he was parachuted in at the last minute. If the mess can't be tidied up, why not slop some cheap laughs on top of it?

One entertaining conceit is the film's 1965 setting, suggested with no great ear for retro dialog but little that's noticeably anachronistic. Period detail, meanwhile, is safely kept to a bare and economic minimum. This is made easy by its singular setting of an old converted mansion and its rustic surroundings, which necessitates the production rental of exactly three vintage automobiles. With all the younger cast members in a single change of outfit, between schoolgirl uniforms and prudish nightgowns (odd that there isn't a whiff of lesbianism in this), it's with the teachers that at least the hair and wardrobe departments get to have some fun, decking them out in ghastly exaggerations of 60s frump fashions and bouffant hairdos. The head mistress, in particular, has Joan Crawford's coiffed orangutan look from "Berserk", and as played by the usually brilliant Patricia Clarkson, she exudes poker-faced menace on a single mortified note, as if fulfilling her contract with a gun to her head. Real ingenuity is shown with the spare soundtrack, comprised of only three old hits by Lesley Gore, the perfect iconic choice for a film about mid-60s teenage girls. Rather than just playing in the background, the songs are blended with sound and visuals into the mood and action, especially "You Don't Own Me", which is emotionally merged, via intelligent montage, into an eerie operatic duet with the doomed soloist of the school choir.

This is one of several jarring stylistic flourishes -- another involves an inspired stereotype reversal of the school bully bitch -- that leads one to suspect that "The Woods" fell victim to militant studio tampering. If his compact and punchy earlier work, "May", is any indication, Lucky McKee knows how to construct a horror film, and he wouldn't have started with a script as sloppy incoherent as this one, accredited to his neophyte collaborator David Ross. As for Ross, unseasoned though he may have been, it's hard to believe he would've tossed in that pyromania and telekinesis, if he didn't have plans for his heroine to throw her weight around, rather than letting daddy-on-the-spot Bruce steal her thunder in that cult-pandering finale. Hotter heads prevailed on this one, probably penny pinching and running creative interference until precious little of the original vision remained. The film's a disaster, but a fascinating one, and let's hope the compromised talents blamed for it survive.
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The Queen (1968)
The best of artefacts
20 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
1968's "The Queen" is a slight but fascinating time capsule, probably one of, if not THE earliest in-depth glimpse at the drag queen subculture in its final days as a solidly underground phenomenon. This doesn't concentrate on professional female impersonators, who'd been a legitimate part of show biz for decades, but specifically on effeminate men whose cross-dressing was an active part of their social lives in the homosexual milieu, which as a North American whole was still trying to struggle along beneath the radar of vice laws. Taking place a couple years before the Stonewall riots, which engineered the gay rights movement, this documentary is strikingly non-politicized and thus warts-and-all candid, taking the viewer into this insular world of long ago in a manner that's never preachy and rarely poignant, but shows an amused affection for its marginalized subjects, rather than leering at them in the "Mondo" shock value style that was then the exploitive norm for this kind of subject matter.

That isn't to say that "The Queen" lacks a sleazy expo-zay appeal, just by the nature of the annual event it covers. It's the way downscale, transvestite answer to the 1967 Miss America Pageant. More of a glamour than a beauty contest, elected "empresses" from cities nationwide flock into New York, to vie for the title of that year's national reigning drag queen. Out of drag, they come in all shapes -- spindly teenagers and gawky nerds and big hairy trucker types and fat balding guys nearing middle age. Followed around with hand held 16mm cameras, the contestants get to know one another in the dilapidated hotel where they're billeted, swapping remarkably upbeat life stories and opinions on gender issues in the spirit of outcast camaraderie. One notable exception, focused on immediately as resentments begin to simmer, is the aloof Philadelphia representative, Richard, alias Miss Harlow, a very pretty blond lad whose rise to drag circuit stardom has been a little too rapid for most everyone's taste. His cause isn't helped by his sulky attitude.

In preparation, they're choreographed and groomed and grilled on rules of stage conduct, by a pair of established drag queen organizers who, with New Yawky know-it-all-ness, are as fiercely demanding as drill sergeants. Here's where the film's period is especially evident, inviting comparisons to later drag show docs like 1995's "Wigstock", with its wild and free-wheeling variety of bizarre drag performances. No such freedom of expression thirty years earlier, as the conventions of these fringe dwellers' burlesque are rigidly enforced, with the unquestioned conformity of regional folk dancing. In fact, it's written that the legendary Divine helped break this mass creative stranglehold, after violent opposition early in his stage career.

It's the transformation process on the big night that's really captivating, as the boys pluck away body hair, pile on make-up, pad and corset their figures, and fret over wigs and gowns. As we watch, this rather goofy looking bunch not only shed their maleness, but their individualism, as they turn into a small army of statuesque glamour girls. The look, an exaggerated version of the Ursula Andriss 60s Greek goddess in a towering bouffant and streams of diaphanous chiffon, is a fun one but utterly uniform, and one all but loses track of the different players. The pageant itself is an embarrassing disaster, clearly sucked dry of any spontaneity in the planning stages, in a grubby old theatre with a bored society crowd in trendy attendance, and a catatonic Andy Warhol chairing the panel of judges. The competitors themselves are merely paraded about, not even allowed to lip-sync girl songs like they'd do in the clubs back home -- they're simply gaudy mannequins. Entertainment, such as it is, is provided by talentless local transies doing drunken versions of dreary old show tunes, while a tired strip joint orchestra tries valiantly to match their ever-changing tempos and keys. The night is a catastrophe in the making.

