Saturday, July 4, 2020

Homewrecker (2020)

Forty something Linda befriends thirty something Michelle in a coffee shop. They had passed each other and share exercise classes but had never met. When Linda finds out that Michelle is an interior designer she talks her into going over to asses her home. Of course it's an offer Michelle should not have taken....

Dark black comedy is going to work for some people and not for others. Joe Bendel saw this film back in March and posted a glowing review at his regular base JB Spins. I on the other hand didn't quite fall in love with it.

The problem for me is that the film walks the narrow edge between horror and comedy and it keeps tripping. Some of the jokes work but some of them fall flat as the wide eyed takes of Linda seem to be swinging close to camp. The result is she is never scary, and never really sad, rather she frequently comes off as someone trying too hard. It never clicked with me with the result I spent the whole film looking at the screen straight faced.

While this worked for some people (As I said Joe loved it) this was a miss for me so you're on your own as to whether you want to get it on VOD.

Stay At Home Festival Bonus FIlm:The Golden Key (1939)

This is a crazy Soviet fantasy film

Click on the Closed Captions for English Subtitles

Friday, July 3, 2020

Money Machine (2020)

As bad as other cities are Las Vegas appears to be the capital of corruption and with the MGM being supreme slimeballs who effectively caused the October 1 shooting that killed 58 and injured hundreds more. The case against everybody is laid out in MONEY MACHINE a look into the dark side of Vegas and the aftermath of the shooting.

For those who don't remember what happened on October 1 2017, Stephen Paddock, a professional gambler took a cache of weapons up to the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and shot up a music festival below.  Paddock was killed by police. A lot of questions as to what happened and why were raised and the Las Vegas police, the FBI and MGM were not been entirely forthcoming with answers. Worse the story that leaked out despite an attempt at cover-up was that it was preventable and that they knew something like this was possible.

You have to stay with MONEY MACHINE because it throws a lot of information at you. Along the way it reveals the city's dark under belly which despite being family friendly(or wanting to appear as such) is really still about taking as much money as possible and making any troubles disappear (even if it is in a shallow grave in the desert). The film also looks into reports of whether there were multiple shooters (there weren't), where the money raised for the victims really went, how the MGM sued the victims blaming them for being in the line of fire, how the settlement was tainted (the arbitrator is the daughter of an MGM exec) and how Casinos control all of Vegas. It's a lot to take in and at times it feels like it's going off course but it does pull it all together in the end.

Your jaw will hang open in disbelief.

This is a frightening look at what happens in Vegas and at the rot that is behind the facade of respectability. Clearly the a bunch of crooks are running the city they just aren't named Bugsy Siegel or Meyer Lansky or old school mafia but on the marquees of all the hotels. By the end of the 85 minute run time you will never want to go to Vegas- and especially an MGM run resort ever again.

Highly recommended MONEY MACHINE hits Theatrical-at-home on July 3rd

Stay At Home Festival Stay At Home Festival: Sadko

This is the original version of the Magic Voyage of Sinbad

Thursday, July 2, 2020


I'm slowly working my way through the FIne Arts FIlm Festival reviews. Apologies that these are so short but I am trying to get word out fast while dancing with the day job's return....

Numerous new York based artists talk about their and the art of others. Cinematic equivalent of going into an art gallery can be a little bit overwhelming and disjointed as we bounce from different styles of art. Some of the art will speak to you some will not. Some of the artists will click with you and some will not. I think I love the pieces more than the whole but I still found it frequently uplifting.

Excellent hour long look at how where we come from or the places that out families hail from influence the art we create. Featuring a variety of different artists including filmmaker Atom Egoyan this is a stunning look at how home affects we do. I must see- and for me a must see again

Portrait of three ministers moved from the parishes where they had a long relationship to new ones. We watch as the ministers attempt to deal with their ne situations and their ne parishioners. Its an eye opening look at not only the men who spread the word of god but their flocks and the very nature of religion itself. Thoughtful and moving

The Outpost (2020)

This is the true story of the attack on Combat Outpost Keating in what became known as the Battle of  Kamdesh. A large contingent of 300 to 400 Taliban soldiers attacked the remote outpost not long after the outpost was announced as being shut down. 53 Americans held off the attack until they were rescued. The unit was one of the most decorated in Army history

Actually this is not really the story of the attack as such but the men who fought  in the battle, died trying to protect their brothers and the survivors who were left to make sense of what happened. The actual battle occurs an hour into the film and only takes up about a half hour, or a quarter of the running time.

