Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.


PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (2010)
Some good effects, but having seen the first movie, you know exactly what to expect, so the whole thing is pretty muted. I liked the first movie; this one doesn't have the element of surprise. ** stars.

RED STATE (2011)
A real surprise; this is unlike anything Kevin Smith has ever made, and for the most part, it's impressive (especially because of a riveting performance from Michael Parks as the leader of a religious cult). It's amazingly confident for Smith being so far out of his comfort zone; I think he only loses his nerve at the very end, tacking on a denouement that doesn't quite work, going too far after he's found the perfect ending point (for those who've seen it, the movie really should have ended with Parks yelling "Shoot me" and left the rest to the viewer). It's interesting that there's no real point of view here. We get a sense of everyone's side of what's happening, without really following or judging anyone, but really Smith just wants to make a B action thriller, and he does it well. It reminded me of Assault on Precinct 13, and it's that kind of pulp. John Goodman rocks in this movie. Surprise, Melissa Leo overacts. ***1/2 stars.

DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)
Overwrought Lucio Fulci film--my first Fulci, actually--about string of child murders in a small Italian town. Barbara Bouchet is quite lovely, and the score is very good, but the film never really drew me in the way good giallo usually does. **1/2 stars.

DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971)
High Gothic film combining vampirism, lesbianism, and abstract ideas of power and domination. Very moody and effective for about four-fifths of its length, but the multiple endings threw me off a little. At some point, it seems like the film is trying to say that lesbianism is the real evil, but then it tries to turn the message around and say that a sort of overpowering id disguised as liberated pansexuality is a constant thread... I don't know, I liked it, and there are good performances here, but I think the message gets muddled in the last few minutes. Like I said, abstract. But moody and classy. *** stars on style alone.

MONKEY SHINES (1988)
Completely ridiculous, but in a surprisingly fun way. George Romero's first studio flick, and not one he's apparently happy with, but I enjoyed it; it's so stupid it becomes fun. It's just a crazy flick, one that is willing to go all the way with this weird psychodrama about a quadriplegic man and his helper monkey. And it inspired one of my favorite Malcolm in the Middle episodes. *** stars for embracing its insanity so thoroughly.

VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972)
Great-looking Hammer film about a small town that's been quarantined with disease after killing a vampire. A circus shows up to relieve everyone's boredom, and, of course, it's populated by gypsies, little people, shape changers, and vampires. An atmospheric flick, one of Hammer's last gothic horror films. Given the state of Hammer at this point in history, this feels like one of their classier films, more committed to its premise and to what is is than, say, The Satanic Rites of Dracula. *** stars. Also, there a three future Doctor Who actors in here, one of them Lalla Ward.

THE CAT O'NINE TAILS (1971)
A miss from Dario Argento; have I seen all the good ones and am doomed to be disappointed now? Good cast in the service of a half-hearted giallo thriller that never really gets off the ground. Great score by Ennio Morricone. ** stars.

21 DAYS (1940)
This film has an odd sense of morality, but Vivien Leigh is quite good in it. I've actually never seen her in a film where she speaks in her natural accent before this. I think this is only the third movie I've seen her in... **1/2 stars.

2 OR 3 THINGS I KNOW ABOUT HER (1967)
Godard is so hit or miss for me. Here he's basically masturbating with a film camera, whispering his thoughts on progress and industry and how people are losing their innocence (which I've always considered a naive way to think; people who say that have no grasp of history outside of themselves). Beautiful to look at, and I have no problems with the lack of narrative, I just don't think it has anything to say that isn't precious and pretentious. This is first year film student stuff. **1/2 stars for the lovely cinematography and editing, and the beautiful Marina Vlady. Her eyes are as much an effect as the colors of France.

VIE ET PASSION DU CHRIST (1903)
Epic length for 1903; at about 53 minutes it's roughly five times as long as that year's The Great Train Robbery. This is the life of Christ, presented in the episodes we're all familiar with, from Nativity to Crucifixion. A great deal of it is people cowering in fear--er, worshiping in rapture at visions of angels and the heavenly host that appear in the sky. It's pretty-looking and ornate, like a lot of French films of the time (although the version I saw had, I think, Dutch titles, though they were close enough to German that I could fake my way through them, and the Greatest Hits of the Christ Myth are so familiar that you don't really need them, anyway). Very interesting for me, a lover of silent films, and it's interesting to see how the special effects are accomplished. One thing that did strike me as different from most of the Christ films I've seen: the three kings of the Orient travel in a large train, with servants and pack mules and an entire retinue. That seems more realistic to me, as it were, than three kings striking out in the wilderness on their own. Anyway, an interesting movie, and one that it seems to me DeMille's King of Kings borrows heavily from. **1/2 stars.

THEATER OF BLOOD (1973)
This film would be wonderful just for getting to see Vincent Price do scenes from Shakespeare. But it's so much more; this may be the best I've ever seen Vincent, which is really saying something, as I do consider him one of the great actors of cinema. Price stars as Edward Lionheart, an actor thought dead who gets revenge on the critics who ridiculed him through inspiration from Shakespeare. Fantastic supporting cast, especially Diana Rigg, who goes through as many makeup and costume changes as Price. I can't believe it took me so many years to see it, but I'm so delighted getting to watch this for the first time after I've become so jaded; every year, I feel like I've already seen all the good horror movies. This wonderful, wonderful movie shows me how wrong I am. **** stars.

TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976)
Hammer tries to do Rosemary's Baby, only with less subtlety--a lot less--and worse special effects. Nastassja Kinski is beautiful, and Christopher Lee is excellent (even without too much to do other than appear menacing), but it just doesn't add up. A real shame, as the elements are there, but the creative team just doesn't handle it with any elegance. ** stars.

DR. HECKYL AND MR. HYPE (1980)
What the hell did I just watch? I can't even rate this one, I think, as the satirical tone just doesn't work as well as it wants to, and even though I like Oliver Reed in it, it just... what? Has its moments, but what?

2 comments:

Tallulah Morehead said...

When Theater of Blood opened, the review in the LA Times stated seriously that Price ought to be Oscar nominated for it. I agree. One of my favorite movies ever. And how often do you get to watch a man electrocute his future wife?

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

I had a friend who worked in the film department of Brandon University and TOB and the Magic Christian were two I watched in a day. Terrific stuff with a sick sick sense of humor. Great fun. I have to watch this one again.