Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Electric Boogaloo

The story of Cannon Films and its founders are examined in this documentary. Fast-paced, with tons of interviews and clips from Cannon's films, it's a very entertaining movie, with larger-than-life director/producers Menahem Golan and Yoran Globus the stars of the film.

Golan reportedly threatened a pilot with an uzi, and reportedly endangered his newborn son by giving him a part in a film, which involved the baby being unrestrained in the back of a moving wagon. He reportedly made plot lines up on the spot, and heavily promoted films which underperformed, including the legendarily awful Superman IV.

Electric Boogaloo was a humorous documentary, particularly the footage of a starlet from one of their films burning a VHS copy of the film she starred in.

I'm particularly intrigued by the film Ninja III: The Domination. I'm surprised I've never heard of it.

Demonically possessed female ninjas? Yes, please.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Legends Of Santa

The history of The Jolly Old Elf is examined in this documentary.

Xmas sucks. Now, don't get upset. I hate every holiday. I'm of the mind that believes that holidays were invented just to distract us just long enough to stop killing one another for a day to two, which is why they've become so omnipresent, and I'm looking at you, National Bubblewrap Appreciation Day (that's January 25). I think if you celebrate every day for no apparent reason whatsoever, you don't need a special day to do it. And if you celebrate every day, you'll eventually be good at it, and you won't be one of those amateur party douches that overcompensates and vomits into a potted plant at the holiday get-together on New Year's, and St. Patrick's Day, and July 4th, and Labor Day, and pretty much every holiday involving a six-pack, which is all of them.

Anyway, back to Claus. Don't get me started on that guy. We go way back. My second cousin Krampus works for him. BTW, there's a documentary about Krampus currently in theaters (I haven't seen it). That's neither here nor there. Speaking of there, you might already be aware that I hung out with Santa this summer, when I took a road trip to visit him. I wouldn't say we get along that well.

No, I didn't drive to the North Pole, that's where he keeps his sweatshop, where he underpays elves to makes cruddy plastic toys they sell at the dollar stores. What, did you think he was some master artisan? Did you really think he was hand-tooling ornately carved wooden rocking horses? HA! Hardly. He hasn't picked up a chisel since 1849. It's all outsourcing, baby. And plastics. He's in it for the cash. If he was so altruistic, he'd be flying around giving everyone vaccines. Anyway, he lives in Santa Claus, Indiana. I spent the night in his hotel, and then we had an epic kung fu battle in a thunderstorm. And there was pie.

That's not important right now. Legends Of Santa details Santa's first Kickstarter, where he threw a bag of coins through someone's window in Turkey during the 3rd century. Head up, Claus, that's not how Kickstarters work, and that's not how banks work, and I'm pretty sure flinging a sack full of pennies willy-nilly is how vandalism works. Then all the squares got really upset about Saturnalia, which is one big ancient and decadent party involving vandalism, and they then decide Christmas would be a much better holiday, and by "better" I mean "way more lame, but with just as much, if not more, binge drinking". Then Santa lands a very lucrative sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola, and it's all downhill from there, as Xmas creeps into stores at the end of July and doesn't leave until Valentine's Day, even though secretly everyone wishes it wouldn't.

Sorry, I can't seem to find a trailer for Legends Of Santa, but I didn't try very hard. All this holiday stuff is starting to press my nerves, and Xmas is already a holly-jolly nightmare. Here's a trailer for that documentary about my second cousin I was telling you about.

A Tale Of Two Thieves

The search for the men responsible for The Great Train Robbery is examined in this documentary. Nonchalant and matter-of-fact, Bruce Richard Reynolds felt destined for a life of crime. After being caught for one of his many crimes, he was whipped with the cat o' nine tails. In spite of this, he felt torture and prison wasn't a deterrent. In a startling onscreen revelation, he details the methods and dangers to blowing a safe, where he suffered a concussion. Along with 14 other men, he pulled Britain's largest robbery. Utilizing interviews, vintage film clips, recreations, and fantastic slang, A Tale Of Two Thieves is an intriguing story of a charismatic criminal.

