Movie Reviews 361 – Rush (2013)

September 14, 2018

I’ve always been partial to movies directed by Ron Howard who is much better behind the lens than he was in front of the camera as a child/teen actor despite being in a couple of hit television series. Looking at this directorial history it is clearly evident that his best efforts have been ‘real life’ stories, scoring accolades for such docudramas as Apollo 13 (my personal favorite), A Beautiful Mind, and Frost/Nixon. Rush is yet another feather in his cap where he has effectively captured the personal conflict between the two top contenders who were battling for the crown during the 1976 Formula One car racing season.

Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) were two polar opposite and in their own way equally egotistic individuals, both driven to win the competition that year when faith intervened in the form of a tragic accident. With reigning champ Lauda in the points lead and only a few races to go in the season a fiery crash severely burns Lauda and leaves him hospitalized with a scorched face and one ear completely gone. Hunt, already a thorn in Lauda’s side from the season before and with more than his share of bad luck early in the season swings the tide and suddenly finds himself in contention to win. Undaunted, Lauda who really should be recuperating from the accident makes an astonishing and shocking appearance at the final race  where the championship will be decided.

Howard avoids the pitfall of over relying on on-track race thrills and delivers all the suspense from the characters themselves and the off track events which are more entertaining. He emphasizes the drastic differences between the personalities, both assholes in their own way. Hunt the boisterous braggart and his sexual proclivities against the calculating, self centered and unapologetic narcissistic Lauda. Both are extremely talented and yet both were shunned by wealthy parents for pursuing such an undignified profession. Aside from their talents at driving the only other thing they shared was the mutual hatred and loathing of one another. And yet through it all, there comes a glimmer of admiration and even respect.

This is not a film just for racing fanatics and you don’t need to really understand the sport at all to get the rush from this fine film. You’ll be entertained from beginning to end and not just once the final checkered flag declares the winner in the standings, because the true winners here is the viewing audience.

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Movie Reviews 360 – Mars Needs Women (1967)

September 7, 2018

Mars Needs Women was another one of those elusive movie titles I searched for in vain during the VHS eighties. I was a rabid science fiction movie fan and with few exceptions – this being one – I managed to track down most of the obscure titles over the years but this one eluded me

Now you may guess that this was just another “men in silver suits” goofy alien movie that caught my eye – and in a manner that is true – but the real reason I wanted to see this one was because of Batgirl. You see the star of this film is none other than Yvonne Craig, A.K.A Babara Gordon, A.K.A Batgirl, in the sixties Batman TV series and just imagining her as some Martian maiden was enough to set off my Bat-O-Meter. But some films are best left unseen and my dreams of what may lay within were certainly better that what I eventually laid my eyes on screen.

The film begins with three women, each doing different things and going about their daily activities, suddenly disappearing in thin air ‘Bewitched’ style. This is immediately followed by news reports of a strange radio signal being received. The boys at NASA are put on the job and with spooling reels of computer tapes churning they soon decipher a simple three word message: Mars Needs Women!

While the intelligentsia are trying to figure out the exact meaning of those words a saucer with five very human looking male Martians lands somewhere in Houston and hole up in an abandoned factory. The “Martians” decide to split up, each with the goal of seeking out one woman that they can haul back to their home planet. As the five go about tracking their prey which include an airline stewardess, a go-go dancer (credited as “Bubbles” Cash no less), a college homecoming queen, and a painter, the leader of the group (Tommy Kirk) targets a Pulitzer winning “space geneticist” (Craig) and soon discovers… love. Awww!

From what I understand this bottom barrel budget oddity from a no name production company never even made it to theaters and instead ended up going directly to late night and cable TV broadcasts where it gained cult credibility and thus my own attention. The silver painted rubber diving suits chafes as much as the script and the only respite to some of the interminably stretched out scenes is the abundant use of NASA stock footage. But keep in mind that I’m a space nut so even those may bore some people.

The questions posed by the plot are endless. Why did the Martians broadcast the message when the intent was to secretly kidnap women? Did they really hope to save their entire planet with only five women? How can holding up a press card put someone into a hypnotic trance? Why was this film ever made in the first place? But more importantly, why did I bother watching this movie for a second time only so I could write a movie review?