Tempers start to flare when the five finalists are announced, and some of those left backstage go ballistic with unconcealed envy. This shameless poor sportsmanship is carried onto the stage, when the fourth runner-up, a certain Miss Crystal, storms off in a huff. The crown, of course, goes to the undeniably prettiest, the reviled Miss Harlow, to politely thunderous applause, and in rivers of mascara, he weeps over this greatest moment of his life. The magic is short-lived, though, when who should be waiting backstage but Miss Crystal, who tears into Harlow, mocking his shoddy make-up and ugly dress that wasn't even clean, and insisting Harlow was not the prettiest -- Crystal was! The organizers spring to Harlow's defence, diverting Crystal's rage, with accusations that the whole pageant was rigged and they'll be sorry. As Harlow sobs, the threats and insults fly back and forth, with increasing shrillness, until the theatre management shows up and unceremoniously tosses everyone out. So much for that year's pinnacle of appreciation for the American cross-dressing arts.

As cheerfully tasteless a finale this is, celebrating bitchy stereotypes while pulling out on a note of cheap hilarity, it's refreshingly free of judgment pro or con, making for the best sort of historical artefact, superficial in its mood and thus unbiased as an accurate documentation for future cultural study. If, on EBay or wherever, you can track down "The Queen", enjoy it in good conscience --your neighbourhood drag queen certainly would.
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50s J.D. angst at its most curious and terrifying
31 May 2006
"The Party Crashers" doesn't waste a lot of time on drag races or fights and romance at the soda fountain or even teen rebellion, though these are certainly elements. It's an intergenerational semi-horror tale, that focuses its outrage on that era's older generation and carries this into the realm of the diabolical. The teens in this aren't very nice, but their parents and the rest of the suburban neo-affluent, post-war 30s to 50s crowd are a hell of a lot more scary.

The main young delinquent is played by handsome young Mark Damon, a charismatic young thug who leads fellow bored teens into the title weekend pastime, that of invading teen parties around the city and turning them into orgies of violence and vandalism. At his opening conquest, he captures the romantic interest of a good-girl-itching-to-go-bad, played by gorgeous young Connie Stevens. Connie uses emotional blackmail to drag along her square and decent boyfriend (the legendary ill-fated child star Bobby Driscoll, in his last role before wandering off to an early heroin death in an abandoned NYC tenement) into Mark's whirlwind of crazy kicks.

Along the way we get to know these kids' parents. Connie's a confused spoiled brat, with an indulgent but ineffectual father and a successful writer mother completely obsessed with her own career. Bobby's parents are kindly but socially clueless -- post-lobotomy Francis Farmer, also in her last role, plays his mother and there's a quiet poignancy to the scenes these two lost and tragic actors play together, that is downright heartbreaking. Then there's Mark and his home life, and suddenly we're more than aware of what has turned this kid into the monster he is. His father is a staggering drunk, drowning beneath the contempt of both his damaged son and evil wife (Doris Dowling, in the performance of her career), a hedonistic shrew who is both verbally and physically abusive, and explicitly exhibits incestuous yearnings. (You will truly not BELIEVE that this film was made, and released, in 1958!)

Though the film ends on a rather twee note that reflects the 1950s cautious obsession of playing to the censors, the final third leading up to it is freaky and ahead of its time. Mark, who has used his charms to entrap Connie and Bobby into his seductive delinquent thrill ride, picks the wrong party to crash, with horrific results.

On that (unrevealed) note, the film has a lot more in common with 1966's "The Chase", with its air of drunken angry "lost youth" hysteria, than the actual "angry youth" drive-in flicks of its period, and no wonder it's forgotten. 50s kids, to whom this film was marketed, preferred the focus to be on themselves, no matter how much they were demonized. "The Party Crashers" is a coldly adult movie, with its juvenile delinquency being matter of social cause and effect, rather than angry free choice on the teen's part, and that was likely a little bitter of a pill to swallow.

At any rate, the HIGHEST recommendation for fellow fans of unusual mid-century cinema.
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A tasty appetizer for a grand main course?
22 March 2006
"V for Vendetta" is a sprawling urban fantasy that solidly entertains, despite puzzling the viewer in annoying ways that one can only hope will eventually prove to be strategic. A mega-budget adaptation, by the Wachowski brothers who gave us the "Matrix" franchise, of a series of graphic novels (which I've never read, I cheerfully admit to being a just-devirginized fan), it's more or less a hodgepodge of "1984" and any number of Euro-traditional super crook epics, from the early silent days, like "Fantomas", laid out in a cunningly abstruse manner. While it seems to be a self-contained narrative, chugging along in a haphazardly linear way to a grandly philosophical conclusion, any certainty that the story actually ends is undermined by lingering doubts over the reality of much of what's occurred. Nothing so hokey as "it was all a hallucination", but the viewer senses that maybe both his and the girl protagonist's perception of events has been toyed with, and there's plot elements all along the way to back this up. Couple these with the fates of several key characters, which we're only told about, and there's more than a whiff of a new franchise in the works… especially if there's a big about-face over whom the real villain(s) of ongoing piece turns out to be.

Set in a totalitarian Britain of the not-too-distant future, the madly convoluted plot involves a quasi-heroic terrorist mastermind with super human fighting skills, bent on bringing down the oppressive police state. To this end V, the title avenger, serial murders various government bigwigs, hijacks the media to inspire civil disobedience, and demolishes grand old London landmarks. This penchant for historical vandalism, which he somehow justifies as nobly symbolic with oodles of strange rhetoric, is in tribute to his hero Guy Fawkes, the celebrated 17th century insurgent who tried to blow up the British parliament. V wears a plastic mask replica of Fawkes's face at all times, to cover up disfiguring burns he once suffered as a human guinea pig in government medical experiments, which put him on his path of vengeance. This, at least, is what he keeps telling Evie, the young working class heroine played by Natalie Portman, as an excuse to never unmask and, we're led to suspect, reveal his true identity. As she's recruited, kicking and screaming by increasingly diabolical methods, into V's deadly campaign of civil war mongering, neither she nor the viewer are ever quite sure why she's been chosen, even though flashbacks to her tragic childhood keep appearing in a somewhat explanatory fashion. As for the climactic suggestion of unrequited romantic love on V's part, a la "Phantom of the Opera", this has more the feel of a mere plot development than any corny attempt at tidying things up.