Beltracchi: The Art Of Forgery

The career of the art forger is examined in this documentary. After buying ancient flea market paintings, Beltracchi removed the old paint from them, hand-mixed gorgeous pigments, and created new art on top of the old. After artificially aging it by baking it in an oven, he added dust to the inside of the back of the painting for authenticity. Because being wrong could jeopardize their careers, experts and dealers assumed the painting was authentic. Beltracchi created approximately 300 fakes, many hang in museums. Arrogant and talented, he was ultimately brought down by a tube of titanium white. Somewhat slow-moving, Beltrachhi: The Art Of Forgery felt overlong, but it was still an intriguing film.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Twin sisters unknown to one another are reunited in this fresh, youthful documentary. Samantha, an actress in Los Angeles, is contacted by Anais, a fashion designer in Paris, because of the striking physical similarities she found after watching one of her acting performances. Somehow managing to make internetting look interesting on film, Twinsters uses Skype, texts, and emojis to forward the compelling narrative. Surprising, bittersweet, but a bit cloying in the middle, it's a fascinating film.

Tap World

The life stories of tap dancers are profiled in this entertaining documentary. Featuring dancers floating, sliding, leaping, and tapping, Tap World is a documentary about dance, community, and family, spoken in the language, rhythm, and music of tap. 'A seeing music and a hearing dance', the life-changing power of tap is shown through poignant stories, including a college student who busks on the subway, and a cancer survivor, now an amputee, who taps while wearing a prosthetic leg. The cultural influences that have molded modern tap are also shown, including gumboot dancers in South Africa who used tap to communicate in the mines, Indian barefoot kathak dancers, and Brazilians using tap to help kids get off the streets. Filled with talented and innovative performances, Tap World is an enlightening documentary.

Monday, December 21, 2015

From Caligari To Hitler

The link between the rise of expressionist cinema in the Weimar Republic and the connection to the rise of Nazism is examined in this documentary. Featuring clips from dozens of films, the premonition of war, tyranny, and conformity in Germany is shown through amazing images and breathtaking scenes from the cinema giants of the age, including M, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the Mabuse films, The Golem, Nosferatu, Faust, Metropolis, and many others. Thankfully, the film doesn't dwell so much on the politics of the era and the tragedies that ensue, but concentrates on the lustrous, shining film artistry that blossomed during the time period.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Avenging Fist

In a Blade Runner-like future, where the Pollution Index Rating is Black, and the UV Index Rating is also Black, people ride hover boards, use way too much hair gel, and make phone calls by holding two fingers up to their ears, so it's a lot like now. Amidst jump cuts, quick edits, and less-than impressive special effects, people fight and say, 'Woo-hoo!'. Utilizing wire work and acrobatics, people float, spin, levitate, glow, and kick each other. Things sometimes explode.

Suddenly, people attempt drug-induced martial arts dancing, and Sammo Hung wears a shiny metal fedora. Then characters say, 'Hey!', 'Let's go!', and 'Your clothes look very tidy'. Then a fascist causes someone to fall into a pyramid cage containing a Pokemon, I think, and it tears him apart, and the fascist catches his eyeball. Two characters kiss while riding a overboard in front of an enormous moon to pop music accompaniment. Someone has a birthday party, and the cake is topped with a holographic stripper candle. Someone receives a toaster as a gift, and it contains a glove. People shoot each other with beams from the Forbidden Zone, and someone else can heat beverages with their hands.

More movie happens whether you want it to or not, and people shoot fire from their hands, wear neon clothing, call Sammo Hung fat repeatedly, and sometimes dissolve. The film ends with a terrific battle, and by 'terrific' I really mean 'confusing'. Lots and lots of stuff appeared to happen. What it was, I'm not sure.