Movie Reviews 359 – The Human Centipede (2009)

August 28, 2018

Well I finally got around to watching The Human Centipede, the conceptually stomach turning film in which victims are surgically attached – lips to butthole – forming a veritable frankensteinian centipede. Now I’ve watched more than my share of the grotesque, gruesome and repugnant films over the years but even I, a hardened veteran, had some trepidation if not hesitation watching this Dutch ditty. After all, the mere concept forces one to imagine some indelible images even without seeing the actual film visuals. But truth be told, once the initial revulsion factor has been, uh, digested, this isn’t as bad as one would imagine.

Of course this kind of a movie relies on a demented scientist and as Dr Josef Heiter Dieter Laser not only emotes the necessary insanity, but creepily looks the part. When two young American tourists, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) get stranded with a flat tire out on a desolate country road on a rainy night, they take refuge in Heiter’s home and shortly fall to his long planned scheme of creating a tri-human centipede. Heiter, who practiced the procedure on a trio of hounds before, has his basement lab and infirmary all set up and even already has a comatose victim already lined up. And when the meticulous doctor determines that the existing victim is not physically compatible with his two new nubile “segments” he disposes the ‘incompatible’ and forages for another landing him with Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura) a male Japanese tourist to complete his human checklist.

Explaining the surgical and anatomical details of the procedure to follow, the language barrier presented by all three bound prey renders the discussion pointless but the drawings are more than enough to have them wailing in vain. It’s a lot more intricate than you would imagine and I was fascinated by how the incisions and stitching solves what would be real life problems in such an undertaking… and making it all the more morbid.

Lindsay, the more outspoken of the girls makes a brief break but that just lands her the coveted ‘middle’ segment of the experiment. But once Heiter awakens his masterpiece post-op, not only does he not have to worry about her or any of the other conjoined bodies easily escaping, but only Katsuro is left with a voice for the entire group – odd in that being unilingual Japanese his ramblings are undecipherable, but we get the idea.

The ‘centipede’ can slowly move about but of course ‘it’ is not as obeisant as the Heiter’s old doggy-train. It’s really only once bodily functions like bowel movements kick in that the film reaches the pinnacle of grossness, but even so, it is one of the imagination rather than any actual visuals.The final act of the movie is one in which escapes are contemplated and planned while some snoopy detectives that come knocking on Heiter’s door with a few questions.

When the horrific description of the subject matter of this film by Tom Mix was announced one would assume a public up in arms, but I must say that as far as I could tell it garned more of an anticipation reaction within genre fandom and nary a blip in mainstream reporting. How far we’ve come since Silent Night, Deadly Night when mothers were lined up at the cinema in the mid 80’s for a simple slasher movie. This on the other hand is a movie clearly influenced by Dr. Josef Mengele’s Nazi experiments and perhaps a dose of Jack the Ripper, all real horrors. Honestly aside from some cool ‘stitch’ makeup the goriest part was listening to Heiter detail his planned procedures of the ensuing surgery, stitch-by-stitch.

Technically the title of this film is The Human Centipede (First Sequence) as it was the first in a trilogy which includes The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) and which concluded with The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence).

You want real horror? Try Martyrs, A Serbian Film, or hell even Pink Flamingos (for that one unforgetable gross scene). True, this one isn’t for the squeamish but Human Centipedes are just bugs on the wall compared to those.

Movie Reviews 358 – Burnt Offerings (1976)

August 18, 2018

Check out this lineup. Karen Black, Oliver Reed, and Bette Davis. Throw in Burgess Meredith for good measure. Now how can anyone pass up a lineup like that and for a horror film no less? Rounding out the talent behind Burnt Offerings, is writer and director Dan Curtis, the man who brought us the original Dark Shadows soap opera and a few other notable horror entries.