THE OUTPOST is an okay film. The problem with the film is not the final hour with the attack on the outpost, nor with the aftermath sequence, rather it is the first hour of the of the film. In the first hour is that the film never manages to make most of the soldiers stand out. All of the characters kind of blur together into your typical movie soup.  While I recognized the faces I never really got a handle on most of the characters beyond they were soldiers. Even Orlando Bloom was only Orlando Bloom because he really wasn't given much to do beyond being the leader. I wouldn't care but the fact that we can't really differentiate to guys as people makes the death of some of them less moving cinematically.

To me one of the best things I like about the film is it doesn't just end with the attack being done and a final fade out. What I like is that we get a sense of the loss and the aftermath when the battle is done. I like that not all the guys are okay after the fact.

And yes the battle sequences are quite good.

Is THE OUTPOST worth seeing?

If you like war films it is. If you are interested in what happened in Afghanistan as well. Beyond that you're on your own.

Stay At Home Festival Bonus Film: Scarlet Sails

Click on the closed captions for subtitles.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020


Two great films are getting released to virtual theaters Friday and the pairing is highly recommended

Hour long portrait of photographer and humorist Elliot Erwitt made by his assistant is a sweet little record of the man and his work. Made when the idea suddenly came up in conversation director Adriana Lopez Sanfeliu jumped at the chance when Erwitt told her it would be better if she did it while he was a live and kicking.

Following the man through his daily routine, working with his assistants and on a trip to Cuba when the US government sought to normalize relations, the film is great deal of fine. It’s a joyous portrait that highlights the wonderful work he has done (so much that Lopez Sanfeliu and his other assistants are discovering and rediscovering incredible images no one noticed until decades after they were taken) as well as his humor. Erwitt suggests that a great interview would be where everyone sat around and said nothing.

What an absolute delight.

Highly recommended

Tasha Van Zandt's short doc ONE THOUSAND STORIES is an incredible short film about artist JR's efforts to make his first video installation.  This being a JR work it is going to be big and alive and full of people. We watch as JR meets and records various people from San Francisco and orks to record what makes them special and blend that into a work that reveals the wonder of the city and its people.

Full disclosure I saw this film a couple of months back and fell in love with it. I mean it's JR so how can you not fall in love with a film about such a charming man? For some reason I can't find my review of the film so I am scribbling a new review, or if not a review a few comments, which amount to my simply saying this film kicks ass and it is worth the price of admission. Even if the Elliot Erwitt film wasn't as great as it is,this film alone is worth paying to see. Seriously. If you loved JR and Agnes Varda traveling the world in FACES PLACES you will be equally delighted watching JR and the people of the city by the bay.



What Has Steve Been Reading Part 4 Drive-In Asylum

While I was reading Monster Maniacs I discovered a reference to Drive-In Asylum a fanzine that specializes in films that played at drive-in theaters. What hooked me was not the kind words they had for the articles but their discussion of the fact that the fanzine is full of old ads for films. I love those so I ordered what I could from their Etsy page and hunkered down.

What an awesome publication.

An old school fanzine that is essential xeroxed, folded over and stapled together Drive-In Asylum is a glorious throw back to a time gone by. Few people do fanzines like this any more and we are worse for it. The folks behind the magazine understand that it isn't just about writing on old films you have to make it a whole experience and that is what they have done. The mere act of holding one of their issues messes with you head to the point where you don't know what year it is.

I love it.

The magazine is a mix of reviews, remembrances and interviews about the films that delight the people writing them. The first issue I picked up (issue number 8) was full of discussions around a film they love called FOLKS AT THE RED WOLF IN or TERROR HOUSE or one of a dozen others.It begin with an interview with actress Linda Gillen who talks about he role in the film (and meeting Mae West). It then goes on to other pieces which talk about the love for the film so many people have (including Mae West).