Still, assuming that this is indeed only the first chapter -- will number two be "W for Something Else", then so on with X and Y? -- it brilliantly camouflages the fact, by leaving the impression of being a thought-bombarding political allegory in the style of Truffaut's version of "Fahrenheit 451", way more concerned with the message it leaves behind than any big action pay-off, despite lots of good bloody fights along the way. Without giving away the aforementioned grand finale, there is so much speechifying that surrounds it, pertaining to the liberation and abiding strength of the human spirit, that one ponders how literally, rather than intellectually, the images on the screen are meant to be taken. I found myself thinking that what I was looking at was a bizarre and big scale rip-off of the 1985 depression era drama, "Places in the Heart" (of all things), with its tear-jerker church house ending that turns into a ghostly curtain call. Only later, when taking into account all those dangling plot threads, and just how morally questionable the ending actually is, did I say to myself, "Now just a damn minute, here!" Either I'd just watched something maddeningly vague and half-realized, or here was the groundwork for a true thinking person's super epic, which might combine the genres of science fiction action and political thriller in ways never seen before.

At any rate, "V for Vendetta" baffles and infuriates, but anything that can time release that much second guesswork, and demand to be quickly seen again just for what might've been overlooked, especially within that molasses-thick dialogue -- here's a film that's doing something right, in my books.
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Karla (2006)
Numbing and pointless ordeal
21 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
For non-Canuck readers who might not be familiar with this media frenzy of the past decade, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka have the dubious distinction of being the First Couple of Canadian Crime. Bernardo, a long time serial rapist, and Homolka, an amoral party girl, had a brief courtship and marriage during the early 90s, in the small city of St. Catherines, Ontario. During this time they were responsible for the torture slayings of two teenage girls, Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, as well as the rape and accidental killing of Homolka's 15-year-old sister, Tammy. After a long and bungled RCMP investigation finally led to their capture, Homolka plea bargained by turning evidence against her by-then estranged husband. Bernardo was given life without parole, and Homolka got off with 12 years for manslaughter, on the theory that her involvement was due to battered wife syndrome, and there was indeed well-documented proof that he had regularly beaten her. Only after the sentencing, however, were home videos of the crimes uncovered, and these revealed that not only Homolka was an enthusiastic participant, but possibly the actual killer, which Bernardo continues to contend from his cell. Her light sentence and subsequent release, last summer, has made her one of the most reviled persons in Canadian history. She's nowadays reportedly living in hiding, somewhere here in Montreal.

"Karla" is a sketchy adaptation of "Invisible Darkness", the true crime bestseller by Stephen Williams, which ran into legal hassles and much public outrage, for revealing court-sealed details of the grisly case, such as play-by-play descriptions of the incriminating videos. That there'd actually be a movie version was way too much for the various decency brigades, and no Canadian talent would dare touch it, so this is a rare example of a Canadian tale made entirely in the States by Americans, rather than the other way around. It shows, especially in the casting and characterizations. While the sequence of events, at least the more lurid ones, is laid out with plodding accuracy, it plays like something overheard, then retold, by someone who wasn't there. There's no feel for regional dialect or cultural idiosyncrasies, or even its time frame of a decade and a half ago. TV's Laura Prepon (no doubt imagining that this would be her "Monster" ticket to the big time)is all wrong as Karla, coming across a big-boned trailer trash hoyden perpetually stunned by her situation, rather than the petite, cunning and creepily girlish sociopath who so captured our mass revulsion. Misha Collins is all psycho-jock swagger and hoodlum snarls, with no hint of the pudgy-cheeked sickly boyish charm of the would-be yuppie next door, with his phony Ken Doll wholesomeness, that the real Bernardo not only socially aspired to, but used as such a clever disguise during his reign of terror.

The sheer ickiness of the real life couple is where "Karla" really misses the mark, in terms of both dramatic insight and black comedy potential. While the murders themselves, which the film wallows in as its main focal point, were indeed sad and terrible, there was a horrid hilarity to the killers and the 80s retro, idealized image they presented to the world. With their matching bleach blonde hair and rabid consumerism, they really thought themselves the perfect upwardly mobile couple, or at least a failed yokel approximation of one. Things like Karla's hideous taste in just about everything, and Paul's talentless aspirations to be the next Vanilla Ice, could've inserted some much needed chilly chuckles into the relentless despair, without detracting from the horrific impact. Also barely dealt with is that pompous, ridiculously expensive wedding of theirs, in which they paraded, the very picture of kitschy bliss as they waved to onlookers, through the streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake in a horse drawn carriage, only to finish the day at a grotesque reception of drunken family dysfunction. This could've surely been the most pivotal of climaxes, but is tossed off as a brief visual footnote. If only the film would've taken its cue from something like the cult classic, "The Honeymoon Killers", and balanced its real life horrors with a sense of their absurdity, which the well-written and extensively researched book was offering up in spades. That it didn't is hardly surprising, though, given all the moral indignation and potential lawsuits the production had to tippy-toe around, so that the finished product comes across as one long and pointless apology that it was even made. Of course the pedestrian direction by Joel Bender, veteran of such stellar titles as "Immortal Combat" and "Warrior Queen", doesn't help. His approach to serious docudrama seems to be showing as much nasty stuff as he can away with, with an earnest solemnity he hopes will camouflage his sleazy fixations. A classic case of flimsy talent trying to over-reach his abilities.

