Thursday, April 30, 2015

Encounters Of The Spooky Kind 2

Torch-wielding villagers chase a hopping vampire in this kung-fu horror film. The hopping vampire smokes something suspicious from a pipe, then he forces his potential victims to get their smoke on, too. Then there's some vampiric kung fu. Someone gets their pants stolen, and someone puts a bug in some soup. A flying female ghost grifts another guy for some soup, and I start to wonder if maybe they should have called this movie Encounters Of The Soupy Kind. Then there's some unusually long arms, a bunch of broken vases, and a yoyo kung fu battle. In a particularly memorable moment, someone shoves a fistful of beetles into a corpse's mouth, which was pretty cool but very brief. Then there's about 45 minutes of flying, jumping, punching, flipping, and spinning. There's more bugs and leeches, and someone kisses a piglet. Unfortunately there's seems to be very little in the way of spooky things.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Order Of One: Kung Fu Killing Spree

Gun-wielding kung fu chicks in halter tops chase an escaped convict who just happens to have The Sword Of Destiny in this low budget action film. Stylish, well-paced, and featuring 70s-TV style transitions and 1966 Batman-like graphic word balloons that spout phrases like "Skull Destruction Fist!" over its well-executed and edited fight scenes, one memorable bout of fisticuffs in Order Of One destroys enough drywall to fill a home improvement warehouse. The Sword Of Destiny looks like it was purchased from Sky Mall, and the strip club/pool hall seems to be a warehouse for boxes of paper towels. The acting is stiff and wooden, and the boom is reflected in a car's hood at least once. However, Order Of One has a lot of spirit and energy, it's goofy fun, and I recommend it if you like stuff that sucks.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Babadook

Original, frightening, and enigmatic, I'm going out on a limb and calling The Babadook a new horror classic. Heavily shadowed and melancholy blue, the tension in The Babadook builds and never lets up while subtly exploring realms of Freudian symbolism and disturbing subtext. Complex and startling, The Babadook is equally about isolation, familial angst, and unimaginable grief as much as the threat of a lurking boogieman. Speaking of the boogieman, The Babadook does a lot with a little, and never has to resort to a full reveal or obvious jump scares. I could go on and on about this film, but I won't.

Monday, April 13, 2015


Officer Lou Garou drinks at the Tooth and Claw Saloon, eats crullers from Liquor Donuts, and occasionally turns into a werewolf that fights crime in this drily comedic horror film. Although not an especially good cop in human form and quite often hungover, Officer Lou catches the bad guys and customizes his own squad car while a uniformed wolf. Featuring severed limbs, arterial spray, decapitated heads, swordplay, several gooey transformation scenes, face skin stuck to a car's windshield wiper, and a Little Red Riding Hood-esque candlelit love scene in a jail cell complete with a picnic basket of booze, Wolfcop wasn't exactly the campy laugh riot I was expecting, but I still enjoyed it.

A Field Full Of Secrets

A man starts to investigate crop circles after discovering one contains the numerals found in pi in this well-shot documentary. Featuring beautiful shots of fields, hills, and stone circles, the film meanders a bit as it briefly explores auras, energies, and the people who claim to have faked crop circles. After finding some of the crop circles he is investigating contain what he believes are secret messages, he begins building 3D parts for some sort of metallic craft that runs on saline and magnets. The first half of the film is a bit boring, then the second half goes of the rails with worries of conspiracies and accidentally creating wormholes on Earth.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Color Me Blood Red

A painter goes to great lengths to improve his color palette in this early splatter film by Godfather of Gore Herschell Gordon Lewis. After scenes of riding a water bike, lots of boring movie, and a lengthy closeup of a broken canvas in lieu of a pasty love scene, the artist finally decides blood is the color he's been searching for in his artwork. Several fingers are unconvincingly cut and the blood is smeared across one of his unconvincing canvasses, then the artist collapses on his avocado-colored recliner in his wood-paneled studio in a swoon. Suddenly, he stabs his shrew of a wife in the face and smears her face across the canvas to a snappy jazz non-diegetic soundtrack. As a beret-wearing critic admires his latest creation, the artist fondles the painting in a creepy manner. Then he paints a painting of a fish wearing a shoe and eating a bird, and it's just as artistic as it sounds. After he uses his boat to impale some hooligans riding his water bikes, he milks their intestines into a bowl and uses the blood to paint. In a screaming huff, the artist decides not to sell his artwork of a bloody fish shoe, and the onlookers seem confused about his artistic temperament. Then someone uses a corncob bubblepipe in a convertible, and I'm not sure why. After someone is fooled into a little unconvincing light bondage, the movie mercifully ends a couple of times. If you'd like to experience some other Herschell Gordon Lewis films, check out Blood Feast, considered the first gore film and featuring locally sourced organ meats. It's awful, but entertainingly so.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Citizen Kane: Roger Ebert Commentary