One of the things I love is that they don't use regular illustrations for the film, but instead reprint ads for it under the various titles, as well as use newspaper articles and pictures that were published during the making of the film.

Inbetween it all are collages of movie ads from newspapers listing when and where all sorts of B and grindhouse films were playing. If you remember a time when studios actually ran ads in newspapers you are going to find this a delight. More so when you realize the sort of films that actually got a release.

Every issue is like that. They are packed with all sorts of great articles and interviews and ads that make you want to grab a stack and read them on a dark and stormy night while having hot coco and cookies.

I can not say enough good about them.

Right now they are about to publish issue 20 and they have had 4 additional special issues as well. The issues can be had at Etsy and are worth every penny. (Issue 1-7 are currently out of print pending a decision to publish a compilation. Special issues 2 and 3 are going to be reprinted between no and Halloween, otherwise everything else is available).

Bill and the other people connected with the fanzine can be found on Facebook and on their brand spanking new YouTube channel. Right now thy have five podcasts where they talk about a chosen double feature. Each one runs about two hours.

Go buy issues or go listen to the podcast- it's all great stuff and if you love drive-in style films you must discover and follow these guys.

Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsules are taking a break

Just a quick note that after 85 reviews Nate is taking a break from his Quarantine Qapsules... or rather the publication schedule is changing.

Because Nate is now a back in school he is shifting the publication of his reviews from daily to just on or around the weekends. As much as he would love to continue the daily pieces he simply doesn't have the time.

That said, Nate has promised that he is planning on going to at least 100 before stopping. (The series will stop when Nate's full school workload kicks in) so there is at least 15 more coming.

Born to Play (2020) hits ESPN tonight and is a must see

The kicker in BORN TO PLAY is at the very end. One of the coaches reads a letter from he mother of a young girl who wants nothing more than to play football for the Boston Renegades. Not only does the letter choke up the coach it made me more than a little misty and in that moment the BORN TO PLAY goes from being a good film to being a great one because it all comes together.

BORN TO PLAY is the story of the Boston Renegades, a team in a semi-pro football league. The women compete with teams around the country and are good enough that one of their players comes from Texas every weekend just to play with them. They are pretty much like any other sports team except that they are doing it for love not money since they have to pay for things themselves as well as raise money through fundraisers.

For most of it’s running time BORN TO PLAY is a very good, if very workman like sports documentary. It’s very similar to almost any other film about a sports team doing what they love except that it is a sport that is traditionally a men’s sport and the team is all women. As a result there is a lot of talk about breaking barriers and doing what you love… and you know the drill…. Or you think you do.

I know I did and then I got to the end of the film and was floored. It’s in the final moments and in the reading of the letter that director Viridiana Lieberman pulls all the threads together. It is in the final moments that all of the seeming “been there and done that” moments spring to life and they take on a new sheen, they are not been there and done that, they are actually something incredibly wondrous and special and they actually mean something- something incredibly important and earth shaking (or world changing). In that final moment, that has been perfectly built up to by director Lieberman lightning strikes and we understand the enormity of what the Renegades existing means.


BORN TO PLAY premieres tonight on ESPN at 9PM with repeats through the month. It is highly recommended- just watch the whole thing and you’ll know why.

Stay At Home Festival Bonus Film: The Sword and the Dragon

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

More short films from VICA's Fine Arts Film Festival

At the beginning of June I discovered the Venice Institute Of Contemporary Arts's Fine Art FIlm Festival and bought access to the whole thing. Because it was rubbing up against other festivals and because I discovered the fest when it was almost over I stopped writing full reviews as I went and scribbled notes (with the full pass, I had a week to watch as much as I could) . The plan is to turn the notes for the 40 or so films I managed to see into reviews as I get the chance

This is third set of reviews from the festival- and more will be coming.

Stunning short film about an art installation in Iceland-three cave like rooms made entirely from artificial hair. It make it all look like a giant stuffed room. I desperately want to go and experience it in person because it looks absolutely overwhelming in the best sort of way.

Lovely short portrait of Jenny Mayer’s the first Black woman accepted into The Magic Circle Society of Magicians. This short piece is good enough I’d like to see what a full performance is like.