The Avenging Fist has a nonsensical script, extravagant hair and costumes, mediocre martial arts, lackluster CGI, very little plot, and wire work where you can see the wire. It's recommended for people who like watching, but not playing, video games.


Three complaining young American women travel to Thailand to work as teachers, but find they've rented a haunted house in this gory horror film. After a drone shot of the temples at Angkor Wat, the women bicker amongst themselves as they unlock the padlock to the door of their rented home, and the boom mic makes a startling appearance, taking up approximately 10% of the left-hand side of the frame. They keep calling their new home 'creepy', and I think they're confusing the word 'creepy' with 'enormous, beautiful, gorgeously decorated, and much too nice for them'. They discover a gold statue of a child, and the cameraman is reflected in a 'creepy' wood and glass display case that probably cost a small fortune. I mean seriously, this house is incredible. Ornate wooden carvings, a lagoon instead of a yard, shining hardwood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, a haunted ritual altar in the attic, you know, curb appeal.

Anyway, after some continuity-defying carpet and dizzying handheld camerawork, a glass breaks somewhere in this 'creepy' three-story home, and one of the women says, 'It must be the wind', and it's like they're reading from a script from Scooby Doo. Then one of the women says, 'We don't speak Thai', and then speaks Thai.

The women decide to go out on the town, so they head to a nightclub and drink booze from a fishbowl and dance to dubstep. It's very tedious. Three men hit on them, and then the women get roofied.

Here the film takes a really dark turn, and not a moment too soon. People are tortured, someone gets fed their own eyeball, and someone's toenails are ripped out. Teeth are extracted, someone bathes in arterial spray, and someone licks a bloody knife blade. A witch gets her head split open, revealing her twitching brain. Someone's entrails make an appearance, someone's tongue is removed, and there's bad dubbing.

The second half of the film is superior to the first, but it's probably because the first half is concerned with plot and character development. The second half barely succeeds because of the torture and screaming.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Happy House

A bickering couple vacations at a bed and breakfast, and the microphone strapped to the lead actor's lower back is briefly visible in this horror film. Joe and Wendy, two not-especially interesting New Yorkers, decide to try to salvage their sinking relationship, so Joe books them at a secluded B&B. Wisely, Wendy doesn't want to go.

Honestly, who could blame her? I've spent the night at several allegedly haunted hotels and at least one allegedly haunted mansion. I hang out in cemeteries for fun. I can say with all certainty that there's nothing more terrifying to me than the thought of staying at a B&B. The forced chit-chat, the communal activities, the proximity to strangers, the early morning hours, the quiet, the relaxation, the needlepoint, the doilies. I shudder at the thought.

I once spent the night at an allegedly haunted Shaker village. I guess you could say it was kind of a B&B. Did the ghosts frighten me? No. I almost ran screaming from the hotel foyer from the sight of several people sitting in Shaker rockers crocheting. Later that night, it was darker than any dark I've ever experienced, so quiet my tinnitus nearly deafened me, and I was a stone's throw from livestock. But it was the idyllic crocheting that nearly had me speeding away in a panic. I was hoping ghosts would wander around rattling their chains or whatever to break up the homespun monotony.

Anyway, I'm reviewing a movie. Upon arriving at the charming bed & breakfast, an impossibly cheerful woman named Hildie welcomes Joe and Wendy into her home, and they meet her ax-wielding son and a not-especially Swedish lepidopterist named Hverven. The house is decorated with an overabundance of cuckoo clocks, and they're presented with a lengthy list of House Rules. They're warned not to break the rules three times, because something bad will happen. There's no internet, there's no TV, and no loud music or snacking is allowed.