When a young family go searching for a house to rent for vacation, wife Marian (Black) can’t believe their luck in finding a slightly rundown 19th-century mansion given the great price offered by the elder brother and sister living in the house. But husband Ben (Reed), already had misgivings even before hearing the slight catch in that they would have to take care of the mother of the old siblings who never leaves her two upper level rooms. When Marian promises that she alone will tend to the old lady, Ben agrees and along with his aunt Elizabeth (Davis) and son Davey (Lee H. Montgomery) move in for the summer.

Even before they move in the sinister house begins it’s work. Slowly taking over Marian who is entranced by the abode, Ben has nearly the opposite experience, becoming irritable and short fused who now suffers dreams about his mother’s funeral. The stakes are raised when Ben nearly takes his own son’s life but when the vibrant and spirited Elizabeth suddenly becomes frail and sickly the family finally faces the house head on.

Lumping this film with the other stock haunted house tales does not do this one justice. If one were to be honest then clearly the main character is the house itself which not only manipulates the family but controlling things like the electricity and other utilities, but it literally transforms itself in front of our eyes.

While the driving force is the residence, the tension is all in the inner conflict it creates among the family members which is why the superlative casting makes all the difference. Davis is not one of the main stars here but not one to ever be outdone she shines here as always. Her career was defined playing strong, commanding stalwart roles which she certainly does here as well – at least at first – but most uncharacteristically her performance is at it’s best when her health starts to fail as a result of mansion interference. It is in those moments of weakness and frailty and during the transition itself that we are subjected to Davis as we’ve never seen before which is a treat in itself.

Take it from me, this is one offering you have to take up.

Movie Reviews 357 – Point Blank (1967)

August 10, 2018

The mysteries pile up quickly in director’s Point Blank based on the novel The Hunter by Donald Westlake. As a late night heist unfolds at vacated Alcatraz prison, we’re not sure what is being stolen, why and from who. We also don’t know much about the thieves, a man named Walker (Lee Marvin), a woman, and their accomplice named Mal Reese (John Vernon). More questions pile up as Reese counts the take and deems it insufficient for his needs forcing him to double-cross Walker. Which he does by shooting him. Point Blank.

With the help of a man named Yost (Keenan Wynn) Walker not only survives but recovers fully and now wants what was coming to him – the $93,000 that was his share of the take – and Reese. Both become an obsession and nothing will stand in his way which ends up translating to a lot of dead bodies.

It begins with the woman who was with the men the night of the heist. Walker’s wife who he learns not only sided with Reese but who she later fled with him to Los Angeles. But when he confronts her at Reese’s house he learns that Mal has already left her and while Walker can’t muster the courage to kill her she obligingly does the job for him.

Walker then follows a trail of clues and people as he deconstructs ‘the organization’, a crime syndicate that was the target that ill fated night and one that Reese now works for. With the aid of his sister-in-law (Angie Dickinson) and the mysterious Yost, Walker escalates the tiers of the organization getting ever closer to his money … and Mal.

This movie is a treat in many ways. Marvin is in top teeth gnashing, tough as nails form as he goes through maniacal phases that have him pumping lead into a empty bed and terrorizing a car salesman during a test drive. The mysterious organization is peeled back one layer at a time with many surprises along the way including a decent twist ending. It was enjoyable seeing Carroll O’Connor in a serious (well almost) role and genre fans should keep an eye out for Sid Haig in a “blink and you’ll miss him” role.

One other star in this film is Alcatraz prison, now more affectionately known simply as “the Rock”. While it has been featured in many movies since, according to the DVD special features this was the first movie made at the infamous island penitentiary so it was a big deal at the time.

Point Blank is one of those great sixties thrillers that never got the respect it deserves but is yet another film that showcased the talent of Marvin and the immense presence he always had. There is one great scene in which Marvin is filmed simply walking down a long corridor, energetically stomping every step of the extended shot. He doesn’t say anything or interact in a way but it expresses the unflinching determination of his character as much as any other scene.

Watch this one. Near, far or at point blank range.