A portrait of what life is like for a performer who does circus- explaining what it is like to tour and having to constantly train so that your six minutes are as good as possible. This film beautifully explains what life is like in the circus

Portrait of a master neon sign builder that is actually a clever look at how we have to stick with the things we love in order to get good. It took him six months to first make a sign that he could sell.

Animation based on the work of Runi Langum is more a visceral piece that marries stark expressionistic images with folk music. Impossible to describe it is something one must experience

Mui Cheuk Yin dances a political dance concerning the protesters in Hong Kong. Solid dance piece is very good despite this not being my typical cup of tea. The use of rear screen projection works wonderful in creating a visceral connection between the footage of the protesters and the dance itself.

Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule #85 The President’s Barber [2004] ★★★½

In the years since its release, many have pointed out that Im Chan-sang’s The President’s Barber feels like a South Korean companion to Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump (1994). Both films are about, shall we say, slow protagonists who through chance and coincidence find themselves thrown into climactic events in their nations’ histories. But while Zemeckis’ hero found himself pushed and pulled across continents and countercultures, The President’s Barber mostly restricts its hero to his home neighborhood. Of course, said neighborhood is the Jongno-gu district of Seoul, the location of the Blue House, the official residence of South Korea’s head of state.

The protagonist Seong Han-mo (Song Kang-ho) would love nothing more than to keep his head down and operate his barber shop in peace. But after a madcap kerfuffle with a man he mistakes as a North Korean spy, Han-mo is summoned to the Blue House and becomes the president’s personal barber. The president, however, is Park Chung-hee (Jo Yeong-jin), a former general who seized power in a coup d’état and ruled over South Korea for almost twenty years as a brutal military dictator. As Chung-hee’s barber, the hapless Han-mo gets a front-row seat to Chung-hee’s tyrannical reign, enjoying an odd personal immunity usually reserved for a dictator’s private doctor. Unfortunately, as Han-mo finds out, that immunity extends to him and only him as the film takes a sharp dramatic turn from breezy comedy after the first hour. After a group of North Korean assassins are foiled mid-mission by a sudden wave of diarrhea, Chung-hee’s government begins a round-up and purge of anyone in the capital suffering the same affliction, making the logical authoritarian deduction that having the runs proves someone had illicit contact with the spies. Among those disappeared for “questioning” is Han-mo’s son who—after a bizarre sequence involving a reluctant torturer, an electric chair, and Christmas lights—is returned to their house a cripple.

This speaks to the essential difference between The President’s Barber and Forrest Gump: the latter film assumes that someone can blithely bumble their way through history without being scarred by it while the former realizes that assumption is ridiculous. Unrestrained power corrupts, and anyone said power rubs up against will get hurt in one way or another, even if they’re just there to cut the boss’s hair.

Grindhouse Purgatory or what is Steve reading part 3?

My library is literally all over the place. Most of it is in storage at the moment as I shift things around. Pretty much the only things left are the essential (to me) film reference books. However there is only so many times I can reread things.

I needing some sort of real cinematic information in book form I picked up the 3 most recent issues of  Grindhouse Purgatory from 42nd Street Pete... and was so happy I went back and bought the entire run.

Started because Pete wanted to do something on the order of Screw magazine but with interest in all of the things that went on in and around the grindhouses of 42nd street and elsewhere the magazine is a mix of personal remembrances, reviews, interviews and pieces on a wide range of subjects. Simply reading the pieces in order without looking at the contents has been trippy because things bounce around.  While some details of some films isn't always spot on, some "reviews" take the form of a discussion of seeing a film decades before for the first time, you really don't care because the storytelling is so good.

Or mostly good. I'm not going to lie, some pieces are just okay. Its not that they aren't heartfelt, but they aren't well written. On the other hand go two or three pages and something will blow you out of the water.

If you want to try the magazine- and if you love exploitation/ grindhouse or just films in general I highly suggest you do, start with the Greatest Hits compendium and the current issue 15 a tribute to Sid Haig.