At any rate, I caught opening night of its limited Canadian release, and it appears that all the controversy surrounding this film has done nothing to spark attendance, and word-of-mouth certainly won't, either. Prime time crowd of maybe 50, curiosity seekers who learned absolutely nothing new, and smartsy teens (girls calling out to see if Karla was in the audience, and other girls answering, "Here I am!") looking for bad taste laughs, which it wasn't even inept enough to provide. My guess is that in its country of origin, where it hasn't yet found a distributor, "Karla" will go the route of the rest of Bender's products, bypassing the marquees and heading straight to cable.
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Capote (2005)
On with the Truman myth
24 December 2005
"Capote" is a factual account, and that is to say it's loosely based on the accumulated hearsay of Gerald Clarke's post-mortem biography, dealing with the six gruelling years that author Truman Capote spent researching his bestseller, "In Cold Blood". This was his masterwork -- a "non-fiction novel", as he called it while claiming to invent the art form -- about a pair of young drifters, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, and how they savagely murdered a farm family in 1959 Kansas, which eventually led to their deaths on the gallows at Leavenworth. A stark and equally famous 1967 film was adapted from this book, and "Capote" is a very calculated companion piece, in terms of mood and pacing and general bleakness. It fills in the blanks of what Capote left out of his book, namely his own very active and high profile role in the case, and in the lives of the people involved, especially the killers. Capote, with stunning efficiency, kept himself a completely invisible presence in the book and the later film.

It's a portrait of journalistic ruthlessness, reminiscent of Billy Wilder's biting film satire of 1950, "Ace in the Hole", and how such ruthlessness emotionally boomerangs. Capote was as much a professional charmer as a brilliant author, who rose from humble beginnings to the heights of New York society just by sheer force of character, turning himself into something of beloved mascot of the extremely rich, much to their later regret. In the 80s, he exposed their smutty secrets in an infamous chapter of an unfinished novel, that he published in the New Yorker. The rich, Truman told the dazzled public, use such things as menstrual fluid, in humiliating sexual situations, to declare their racial supremacy. It was pure social suicide, as bewildering as it was titillating, and this movie, though not referring to this directly, purports to tell us how it came about.

We join Truman in 1960, when he goes to Kansas to write about this obscure mass murder. Though an effeminate little weirdo, he employs his masterful New York social climbing skills on the Midwestern townsfolk and local authorities, and they're putty in his hands. He sweet talks and lies and finagles his way through the channels, and eventually into the confidence of the killers themselves. Only they can provide him with the story's grisly core, the cold facts of the mass murder as it happened. Focusing on the more intelligent and vulnerable of the two, Perry Smith, Capote chips away at Perry's resolve with faux friendship, which gradually evolves into a very real platonic romance between the two. Meanwhile, Truman's new lover's execution, which Truman has the means to help prevent or at least postpone, is something that must occur if Truman's masterpiece is ever to be completed. The film's wonderful conceit, dime store analysis at its finest, is that this prostitution of his affections for the sake of art and fame is what led to his own self-demolition, in alcoholism and betrayal of his privileged friends. Highly debatable in terms of accuracy, but it makes for a great, if sanctimonious, gossip fable.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is terrific as the diminutive oddball, catching the effete mannerisms and catty charisma that made Truman a talk show celebrity, and suggesting that this public persona was simply a tool employed by a cold and very troubled genius. Perhaps this extreme dead seriousness is, in itself, something of a flaw to the portrayal. The film is resolutely grave and low key, trying too hard to mimic the mood of the book and subsequent film it's centered around, while frantically steering clear of the situation's very evident black comedy aspects. Truman was, according to all sources including Clarke's biography, a preposterous human being, and his never-quite-sane shenanigans, even during this intense period of his life, had more than their share of high hilarity. A lot more could've been made of his culture clash with uptight 1960s Midwesterners, and his egocentric excesses that are well documented, without detracting from the story's impact. While "Capote" doesn't commit the unpardonable sin of Jennifer Jason Leigh in Robert Altman's "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle", that of making a literary icon an aggravating bore, it does wring a lot of the fun out of old Truman. It's as if the filmmakers were scared shitless of making this seem like a sleazy character assassination, which, in essence, it is.

Where "Capote" does succeed, despite its over exacting cross referencing, is that it's a solid psychological piece in its own right. Leisurely as it is, it's utterly involving and invigorating, and I'd hazard to guess that one could appreciate it with no prior knowledge of "In Cold Blood", or the highly publicized life of this most famous of mid-century authors. It actually rises to that most daunting of challenges -- taking on an artist and his godforsaken creative process, and fashioning a piece of accessible cinema for more than just his hardcore fans. Of course I'm biased -- I am, indeed, a lifelong Capote freak. The guy and his books are fascinating, and though far from the last word on the subject, this fractional biopic figures well into the ongoing mythology of Truman Capote.
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Uncle Sam (1996 Video)
Half realized
11 September 2005
Semi-sober satirical horror film, pleasingly directed by William Lustig from a script by the ever-maddening Larry Cohen -- well matched collaborators who fall just short of taking that extra step, that could've turned this gleefully subversive gore fest into a runaway cult item.