I watch bad movies...a lot of them. Some I enjoy, others I don't. But I wholeheartedly believe that unless you can truly appreciate bad art, you can't truly appreciate good art. Give it a shot, if you dare. Gaze upon the recently retouched Ecce Homo, and compare it to the staggering genius of Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Listen to the perfection of the Beatles' Day Tripper, and compare it to the incomparable Shaggs.

And finally, compare The Creeping Terror with Orson Welles' masterwork, Citizen Kane.

They were all created with the same basic elements; paint, guitars, and film, and their creators achieved different, but memorable, sometimes striking, results. 

I recently watched Life Itself, the documentary about the life and career of critic Roger Ebert, and I was so moved by it I instantly put on the DVD of Citizen Kane featuring Ebert's commentary. I'm not going to review Citizen Kane because it's already been done, by experts who know a crap-ton more about film than I do. And I'm certainly not going to review Roger Ebert's commentary, as it is an astonishing breakdown of the nuts-and-bolts of Welles' film, even though Roger keeps calling a jigsaw puzzle a crossword puzzle, but that's neither here not there, and honestly, it sounds a little like I just reviewed it. Instead, I'm going to list the points brought up by Ebert in the commentary in bullet point form in exhaustive and completely unnecessary detail to illustrate exactly why Citizen Kane is seen as the greatest film ever made in probably the greatest commentary ever recorded. Please let me remind you, this is a two-hour film commented on by Roger Ebert, and not a year-long college course in film-making.

  • Invisible, seamless edits
  • Matte paintings and drawings used to create an epic scale on a budget
  • 110 different sets
  • Stock footage combined with artificially aged footage created by dragging film on the floor
  • Mercury actors integrated into actual RKO newsreel footage through optical printer
  • Integrating invisible special effects to make the film looks realistic, as many as Star Wars
  • Long takes, quick cuts, low camera angles, and experiments with lenses and lighting
  • Paparazzi-style footage
  • Backlighting to create drama; the background fades out, the foreground fades out, the background fades in, the foreground fades in
  • Dissolves, silhouettes, wipes, and fades
  • Sound techniques borrowed from radio
  • Triangular shot composition, mirroring of physical action through multiple scenes
  • Universal focus
  • Time lapse
  • Optical illusions and visual puns
  • Low muslin ceilings hide microphones and lighting, create dramatic atmosphere
  • Entire film is art directed with tons of bric-a-brac to illustrate a life of excess
  • Sets built so camera can be at or below floor level
  • Extensive use of eye-lines
  • Extensive use of symbolism
  • Infinite point of view
  • Witness is nearly always shown in lower right hand corner of every scene
  • Flash pan
  • Extensive use of models, miniatures
  • Inventive, overlapping dialogue
  • Bernard Hermann score, aria written specifically for the film.
'Every way light can be used to cast on a screen is exploited by Welles, even shadow play.', Pauline Kael via Roger Ebert.

'Citizen Kane is the accumulation of all the film technology available at the time.', Roger Ebert

Life Itself

The life and career of Roger Ebert is examined in this brutally candid and moving documentary. Featuring vintage photographs taken in his early years as a journalist struggling with alcoholism, footage of graphic hospital procedures during his battle with cancer, bloopers from his brotherly and antagonistic relationship with fellow critic Gene Siskel, and a not-quite explanation of his decision to write the screenplay for Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, Life Itself shines a light on a complex individual who seemingly never loses his joy for both life and the movies in spite of insurmountable health struggles. Life Itself was so profound, I decided to watch Citizen Kane with Ebert's mind-bogglingly in-depth commentary.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Below Ground: Demon Holocaust

A horror film-maker documents a vaguely demonic or zombified event but can't seem to focus his camera in this no-budget horror film filmed in someone's basement. Unlikeable characters are holed up together as some sort of not-especially-terrifying terror unfolds in a quiet suburb and they bicker about it for an hour and a half, amidst garish, inconsistent lighting, cardboard boxes, and poor sound quality from the video recorder's built-in microphone, an abrupt and seemingly out-of-place non-diegetic soundtrack that shouldn't be in a found-footage film and doesn't make sense in context, and terrible furnishings, and no one can save them from whatever is out there or the viewer from boredom. Below Ground: Demon Holocaust is somewhat like what would happen if Abraham Zapruder shot Bigfoot footage for an Eric Rohmer zombie film, meaning important things are out of focus, not-so-important things are in focus, everything's fairly grainy, people talk about stuff, and nothing of interest really happens. Below Ground: Demon Holocaust contains very few demons and almost no holocausts. I give props to the film-makers for their DIY spirit, but the props look like they were purchased at a Halloween superstore.