At this point, I would've fled the scene. I don't trust people who are aggressively polite and good natured. What's their angle? What are they hiding? I don't trust them. Also, I can't follow rules. I'll break every single one of them just to do it. Upon learning that snacking wasn't allowed, I would've driven back to the nearest convenience store for every snack known to mankind and gobbled them in bed out of spite. While I stayed at the Shaker village, the hotel restaurant was closed for the night because it was like, I don't know, either 7 p.m. or the 19th century, so I ate most of a contraband Derby pie in my room. Plus no internet, TV, or music? Might as well hit me over the head with a shovel and bury me out back, Hildie, because it's what you're planning all along anyway. Death by nostalgia. Or a shovel. Whatever. Anyway, I'm on to you, Hildie. Put me out of my internet-free misery.

Back to the review. After a bunch of B&B tedium, including needlepoint, checkers, reading, silence, cuckoo clocks, and blueberry muffins that have a secret ingredient that isn't mentioned in the film again, the police arrive to tell Hildie and the gang that a murderous mental patient has escaped the nearby asylum because of course it is, and he goes by the name of Desmond The Decapitator because of course he does. Seriously, all that peace and quiet would drive anyone crazy. Did I mention there's no TV or internet? For crying out loud. How can someone live that way? I mean, how do people in rural areas watch cat videos? Do they watch actual cats? No thanks. While I stayed at the haunted Shaker village with the crocheting, there was no phone reception, no TV, and it was so quiet I swear I could hear the clacking of those steel crochet needles echoing throughout the building.

Anyway, back again to the review. Suddenly, a stranger knocks on the door. Hildie packs her .44 Magnum because of course she does. Then the movie takes a dark turn, and not a moment too soon, as the house is plunged into darkness, and the cast resorts to candles. They tie bedsheets together, and they unconvincingly scramble down them to escape the terror unfolding within the house, which isn't particularly terrifying, only to be involved in a low-speed chase from an ax-wielding maniac. It's more of a jog, really.

Disappointing as a mystery, and disappointing as a slasher, The Happy House seems like two films iced together like a mismatched layer cake, light and airy at the top, dark and dense below. Unfortunately, pastries are all that Hildie is serving, and something more substantial isn't on the menu.

Dark Star: H. R. Giger's World

The career and home life of the late artist is examined in this documentary. Given a human skull at the tender age of 6, Giger would drag it behind him down the street by a string. I'm not certain if that had any influence on him at all. His album cover artwork with Dead Kennedys, Celtic Frost, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer is shown, including 1970s footage of the artist airbrushing one of his pieces. The ongoing battle to manage his paperwork and film royalties is compelling, and considering the state of his home, it seems like a monumental task. His cluttered, cobweb-filled, labyrinthine house, with its walls painted black and covered with floor-to-ceiling paintings of alchemical symbols and woman/machine hybrids, and a bathtub overflowing with books, it's really the star of the show. His shady garden of ivy, a miniature train running through it, is a close second.

Unfortunately there's no sign of his Oscar for Alien anywhere.

Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Action figures over-emote amidst a complicated script and complicated CGI in this cluttered prequel.

This film is terrible. First of all, the unintentionally laugh-out-loud funny dialogue. Second, the endless parade of alien creatures whose sole existence is to become a chunk of collectible plastic. And finally, the performances. Natalie Portman was sublime in Leon: The Professional, and won an Academy Award for Black Swan. I'm not sure what it is she's doing here, though.

Hayden Christensen. Whoa. He gives a wooden, cringe-inducing performance that boggles the mind.

Love, astonishment, anger, surprise, disappointment, Christensen's performance is one flat note throughout until the very end, and his demeanor finally changes, but it's only because he's on fire. From lava.

Ewan MacGregor does the best he can with the dialogue provided. But then again, he won a BAFTA for Trainspotting, where he climbed out of the worst toilet in all of Scotland.

The most compelling (and energetic) character is Yoda, who leaps and twirls and battles with a verve unseen in The Empire Strikes Back. It's arguably the best use of CGI in the prequels, and it's not enough to save this film. Although Yoda is 800 years old, he goes from Olympic gymnast in Sith to being carried around by Skywalker in Empire. I'm sure there's a logical explanation other than "That was Luke's training", he didn't take his Boniva, or just a crappy script. Don't tell me, I don't want to know. And don't say midi-chlorians.