Movie Reviews 356 – The Legacy (1978)

August 3, 2018

When Margaret (Katherine Ross), an interior designer gets a generous unsolicited request for a job in the English countryside, she must first persuade her partner Pete (Sam Elliott) to go. With some reluctance lingering he concedes after she suggests it as vacation opportunity and the couple soon find themselves blissfully riding a motorcycle across lush green back roads. But their carefree ride soon comes to a crashing end as they careen into a luxurious Rolls Royce. Lucky for them the occupant of the car not only promises to have the local mechanic repair their cycle but invites also them to rest at his place while they wait for the repairs.

Their first surprise is the enormous Victorian estate their rescuer, Jason Mountolive (John Standing) occupies with a large entourage of housekeepers. This includes a white habit nurse who just as soon informs them that their visit is expected to be an extended one as the cycle repairs are not expected to be completed as quick as they were led to believe. As they settle into their luxurious room Pete spies the sudden arrival of an odd array disparate individuals. They soon learn that Jason, vibrant and full of energy just earlier in the day is now at death’s door and about to bestow his possessions to one of the visitors, and shockingly that includes Margaret who was purposefully mislead into coming. But the dispensation is not simply a matter of divvying up possessions. The main handout is only to be received by one of the visitors and as the bodies mount it becomes clear that Margaret is about to inherit more than anyone could have imagined.

This movie is an entry from what I call the Satanic Seventies touched off by the success of earlier movies like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist and while it does have an interesting premise it isn’t remotely as good as any of them. One part that was frustrating was the lack of context regarding the other visitors awaiting Jason’s death. We eventually learn that they do share one common attribute but we don’t know how and why they all knew of each other before they arrived and yet Margaret, ostensibly part of the group, knew nothing about them or the reason they were assembled.

As for the group itself – one member being notably played by rocker Roger Daltrey of The Who, but Who should have stuck to vocals given his performance here – only the barest of information is given to their backgrounds despite some intriguing bits and clues. A missed opportunity to expand on their backstories especially since it was relevant to the plot and seemed to be more interesting than the path the story was taking. This was particularly surprising as the movie was based on a story and script by veteran Jimmy Sangster, an early Hammer films scribe, who has delivered much better than this. And while I’m in my rant phase I have to mention the ghastly inappropriate music score that really does not fit the mood at any point and the dreadful Kiki Dee theme song that inexplicably got top billing in the opening credits.

But there are some good points to the film. I was most impressed by the fabulous Gothic mansion and the abundant array of Victorian exotic art, Baroque paintings and portraits as well as the architecture itself. The portraits fill every inch of wall space and one I immediately noticed was the familiar Mary Shelley image – a clever hidden nod to the author of Frankenstein. I suspect that closer inspection of the many other faces would reveal other horror luminaries. And the lavish decor of a mansion would not be complete without a few hidden passages between the nooks and crannies used to good effect in the film.

While the film makers missed the boat on the characterization of the visitors they were much more successful with the commanding nurse and hints that her true lineage of which I won’t say more other than to take a close look at the movie poster. As for the horror, this one presents a mixed bag. Some of the carnage is quite shocking and surprising, but some of the butchery comes out of nowhere and are done before you can fully absorb them, especially since the characters themselves don’t seem to give them much thought.

In the end this Legacy is not befitting it’s title and I would only recommend it to those horror fans that are completists.

Movie Reviews 355 – Angel Heart (1987)

July 27, 2018

Robert De Niro has always been one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood with roles ranging from roguish mobsters, punch drunk boxers, power hungry revolutionaries and surprisingly even in comedic portrayals. But when he took on the role of The Devil in Angel Heart it turned a lot of heads. But ever the trendsetter, DeNiro’s lord of darkness is not any red horned caricature but an immaculately attired and dignified Satan with a slick haircut and even sporting my earliest recollection of a “man bun”. Yes, this movie is different in many ways.

Beginning in post WWII New York, De Niro as Louis Cyphre (get it?) hires private eye Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) to determine the status a man named Johnny Favorite. Cypher explains to the disheveled looking Angel that Johnny, a one time singer but later war veteran who returned with post traumatic stress and is reputedly being held in a mental institution. But Cyphre has his doubts and explains that he has some outstanding business dealings with Favorite and would like Angel to substantiate Favorite’s institutionalized status. Sure enough Harry discovers that records have been falsified and with great reluctance ends up following a trail that includes a fiancee (Charlotte Rampling), a mistress and her daughter (Lisa Bonet), and former band members all of which Harry encounter in New Orleans.