Update and reconstruction of Bob Clark's "Deathdream" (among its many other titles), with a zombified Gulf War casualty of "friendly fire" back for burial in his hicktown, where he rises to wreak havoc during the patriotic hysteria of a fourth of July celebration. Victims are a round-up of America's most loathed -- corporate swindler, teen sociopaths and druggies, smarmy politician, corrupt cop, pious draft dodger, sex deviant, military geek -- and he bumps them all off in grandly inventive ways (the ones we're allowed to see), while dressed and masked as the title fetish.

The main trouble is that the tale is wildly rushed -- too many awful characters crammed in (and worse, wonderfully written and performed by the thrilling cast, for what we see of them) just to die or disappear within the deliberate time frame, clearly only there to represent their stereotypes, and one is left feeling cheated out of getting to know them better. Same with the good guys -- the wonderful Isaac Hayes vet with a conscience, and that pair of screwed-up boys, and the blonde sisters-in-law... just pushed ahead and out of sight by the plot, audience interest be damned.

I was left reminded of the better Stephen King mini-serieses, and how Cohen and Lustig had all the makings of a small town, leisurely horror epic here -- something that should have unfolded over lots of hours, drawing the audience into this town and its people and the horror creeping up on it, but combined with the jeering social satire one sees on British TV. Instead they compacted things into flotsam for the video shelves, a true waste of talent and great ideas.
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Charlie (2004)
A poor and disappointing film
17 August 2005
Advertised as a companion piece to the splendid "The Krays", as an historical crime thriller about the doings of the Richardson gang on the other side of the Thames. What a dull bunch. Plenty of (reduntant) gory torture scenes of rival thugs, but zilch action and suspense. Mild interest with some half-realized exposure of South Africa's Apartheid and its connection to the British mob, but it plays like a throw-away subplot. Even the director's use of great 50s/60s period music is utterly clueless -- he actually backgrounds the flashback scenes of 40s post-war childhood in urban Britain with a surfing tune! Luke Goss, in the lead role, is quite sneeringly tough, but gives a new definition to "one note". Late in the film, we're supposed to believe that he's aged about 18 years, but he still looks awfully young to me, with that gym build that he insists on showing off at every opportunity like a porn star. Like in that dream sequence where he's cut his wrists in the bathtub... couldn't believe how jarred I was with such intense character summation, and relieved to find out that it was "only a dream". Truly, films do not come worse than this one.
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Two for the Money (1972 TV Movie)
Throwaway title for a memorable film
20 July 2004
Saw this exactly once, when it aired three decades ago, and it's really managed to linger. Superb cast in a genuinely creepy and involving mystery thriller. The then-trendy "buddy police procedural" approach, that the title suggests, is so incidental to the true tone that it seems written in to sell the thing, while the macabre storyline is what barrels along to the jarring conclusion. After all these years it's more a case of highlights and impressions I recall, but it had the aura of something that could've been a successful theatrical release, rather than just another M.O.W. that's been lost to time. Pity it wasn't written and produced 15 or 20 years earlier -- doubtless would've been a noir with major cult status.

Any leads on tracking this one down will be most welcome.
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Surprisingly charming
9 December 2003
This obscurity (listed in very few books) showed up on Canada's Drive-In Classics channel and I taped it for its vintage, fully expecting a smirky bedroom farce with the usual sophomoric Hefner Era attitudes toward women. Pleasantly, it turns out that it's way closer in spirit to "Alfie" than Matt Helm, a lightweight and easy-going comedy about an aging New York playboy (William Traylor) and his search for genuine love.

In a funny reversal of the day's standards, the bouffanted Dior-clad beauties he dates (and not always beds) consistently have the upperhand, more often than not pulling the old "triple-f" on this suave and urbane swordsman-in-a-tux, finding him not good enough and discarding him. The title volume itself tells his story in flashback, and it's being read on the sly by his rich and elegant bride-to-be, and one wonders how much of her outrage is moral indignation, and how much is disappointment. His male poker buddies (including a young Dom Deluise) are losers at the romance game and hold him in awe, little knowing what a hopeless case he actually is. The finale, while not bitterly ironic, has a funny sense of the inevitable.

No "forgotten masterpiece", but a diverting little nugget that deserves an audience. Crisp and lovely B&W photography captures early 60s NYC, and the cars, decor and fashions are pure eye candy. Also, the acting and characterizations are quite solid, from a script by Freddie Francis.
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Amazingly good concert film
9 September 2003
I started taping this one as a gift for my elderly parents (the kind of vintage C&W Canadiana they enjoy), while doing chores and keeping an ear open for the commercials to edit out. Within minutes it had me captivated. Stompin' Tom is an incredible showman, with fantastic stage presence and a genius for lyrics that rivals Johnny Cash and Tom T. Hall. Funny how one can grow up Canadian and turn such a blind eye (and deaf ear) to such greatness, simply because of his familiarity and (percieved) lack of sophistication. His ballads are literature set to song, and his celebration of things uniquely Canadian are observant, informative and sweet-natured... patriotism as it ought to be.

As a showcase, it's smartly put together by director John Saxton, who later went on to write efficient exploitation flicks like "Happy Birthday To Me" and "Class of 1984". One complaint I've always had about concert films, even classics like "The Last Waltz", is how tiresome it eventually becomes to watch musical stage performance for an entire feature length, especially if it's only one singer. Not only are a few other decent acts inserted (impressive regional talents) to break things up, but a lot of Tom's songs are dramatized, pre-rock video style, with appealing (now retro) footage starring Tom, and some charming animation sequences. Though spanning only one 70s night at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern, one comes away feeling like he's been on a guided tour through another era.
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The Visitor (1974)
A memorable curio
8 February 2003
This quiet low budget fantasy is a strangely agreeable cross between a tourism promo and a serious thriller. It's filmed in Calgary, Alberta's Heritage Park, a pioneer village of transplanted historical buildings from around the province, and set during the winter when this tourist site is closed and deserted, and very eerie. A history major (Pia Shandal) takes up residence in a Victorian mansion where she hopes to research her thesis on 19th century life... and gets more than she bargained for when she slips through a crack in time. She finds herself in 1890s Calgary and, in a very logical approach to the time travel theme, is completely unhinged by the culture shock of it. Very ordinary and decent folk from long ago become creatures of menace, as this 70s-modern woman is unable to conceal her total alienation from their way of life, and is considered a dangerous lunatic.