George Lucas fills every square inch of the screen with stuff, as though he was afraid a pixel wouldn't blink, fly, explode, or say something stupid. Episode III should have been called Endlessly Twirling Light Sabers, because rarely is a scene not full of them, going so far as to have a Light Saber Helicopter at one point. The overuse of lightsabers is to distract you from noticing the terrible and convoluted script, and to move plastic replicas at Wal-Mart. It's definitely too much of a good thing.

I admit, I was excited in 1999 when George Lucas started making Star Wars films again after a lengthy absence, but in retrospect, he really shouldn't have. The three prequels are almost enough to destroy the memory of the original two Star Wars films (sorry, Return Of The Jedi isn't very good either, but it's the Godfather in comparison to the prequels), and I worry for the next installments by J.J. Abrams. Maybe he can pull the franchise out of the dumpster. It remains to be seen.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Blondie's New York And The Making Of Parallel Lines

The making of the classic album Parallel Lines is examined in this rockumentary. Featuring present-day interviews with the band, music videos, clips from Top Of The Pops, and vintage scenes of the gritty New York City of the 1970s, the highlight of the film is footage of band members and producer Mike Chapman breaking down songs from the album into their nuts-and-bolts. Isolating guitar parts, drum fills, and vocal lines, the construction of the songs from the ground up highlights what makes the album timeless. The fascinating metamorphosis of a pop/reggae track no one knew what to do with to an iconic #1 hit single was particularly interesting.

Criminally short at only 49 minutes, I could have watched Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and Clem Burke for hours.

The Great Museum

The restoration of the Kunstkammer Rooms at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Austria is examined in this documentary. With little dialogue, the majority of sound being the ambient noises of the vast, echoing museum, it's a quiet film. Cleaning crews, workmen, and restorers go about their business of ripping up wallpaper, chipping away paint, and tearing out flooring in an effort to prepare for a new installation. The painstaking attention required in caring for centuries-old, priceless works of art is shown, as enormous canvasses are wheeled about, statuary is vacuumed, and velvet-lined cases for jewel-encrusted treasures are dusted out. The mundane, behind-the-scenes activities of budgetary discussions and promotional campaigns carry an unexpected tension, where word choices become the stuff of a tense battle, and a font is removed for being 'too aggressive'. In order to get from one storage area to another, one enterprising employee wheels about on a Razor Scooter. With rubber gloves, face masks, and lab coats, minuscule insects are removed from oil paintings and examined under microscopes. A fascinating, academic documentary, The Great Museum is probably too boring for the casual viewer, but would appeal to activists, art lovers, and museum enthusiasts. Since I'm hardly a casual viewer or easily bored, I liked it a lot. Stay for the gorgeous final shot of the completed rooms in all their gilded glory.

The Wolfpack

Six brothers live in their Lower East Side apartment with their odd, reclusive parents and rarely leave, the only way they know the outside world is through the movies they watch. Utilizing handwritten, illustrated scripts they recreated from watching DVDs of films such as Reservoir Dogs and Blue Velvet, the boys stage the films in their apartment, brandishing handmade prop weapons. The accuracy and attention to detail in these film recreations was quite stunning. I particularly enjoyed the scene featuring a remarkable Halloween celebration, the boys wearing homemade costumes of Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger, they danced around a burning straw effigy, again, in their apartment, which probably wasn't the safest idea. With loose, handheld camerawork, interviews in closeup, and clips from home movies, The Wolfpack is a fascinating look at isolated individuals in one of the most densely populated cities in the country. The footage of their parents is chilling, as both mother and father are seemingly unable to control the events that caused them all to be prisoners in their home. The Wolfpack is a mind-boggling documentary examining reclusion and the life-changing power of film.