This “gumshoe-horror” – for lack of a better description – is both a mystery in the traditional sense, while the horror elements are more those of human failings than supernatural ones with just a touch of voodoo rituals. But there is a distinct trail of bodies along Harry’s journey for the truth and the truth is the twist ending.

This movie was criticized more for the scenes of Lisa Bonet – a member of America’s idyllic TV family at the time for her role as one of the kids in The Cosby Show – exposing herself in a few shots and one particular racy sex scene than any of the horror gore. There is also a lot of symbolism, some obvious and others not so much – I could never figure out why but there are fans, big, small, rotating, stationary, every few minutes. And there are plenty of chickens as constantly being pointed out as one of Harry’s phobias and the voodoo offerings.

All of these bizarre elements make Angel Heart stand out as an unusual film that I would classify as ‘must see’ by any cinefile no matter your genre of preference.

Movie Reviews 354 – Rat (2000)

July 20, 2018

I’ve always loved a good rat movie. Already as a young kid I was captivated by the original trailers for the movies Willard and it’s sequel Ben and could not wait to watch them – which took years and the advent of cable TV. Then there was Of Unknown Origin which I stumbled upon only a few years ago and Rats: Night of Terror which was an even more recent rodent revelation. But those are all horror movies and when it comes to lighter family fair the likes of Stuart Little and the animation Ratatouille, the 2000 Irish comedy Rat stands out as an oddity that fits somewhere in between conventional films.

When Hubert (Pete Postlethwaite) the Guiness beer loving father of a dysfunctional family comes home from the local pub late one night and transforms in a scrubbly white rat, the entire family find themselves in a predicament that even wife Conchita’s (Imelda Staunton) know-it-all brother Matt (Frank Kelly) is at a loss as to solve. But when intrepid freelance reporter Phelim (David Wilmot) manages to get Conchita’s attention – and a little piece of her heart- with the promise of a book and dreams of a follow up film – the family embarks on an adventure that includes an excursion to the local pub, noisy neighbors and some very odd choices trying to take care of poor Hubert.

At least they decided not to kill him at the protestations of daughter Marietta (Kerry Condon) who seems to be the only one who really cares about Hubert. The suggestion to kill Hubert comes from son Pius, destined to join the clergy no less, and the one who raises the suggestion of euthanasia with Hubert’s every errant move.

The burning question posed by the movie is “Who are the real vermin?” and it certainly isn’t Hubert. This comedy and sometimes thinly disguised promotional piece for Guiness (it is Ireland after all) contains some fairly hilarious moments and a few good running gags but there are a few dry spots as well. Fans of Staunton who deservingly got an Oscar nomination for Vera Drake will revel in her range as she clearly steals the show. Well except for some of the live action and animatronic rat sequences provided by the “Muppet” Jim Henson company.

So is it a film worth watching? I find the film is much like the Guiness beer it espouses. It’s an acquired taste. And just like a fine Guiness it is one I myself am fond off.  If you happen to have the DVD check out the “live rat auditions” provided as a special feature. I’m not kidding.

Full disclosure, I had a Guinness while writing this review but I swear I was not unduly influenced.

Hic!

Movie Reviews 353 – Infestation (2009)

July 13, 2018

Last week we endured a sweltering heat wave and to take my mind off that I sheltered myself into my nice and cool basement and watched Infestation so that my worries could switch from anxiety of global warming to global swarming. This post apocalyptic bug invasion movie does not start out in the traditional manner. Instead of taking a linear storytelling approach we begin with the camera panning over an office environment where cobwebs are strung across desks and walls and then cocooned bodies are revealed strewn across the floor. And then one of the bodies twitches…

As flashbacks we learn that Cooper (Chris Marquette) is a young undisciplined office goofball working in a telemarketing firm – largely thanks to his dad (Ray Wise) – whose lax work ethics and office hijinxs had caught up to him. It was just as he was getting fired that a high pitched sound had everyone blackout. Inexplicably awaking while others cocooned lay dormant, Cooper soon frees up some of his colleagues while running into a few giant, man-sized beetles still scurrying around the office. With communications all down, everyone else within the city encased and with wasp-like bugs plucking people off the streets, Cooper becomes the de-facto leader with a plan to head out to his father’s house and the safety of the Cold War era bomb shelter there.