The film doesn't fully explore its dramatic and comic possibilities, and it's marred by an abrupt and unresolved ending, but has mood and atmosphere that linger in the imagination. Seldom seen since the 70s, "The Visitor" is due for a modest revival-- an ideal CRTC quota item for one of the Canadian movie networks, and one with some actual cult appeal.
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Cor, Blimey! (2000 TV Movie)
Fascinating piece of pop lore
16 October 2002
The "Carry On" movies were probably better distributed in Canada than the States, because we'd been weaned on British humour by the CBC, but they were strictly B-market, playing small town theatres and drive-in double bills. Still, aside from Sidney James with his TV shows, it's doubtful that the majority of those appreciative rural audiences could attach names to the faces on the screen, and while we drooled with the rest of this continent over the doings of the Beatles and Mick and Marianne and even Peter and Britt, the lives of the "Carry On" crew were an unknown commodity.

"Cor Blimey!" is something I tuned into out of idle curiosity and found myself rivetted. While I don't doubt it has its share of inaccuracies (some even I spotted, like misplaced productions in the time frame), the warts-and-all depictions of these troubled comedians has an authenticity I don't for a moment doubt. The friendship (yes, friendship) between James and Williams is particularly provocative, as they verbally spar on a constant basis and, deep down, enjoy every second of it, and each other. A telling moment is when Kenneth learns of Sid's death, and his smart alecky composure instantly falls away to a look of stunned grief. Adam Godfrey is nothing short of amazing as the caustic Williams (that moment where he tells the little autograph hunter to bugger off is horribly hilarious), a beautifully realized portrait of a brilliant and frustrated soul driven to extremes of exhibitionism. I remember reading the Joe Orton biography years ago, and being mystified that a "Carry On" comic was so thick with the doomed literary couple, like trying to evision Soupy Sales hanging out with Paul and Jane Bowles. Clearly Williams was exactly their type, and it's a pity that the rather tepid "Prick Up Your Ears" didn't incorporate him as a character.

While the story's focal point, Sid James' loosing battle with the bottle and his crazed romantic obsession with Barbara, who only has deep loyal friendship to offer, is rich and poignant, I could've done with more details about the rest of the "Carry On" crew. We only get the most fleeting glimpses of the (excellently cast) Charles Hawtrey and Joan Sims and Bernard Bresslaw. Also there's some conspicuous absenses, such as the divine Hattie Jacques (Dawn French would've been ideal). One moment that brings to mind another reviewer's comment on the amusing blend of film artifice and reality, is when Sid has his first stroke and he's in the hospital with the Jacques-like floor matron (Claire Cathcart). I was thinking for sure that this was a recreation of the "Carry On Doctor" set, until Barbara shows up to visit.

Anyway, I'll leave disputes over the film's tastefulness and historical accuracy to people of the Isles who better knew these stars, but for someone from this side of the pond for whom the "Carry On" films is a delightful 60s/70s footnote, this finely done TV film is an intelligent and illuminating watch.
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Gothic oddity
3 August 2001
Jean Cocteau co-writes the screenplay and plays the briefly seen title role, but his influence is all over the place. After a creepy beginning heavy on the German Expressionism, it settles into a leisurely Bronte-style romantic cauldron, with a quadrangle of post-Napoleon Era youths in a French village battling class distinctions that get in the way of their romantic yearnings, which, interestingly, seem largely based on whoever is the most inaccessible. Subplot involves an old local kook who may or may not be Louis XVI's missing heir, and hovering over everything is the mystery of that crazy old nobleman who disappeared in the dilapidated local castle, where there may be a hidden treasure. The answer comes in a moment of jaw-dropping comic horror, but is almost an anti-climactic footnote in this story that is far from being resolved. Even further along is a stunning somnambulist sequence that has to be seen to be believed. Oddly enough, every loose end of this scattered tale is tied together by the happy conclusion. Certainly a piece of cinema from the distant past, but unlike anything you've ever seen from the English speaking world. I'd be stretching it to call this classic cinema, but it's visually exquisite and if you're in the mood for something unusual, it's a treat.
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17 March 2000
Behind this bland, forgettable and indescriptive title is one of that decade's more interesting low budget items. "Blood Rust" was probably the script's original name, and this refers to the red coloring of Mars which, as is found out on the return of a space probe, is a fungal overgrowth that could easily thrive on the Earth. THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, while not exactly a remake, shares both the panicky concept and something akin to realism in its approach. SPACE MASTER's an Edward Bernds quickie, no nonsense drive-in fare with logic secondary to pace, but there's a continual teetering on the edge of DETOUR-like brilliance that makes it, if not a classic, quite exceptional.