Atari: Game Over

Atari: Game Over documents the history of the video game company Atari and culminates in a dig in an Almogordo landfill to recover the million ET: The Extraterrestrial video games reportedly buried there. Using old photographs and maps to triangulate the position of the cells where Atari supposedly dumped all those old video games, archeologists battle dust storms as video game enthusiasts sit in folding chairs to watch the dig unfold. Informational and oddly gripping, Atari: Game Over attempts to salvage the reputation of the legendarily bad video game based on Steven Spielberg's film.

Turks In Space

Turks do stuff in space, sort of, in this higher-budgeted kind-of sequel to Turkish Star Wars. In spite of CGI, better sets, and expensive-looking costumes, Turks In Space has a Sid & Marty Krofft air about it, and it's not nearly as terrible as Turkish Star Wars. Unfortunately, Sid & Marty Krofft's heyday was in the 1970s, and Turks in Space was filmed in 2006, if that puts things in perspective. It's really, really terrible. Borrowing a bit from Star Trek, a bit from Max Headroom, and finally whipping out the light sabers 10 minutes from the end of the film, Turks In Space bores. It's currently at #9 on IMDB's Bottom 100, but I've seen worse.

Somehow, Turkish Star Wars doesn't make the Bottom 100, and that's mystifying.

Missile To The Moon

Two fugitives stow away aboard a rocket to the moon. Suddenly, the scientist who built the ship discovers them, and serves them chicken and 7-Up. He makes them change into space-clothes, and the fact they agree to change into space-clothes for the chicken-serving scientist they just met seems totally fine. After a one-second training shift, the escaped convicts become his copilots, which shouldn't create any extremely-important-to-the-plot difficulties later in the film. For some reason, the scientist's assistant and fiancee are trapped aboard the rocket as it takes off, and after they're discovered the convict who is the rape-ier of the two makes a move on the fiancee. The prerequisite fight amongst this hodgepodge of a crew breaks out, and the scientist is crushed by a piece of rocketship furniture. Using the finest in reverse-film technology, the rocketship comes to a stop on the moon as someone applies the rocketship brakes, and that seems fine. Then the crew puts on the convenient spacesuits and gravity boots that just happen to fit and seems to be the appropriate amount for the number of stowaways on board. Suddenly, a moon rock comes to life, and it looks a bit like a granite Gumby, dammit.

After shooting the Gumbys with a gun, the crew hides in that one cave that's in every movie. After some dubious scientific discoveries in the cave, some outer space chicks in leotards serve a cornucopia filled with treats on sticks. Then the blind ruler of the space chicks whose name is The Lido says that the earthlings aren't prisoners, but they aren't allowed to escape, and that sounds an awful lot like being a prisoner to me, but I could be wrong.

Some space chicks have a catfight, and one of the space chicks releases an unconvincing giant spider puppet. Then there's some mind control, a stabbing, an extermination chamber, and interpretive dance. A space chick named Zima helps the crew escape, but mind control almost forces her to pull the lever that releases the gas, and I can't believe I just composed a sentence using the words Zima, mind control, and release the gas.

Finally, the creepy guy is incinerated and not a moment too soon, oops, spoiler alert.

Through A Lens Darkly

The history of African-American photography is examined in this shocking and powerful documentary. Featuring haunting images of slavery, lynchings, and brutality throughout history, the film expertly juxtaposes those photographs with modern photographs brilliantly illustrating male sports figures as commodity. Through photographs of Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass pioneering the cause of abolitionism, the elegant and dapper photos taken by Van Der Zee during the Harlem Renaissance, and the work of Gordon Parks during the Civil Rights Era, the history of black photography is vividly detailed in this beautiful and educational film. Through A Lens Darkly is shocking, powerful, and ultimately inspiring.