The Greatest Hits is a collection made up from the first three issues, with some deletions.  It gives you a wonderful sense of what the magazine is with frank reports of going into grind houses and porno palaces on The Deuce, 42nd St in NYC in the bad old days, reviews of films that played the houses, plus bits on wrestling in the 80's, discovering films because you had to see one film with an actor on a double bill (in the days before VHS) and all sorts of stuff. Its an amazing reference/time capsule of days gone by. As someone who was there for some of the glory days of grindhouse this is the real deal. There are great articles on cannibal films, the Blood Island films, what it was like to run a drive in, how Pete ran a video store in the early days of home video, and looks at a bunch of films you probably never heard of.

On the other hand I do have to warn you that the Greatest Hits has a couple of articles in it that are not cinematic but sociological. Pete gives us the low down on visiting the massage parlors, whorehouses and adult book stores.  There is nothing really wrong with the pieces, hell from the standpoint of letting you know what it was like in NYC during the bad old days they can't be beat, on the other hand I got about halfway through each and found I connected with the nostalgia but didn't care beyond that.(Part of it in reading a number of the early issues the stories seem to repeat)

At the same time the looks inside the adult film industry (there are a couple pieces in issue 4) intrigued me more since they spoke to something more than just one guy's experiences with sex.

And I should point out that most of the reviews are really informative. Forget nice and neat reference books, this magazine is full of pieces that tell it like it is. They don't mince words in calling a film crap or heaping praise. This is a friend talking to you not a NY Times reviewer trying to seem snooty.(They often talk about the 42nd St SRO audience reactions to classic grindhouse films like Cannibal Holocaust).  What I like is that Pete gives people the room to talk about the films they love or hate, with the results that, say in issue 5's look at STAR CRASH, we get a long look at film most people dismiss,

The Greatest Hits is worth a look for a taste of the magazine, with the understanding it is a bit rawer than later issues. With later issues the magazine found a footing and  as less scattershot.

If you loved Sid Haig you must get the tribute issue #15. While the issue is full of great short pieces on him it's in the long pieces that this becomes a must have.

First there is a long excerpt from a four hour interview with Haig. He holds nothing back and talks about his whole career. It is one of the best interviews I've ever read since it reads like two friends talking- which is what it is. His whole career is represented and it is so good I want to see what the whole talk was like.

Then there are several long reviews on Haig's films like those with Pam Grier or what many consider his best role in PIT STOP. Told with love and stories from Sid the reviews make you want to go out and see the films you've missed.

I love this magazine a great deal and it's worth a shot (assuming you realize it can be hit and miss like the grindhouse) and can be had at Amazon and elsewhere.

Stay At Home Festival Bonus Film The Soviet Little Mermaid

Monday, June 29, 2020

Monster Maniacs or What is Steve Reading Part 2

Monster Maniacs is a new fanzine that primarily focuses on horror in comics. If you are wondering why I am going to talk about something comic related it is because the discussion bleeds into the realm of film since Justin Marriot and his writers talk about the monsters of cinema.

Only two issues of the magazine have been produced but they are choice. Full color beauties the magazine reprints panels, and pages from various horror comics as it seeks to illustrate some killer interviews from artists, scholars and fans who talk about their love of form.

The first issue starts taking about other magazines such as MONSTER! as a magazine we should be reading, the issue then settles down to focus on art and comics with a discussion of National Lampoons dips into horror, Atlas' pre-code horror, Cracked magazine's short live For Monster's Only. Issue Two talks about Charlton Comics, Vampirella, Web of Horror, poster magazine and more.  Both issues are full of stunning art from people like Bernie Wrightson

While the interviews are great the art is even better. I love getting a chance to really look at all of the great art that was turned out in the hope of scaring people to death. I particularly love the articles on Atlas and Charlton's best horror stories since it made me go -"Oh yea I remember that". I also liked to look at the chosen panel and wonder what in the hell that meant for the whole story they were describing. (I never had many Charlton or Atlas comics, most newsstands growing up only had them sporadically, but when they did I snapped them up.)

I love these issues to death. My only real complaint is that as good as the issues are I know I am just a half step out side of being the perfect audience. While I understood a lot of the discussions in the interviews there is a point when discussing some of the older comics where I felt overwhelmed. I am not versed enough to completely know who some people were. But that is okay because being overwhelmed and sticking with it in a situation like this is how you learn.