The strength of writing is ever evident, as the threat to humanity theme is subverted away from the usual conquering hero routine to documentary-like police procedural, the pursuers taking on near anonymity as our attentions, and sympathies, focus on the fleeing "Typhoid Mary". She's finely played by Lyn Thomas, a mature and intelligent 50s beauty in the Jan Sterling mode. We're told just as much as we need to know about her, that she once was involved in an S&M fling (I kid you not, it's ALL THERE in 1958) with arrogant scientist Paul Frees (Richard Deacon doing Clifton Webb, and does he deliver cutting lines!) Their unholy reliance resulted in a child that she now wants back in her new life of respectability. His experiments with the alien fungus result in his hideous death and the government, knowing that she was with him at the time, has to track her down so that she won't infect the world. However, they can't throw the public into panic (cover-up stuff, another first) by saying why they've put out an all-points bulletin out on her, so she goes into hiding and flees so that she won't be framed for his murder! Now I ask you, how often do you run into plot intricacies (as opposed to absurdities) like this during your typical monster movie round-up?

At the same time SPACE MASTER X-7 is as frustrating as it's intriguing, because get-it-out-on-schedule Bernds never quite takes that extra step ahead of his time. There's a beautiful scene involving Miss Thomas and a cop the predates PSYCHO, where you're rooting for her to get away and the world's fate be damned, and though this perversion of empathy carries on the irony of it is somehow lost in the climactic shuffle. Said climax, stunningly prepared for in both mood and pacing, aboard a threatened air liner complete with children on the threshold of death, is shied away from in terms of intensity when it could've become a Hitchockian runaway carousel. One feels, by the movie's end, that something truly magnificent just didn't quite break free from the shackles of its period's conventions.

I think this one's ripe for a remake and hopefully by someone with brains and taste. It certainly has a plot, very friendly to updating, that doesn't sit still. One thing that gets this film footnoted out of the collective amnesia is the presence of Moe Howard as a cab driver. He's funny as can be but plays it straight, as a regular Joe who finds himself in the midst of things, and makes one wish that, like brother Shemp, he and the rest of those Stooges would've done a little more dramatic character work.
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Psycho (1998)
Public Service
16 March 2000
I find this one immune to both serious praise and harsh criticism because, like Joseph Losey's 1951 remake of "M", it's really more of an academic exercise than an attempt at cinema. Since Van Sant was wise enough to avoid any vain attempts to improve on the original, he ought not to have included even his occasional embellishments, such as Norman actually masturbating at the peep hole, the bloodied up murders and that silly bird menagerie down the cellar. If he'd held out for a slightly bigger budget, it could've been shot in black and white as a 1959 period piece. God knows the 40 year old dialogue doesn't remotely resemble present day speech patterns and the characters all belong to another era. One casting coup he either overlooked or couldn't pull off was coaxing the delightful Patricia Hitchcock out of retirement. Wouldn't she have been just perfect in the old Lureen Tuttle role as the sheriff's wife?

Still, I have to commend Van Sant for leaving most of his creative impulses at the door as he performed what amounted to a public service. This carbon copy, however under and over exposed along its frayed edges, is an excellent deterrent to some other clueless upstart who would've surely come along eventually and pulled a KING KONG or THE HAUNTING.
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12 March 2000
I'd given up hope, after a decade and a half, of ever seeing another John Paizs film and I've contented myself with frequent repeat viewings of CRIMEWAVE, far and away the funniest Canadian movie ever made. FOOD CHAIN's local release on Friday came, to put it mildly, as a happy surprise. Its credits aren't as auteurish so I suspect his shrewd collaborators got behind what must've been a hard sell of this unique talent. To the best of my knowledge, or at least taste, there's no other director, including his brilliant fellow Manitoban Guy Maddin, who can take such deadpan, shamelessly bizarre humour and make it so side-splitting.

To dispute its absolute originality, TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN shares a craziness of concept with 1984's BIG MEAT EATER, another micro-budget Canuck item (something in our water?) Rather than the conventional smug mockery of 50s drive-in sci-fi (oh look at Woody and the giant tit, how droll and cunning) these films strive to be, in look and feel, a modern day continuation of a time-locked genre that had logic and principles of its very own, though so free form that comic expression can flourish on a wide open range. While MEAT EATER, a delightful though haphazardly directed mess, was marginally a musical remake of PLAN 9, FOOD CHAIN takes its initial premise from from the interesting ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER, complete with the strangely lit alien sexpot in the woods and main characters that are somewhat similar to the ones here. It's clear that the actors are in improvisation heaven but Paizs, in the tradition of Altman and Morrissey at their best, never lets them stray from his story telling vision. And what a vision: this is like MARAT/SADE! It's a 50s monster melodrama concieved, produced and acted out by mental patients!