The group includes an assortment from the firm as well as others who were in the area at the time of the blackout including Sara (Brooke Nevin), one of Cooper’s old highschool colleagues and the daughter of Cooper’s boss, who was plucked into the sky by one of the wasp creatures. While stopping over a few homes of family of those in the group they discern the fate of those unlucky enough to be stung by the bugs and also come across a vast mound structure the bugs are building. And when Sara decides to go there in the hopes of finding her mom, Cooper rallies the gang to help out.

Ray Wise steals the show as the Alpha, take charge, half nuts father while Cooper finally shows some backbone, standing up to Ray (sorta) and bravely faces the bugs to help Sara. The horror comedy is pure CGI, some of it decent, some of it ‘cookie cutter’, but the film does give new meaning to the term “spider-man”.

While I kind of enjoyed it, this movie is not for everyone. A lot is just not explained and not investigated by the survivors. They do find out one quirk about the bugs but in the end the tired thread of a group having to ‘go across town’ is just too predictable.

What really degrades the film to substandard fare is the idiotic and infuriating non-closure ending. While I suspect that a sequel was in mind which may account for part of it I’d say that even that excuse only goes so far and you have to deliver some sort of ending. In this case the final credits start rolling mid action and leaves viewers agape.

There are better bug movies and better horror comedies than this one. Watch it only if you find yourself in a bug infested post-apocalyptic situation and don’t have your copy of Alien Apocalypse handy.

Movie Reviews 352 – A Sound of Thunder (2005)

July 6, 2018

With the possible exception of Fahrenheit 451, the one other story of author Ray Bradbury’s vast creative oeuvre that is universally known is A Sound of Thunder, or more accurately the central point of the story itself more than the title. So well known is the concept of time travellers going back to when dinosaurs ruled the Earth only to change history with the seemingly innocuous act of accidentally killing one butterfly that the term Butterfly Effect has been coined by chaos theoreticians. And if that isn’t enough of an accolade then the fact that has been parodied on The Simpsons surely cemented its relevance long before they made this movie.

It’s pretty hard to live up to the classics and this is another example of an adaptation that should have never seen light. Sticking fairly close (at least at first)  to the main elements of the original in which a corporation offers time travel excursions, with strict restrictions not to disrupt the past, even the venerable Ben Kingsley as the rich entrepreneur running the time travel venture could not save this film.

Instead of simply offering extinct species hunting expeditions the film plot has vacationers hunt one specific Allosaurus, destined to die anyway, over and over by each successive group of hunters, with second timing precision. Except on one such visit something goes wrong and the returning party is faced with a slightly altered future. But this is when the silliness used to pad the script to a feature length kicks in and destroys the simple, near perfect, original story.

The revisionist history begins with noticeable rapid plant growth, then increased volcanic activity, then… well just use your imagination as it is sure to be better than the raptor-baboons and other idiotic bits filmed. Not content with a single change in time, this version has time-ripple waves coming at predetermined intervals to add ever more dramatic points to the film, and equally numbered subtraction of IQ points from plot viability. The science fiction genre setting that made the original story so great was that it had a believability factor, however improbable it was. But this movie, starting on the right track (and the original source) dissolves with nonsensical added plot elements and even dumber action sequences.

Adding insult to injury is the abundant use of sub-par CGI and futuristic cityscapes that would be at home on the Cartoon Network or 1980’s music videos. Reading a bit more on the production notes of this film those deficiencies may have been a victim of the turmoil and multiple creative talent changes during production.

The film’s tagline is “Some rules should never be broken”. In that same vein,some movies should never be made. I wish that I too could go back in time and alter history so that I could get back the hour and forty-one minutes of my life spent watching this cheap imitation of a cherished classic.

Oh, look. A butterfly…