Monster Maniacs can be had at Amazon

Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule # 84 High Hopes [1988] ★★★½

Throughout the seventies and eighties, director Mike Leigh established himself as one of the most vital voices working in British theater and television. His plays and made-for-TV movies were caustic examinations of his country’s deeply entrenched class system. And though Leigh is now rightfully revered as one of Britain’s greatest film directors, having won top prizes at both Cannes and Venice, there was a time when he couldn’t get his movies funded. Leigh’s creative method favored heavy improvisation, both in terms of dialogue, scene direction, and plot progression. The result was that whenever Leigh went hat-in-hand to producers, he wouldn’t have a working screenplay to pitch.

After releasing his first feature in 1971, he’d be forced to wait seventeen years to make his second, the bittersweet family drama High Hopes that examined class and generational barriers in a rapidly gentrifying late eighties London. Leigh largely divides his cast into two groups, the first being the proletariat represented by Cyril (Phil Davis) and his partner Shirley (Ruth Sheen), both of whom cling to revolutionary ideals of socialism but are trapped in a perpetual stasis of boredom, despair, and simple laziness. After so many years of disillusionment, both are content to work just enough at their 9-to-5’s to pay the bills and spend their off-hours tuning in and dropping out. The other group represents Britain’s upwardly mobile yuppies, assuming nouveau riche airs of rampant materialism and a sociopathic disregard for their “lessers.”

Consider Cyril’s insufferable sister Valerie (Heather Tobias) who puts up with her philandering husband’s escapades solely for the weight of his checkbook and the accoutrements of wealth that come with it. Neurotic yet cruel, she’s practically a Labour Party’s caricature of the Tory-voting bourgeoise. In the center is Cyril and Valerie’s bitter, taciturn, and senescent mother Mrs. Bender (Edna Doré) whose dawning senility leads to the two cringe-inducing centerpieces of the film—her locking herself out of her apartment and Valerie’s throwing her a surprise birthday party which, of course, is actually about showing off her own wealth. She’s the crucible through which the values of both social classes are tested, revealing the innate selflessness of Cyril and Shirley’s and the innate selfishness of Valerie’s. Though frequently funny, the film’s overall mood is one of resigned melancholy that never tips into the outright anger that characterizes Leigh’s most incendiary work.

Hirokazu Kore-Eda's THE TRUTH opens Friday

Memory is not to be trusted- often repeated line of dialog

Hirokazu Kore-Eda's follow up to THE SHOPLIFTERS is a deceptively simple masterpiece that requires multiple viewings to fully comprehend what it is all about. I say that because this meditation on family, memory and performing keeps referring back on itself and changing what we know is "true"

The plot, such as it is, concerns a famous actress ( Catherine Deneuve ) who has written her memoirs. As the book is published her daughter (Juliette Binoche) and her family (husband Ethan Hawke) come home from America. As everyone reads the book and is stung by how much and who was left out, Deneuve makes a movie about a mother who travels into space to slow her aging- returning every seven years to see her aging daughter.

More a narrative thread to connect up scenes and discussions the plot is kind of optional. It allows for arcs of character but there are no real resolutions.. or maybe there is since one has to watch closely to small gestures and  seeming throw away lines to see what is really going on. I'm not sure since I really need to see the film again since the film has a constant series of revelations about what we know or think is true. What one character says happened is revealed later to not to be how it was. Characters will have forgotten that somethings ever happened only to have "ah ha" moments when someone says they were there.

I was a good third to half way in when I realized that what some writers had dismissed as lesser work from a major director was in fact something much more powerful. It was as if they were looking for him to repeat his last film when instead he went back to his earlier structures. I mentioned the negative reaction to one of my fellow writers after the press screening and all he could ask was "hadn't they seen STILL WALKING?" Apparently not.

Masterful plot aside there is so much to love in this film. From the witty lines that fill it, to two towering performances from Deneuve and Binoche who are both Oscar worthy, to the stunning scenes that fill us with emotion, an impromptu dance that is one of the most joyous moments in the last decade of film or a hug between mother and daughter that is physically tangible in its love between the women.

This film is a towering achievement that will be studied for ages.

Stay At Home Festival Bonus Festival: The Russian Jungle Book