Not a single character in this movie even attempts to approximate socially acceptable behavior, nor does anyone, even on a good guy/villain level, ever question one another's unusualness. Sexual obsessions spring up all over the place but are pointedly ignored in terms of detail, as if Paizs is taking on the role of gossippy spinster aunt who knows where to cut things off for decency's sake. It doesn't stop there. He interrupts things, though briefly enough to maintain the flow, to point out things of visual interest, like a hideously familiar faux-wicker basket full of saltines, that you just know you once saw in your own childhood home. He actually has the gall to reuse enjoyed props within the same sequence: a bright pink hugely finned bulgemobile ('59 Pontiac?) appears in the background during both takes on an opposite-angled dialogue. Even the FX showcase at the grand climax, suitably tacky looking by today's standards, he undermines with swift dispatch that makes it clear that the characters are far more interested in each other's activities of the moment than any impending doom.
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Niagara (1953)
Marilyn's best
10 March 2000
Why does this wonderful film have such a small (though charmingly represented, the rest of you!) cult following? Not only is it an exceptional noir that manages to visually translate into gorgeously gaudy technicolor (only other example, 1945's "Leave Her to Heaven"), but it's Marilyn's one moment, and a finely acted one, of being an integral part of genuinely thrilling cinema. Think of the story telling, so unusual for slick journeyman dullard Henry Hathaway, how Hitchcockianly things progress without any obvious evidence of copying the master, likely because with all these perfect elements Hathaway just couldn't go wrong. The monstrous beauty of those falls affects every aspect of the plot, from the characters' psychology (those midwestern hicks being such splendid pivots, and won't their honeymoon accounts make them the cocktail party stars for years to come?) to murderous convenience, then the falls themselves just take over in the breathtaking finale, in a thundering horror that shows just what happens to those who, however accidently, trifle with them. I love this movie. I think I rated it, before starting and hurriedly, four stars but, while rethinking in the course of writing this, I hereby proclaim it a five. It's no critical favorite thus not for people of acquired cinematic tastes because you have the professionally astute to give you your guidelines, but for gut level lovers of movies, this could become a yearly.
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Tormented (1960)
Kreepy Kitsch
29 February 2000
A taste for Bert I. Gordon is as personal a thing as the approach he takes to his modest little movies, and this his contribution to the early 60s supernatural craze is gourmet stuff. No subtlety, and who expects it, in this 19th century style tale of ghostly revenge as a modern day jazz musician is hounded to insanity by the ghost of a scorned lover whose death he deliberately failed to prevent. How this angry barfly manifests herself is alternately hilarious (the floating head) and downright creepy (the footprints in the sand, the wilting wedding bouquets) but, in the climax-focused tradition of Mr. B.I.G.'s best size meditations, especially the first COLOSSAL with its javelin-syringe, these moments imprint themselves on the viewer's memory and meet the standards of pure cinema, however unassumingly. There's a certain period loveliness to the lazy California beach town locale (many of the sets reused in the charming but perverse BOY AND THE PIRATES) and the pace has a leisureliness to match, but what grips one is the sheer moral ambiguity of the not quite anti-hero Richard Carlson. He's really not such a bad guy but who knows what extremes he'll be driven to, especially concerning the little girl who finds herself in the middle of things. A lot of Gordon flicks, in fact, have this melancholiac uncurrent of the aggressor's turmoil between human decency and the urge, circumstance-driven, to destroy. I'll leave analysis of this to the academically inclined, but I do wish true lovers of B-films would get past that "Mystery-Science" whatever nerd-need to express one's imagined sophistication with shrieking assaults on another era's conventions and technical primitiveness, and simply go with the flow and reap the rewards that films like TORMENTED offer. The finale, involving sea weed and the mind's eye, is really quite brilliant.
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Heat (1972)
26 February 2000
One of my first "art" films after, as a total hick, I fled to the "big city", Vancouver, where I attended its 1973 Canadian premier. I laughed till I cried: Pat Ast, the control freak with the southern accent, inflicting herself on anyone who crosses her path. Wonderful moment: Sylvia Miles on her way out of the motel just after a big fight with Jesse (Andrea Feldman) and there's Lydia-Pat, leaning against the wall in her platforms, shaking her head disparagingly as Sylvia walks by. I mean, she doesn't even KNOW this woman, yet she's passing judgement on sight alone. What a splendidly awful person! Check out the moment when Pat, having bribed Joe into a sexual encounter, starts obsessing on crazy poor Andrea is and how she "just can't" have people like that around her anymore. As if she has any claims to class. Oh, and that scene between her and Sylvia, where she taunts about her sexual conquest of Joe and breaks into psychotic laughter as Sylvia flees in ego-deflated confusion. I love this movie as a whole, but Pat Ast made it total magic. Why isn't she a comedy star?
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Kraft Mystery Theater: House of Mystery (1961)
Season 1, Episode 10
overlooked gem
26 February 2000
I saw this movie many years ago and thought it lost, but recently it showed up on a station listed but just out of range, so it's still around somewhere. Won't one of you obscurity specialists find it and put it on the market? An hour long (and thus consigned to the late show from word go) it's the best of Vernon Sewell's numerous little ghost stories. A pair of newlyweds show up to buy a house, and a shadowy lady tells them, in flashback, of the place's history. She starts with another couple who put up with insidious supernatural events, and came to learn, in a flashback within a flashback, the nasty happenings that turned this place into what it is. The finale, though not terribly surprising, delivers in terms of campfire tale creepiness. There isn't, of course, any rules to horror and people keep seeking that elusive formula of fright, but here's a quiet little piece that, with no evident artistic effort, presses just the right buttons. This is one obscurity that won't let you down when you find it.
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interesting oddity
25 February 2000
This one I saw at my small town theatre as a kid, mid-week during the summer and with about five other people there. I've never met another human being who's ever seen it. It starts out, to the best of my memory, very excitingly, as a missionary convent in the Congo tries to hold its own as the terrifying rebellion starts closing in. As with all films dealing with this episode of history (SIMBA, SAFARI, SOMETHING OF VALUE) things get very bloody, with everyone except the pretty leading lady savagely massacred (very traumatizing stuff during that SOUND OF MUSIC-SINGING/FLYING NUN era, especially for a young non-Catholic who figured all nuns were cute saints.) The graphic spearing of the mother superior still shows up in my nightmares. The young novice is raped and left to die, but is eventually rescued and taken back to Rome. From there it's thoughtful soap opera, the young woman emotionally torn between giving up the impending child for adoption (her uppercrust family tells her they don't want "a little Mau-Mau hopping around") or leaving her life's calling and facing life as an unwed mother. At the time I was merely disappointed by the screeching halt of the action, but it's funny how this completely forgotten dubbed-for-the-drive-ins fare has stuck with me, complete with its moral issues that were very daring for their time. I wonder if it'll ever surface.
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