The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness

Well-made but leisurely paced, The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness examines the life and career of hand-drawn animation master Hayao Miyazaki. Concentrating primarily on the Studio Ghibli animation house, the film shows footage of his team of animators in the process of creating The Wind Rises, Miyazaki's final film before retiring. Boiling down animated film-making to the minutia and subtleties of the painstaking craft of animating characters' every movement, glance, and bow, the magnitude of Miyazaki's achievements become apparent. Following the film's birth through to its debut to his weeping team, the viewer watches as The Wind Rises is drawn, colored, voiced, scored, and finally photographed. Exhaustive but highly satisfying, The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness is a rare look at the groundbreaking studio at work.

Mel Brooks: Make A Noise

The Emmy, Tony, Grammy, and Oscar winning director/writer/actor/comedian is examined in this documentary, and that's an awful lot of commas and slashes. Brooks is a force of nature, and I would rather have seen either more of his interviews or more clips from his films. As it is, Mel Brooks: Make A Noise leaves the viewer wanting, so I ended up viewing High Anxiety immediately following this film. Both Mel Brooks: Make A Noise and High Anxiety were fairly meh.

High Anxiety

Mel Brooks directs and stars in this homage/parody of Alfred Hitchcock films, although Cloris Leachman and Madeline Kahn do the usual job of stealing the film from him. If you're looking for a gag-a-minute free-for-all of Hitchcock parodies in the style of Brooks' classic films The Producers, Blazing Saddles, or Young Frankenstein, you're going to be disappointed. But if you're looking for a plethora of comb overs, well, you've come to the right place. Was there some sort of law enacted during the seventies that required men of a certain age to wear the dubious hairstyle? I don't know, but Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, and Dick Van Patten all sport impressive comb overs in this film, and they're worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Swinging Cheerleaders

A collegiate journalist investigates suspected gambling in this hard-hitting 1970s drama. 30-year old college students eat submarine sandwiches in a cafeteria as ragtime plays on the jukebox, because the groovy sounds of ragtime drives the kids wild.

Someone gets a call on a rotary phone, and when they're abruptly hung up on, they look at the receiver incredulously. One of the male cast members has The Dry Look, and I'm not sure why.

Amongst garish plaid bedspreads and camera shadows, someone says the phrase, "nihilistic happening" and I'm not sure why. Then someone is fooled by the old "telegram routine".

At a basement party filled with handheld camera shadows, everyone dances to jazz that wouldn't be out of place on the Lawrence Welk Show, and I'm not sure why.

During a private meeting about a vacation and rhinestone jeans, someone says the word "Jeepers", and I'm not sure why.

Then the movie ends.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Three Days Of The Condor

In Three Days Of The Condor, Robert Redford plays a CIA employee who runs out for a sandwich and returns to the office to discover his fellow CIA employees have been murdered in an outlandish plot to invade a Middle Eastern country for oil when gas prices were 57 cents per gallon. Seriously, who would believe such a yarn? You can't buy diddly-squat for 57 cents. A Snickers bar runs about 89 cents. And don't try to confuse me with perfectly reasonable plot justifications and math, because when adjusting for inflation $.57 actually equals $2.49, and we've had several wars in the Middle East that may or may not have anything to do with oil at all, and the love scene in Three Days Of The Condor was awkward, because I choose not to listen to reason or love or math for the most part, because reason and love and math all suck. Snickers bars are pretty good, though.

Bandh Darwaza

Featuring singing, dancing, and bleeding from the eyes, Bandh Darwaza is a 2 and 1/2 hour-long Knots Landing-esque Bollywood Vampire film, and I'm just as surprised as you are by that sentence. Unfortunately, the DVD of Bandh Darwaza contained no subtitles, so I'm not entirely certain what happened, but I don't think it ultimately matters. Here's a snapshot I took from Bandh Darwaza of some sort of bat creature statue, and I'm not certain what it has to do with the plot:

I purchased the DVD at Wild And Woolly Video, which was a fantastic video rental store in Louisville, Kentucky, and I'm sad to say it recently closed. I looked for a picture of Wild And Woolly Video from my trip to Louisville, but I can't find it. Instead, please enjoy this snapshot I took of the grave of Colonel Sanders:

Anyway, Bandh Darwaza consisted mostly of some limp horror cliches broken up by scenes of people singing on mountaintops or singing near waterfalls, and the limp horror cliches seem to take place in gothic catacombs which are fairly plentiful in India, or so I've heard. There's a spectacular fight scene involving flaming torches, whips, chains, and horse hypnotism, and by 'spectacular' I really mean 'confusing and brief considering how long this movie is'.