Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Best of 2015 Part 1

This is the second year where I saw so many films that the number of films on my best of list had to be split into two parts.  While the section tomorrow is listing as The Best of the Best it shouldn't be taken that these films are any less great. These are some of the best of the year.  The ones tomorrow are the arm twist best of this bunch, but only because a gun was put to my head and I never hesitated.

ZIONIST IDEA- possibly the best documentary ever on the founding of Israel I've ever seen

FLYING MAN- great superhero movie short that is now being expanded to a feature and I can't wait.

PADDINGTON- Utterly charming

Eddie Redmayne in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING- its a great performance- more so when you realize he shot different scenes in differing states of decay in the same day.

DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD- The history of National Lampoon. The only reason this isn't on the best of the best is because I may be way too close to this film. (On Showtime in January)

MEANING OF LIVE- Monty Python does their last show and its a moving farewell. One of my most favorite films of the year may be too personal a pick for the best of the best.

PALIO- one of the most amazing cinematic experiences of my life


CAFE WAITING LOVE one of the best romantic comedies you'll ever see

BELLADONNA OF SADNESS- a cinematic piece of art lovingly restored. Not for kids or all tastes but still amazing.


CRUMBS- Ethiopian science fiction film is on par with the greatest head trips ever made

SHAMANS DAUGHTER- greatest fantasy film you never heard of. A worthy companion to the LOTR films- and a sequel is coming....

CHASUKE'S JOURNEY- deeply moving film from Sabu about an angel who fights like hell to save the girl he loves

ROBBERY- crazy off the wall film about a convenice store robbery gone banana shaped. It may not be a conventionally great film but its is too ballsy not to be here

BIRTHDAY (SHORT)- Moving short about a wounded soldier coming home

MAN UNDER-  is about the effect of people killing themselves by jumping in front of a train on the drivers and it will rock your world

THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA- one of the greatest films ever to come from Ghibli that just kicks your heart to the curb in the final minutes.

Sections of THE PROPHET are as good as animation gets- too bad the linking material was so weak.

SKULD- one of the scariest films of the year is 30 minutes long.

GREAT ALONE- Portrait of a man redeemed by dog sled racing. Deeply moving

THE KENSHIN FILMS- Finally saw the last two Rouroni Kenshin films and taken together with the first film it's one of the great cinematic achievements and comics on film you'll ever see-almost on the level of Lord of the Rings.

The final battle in the Korean film THE ADMIRAL is an hour long nail biter. Set pieces do not get better than this.

AND THESE SIX FILMS present a problem in that I have been moving them between this list and the tip top list  with a regularity  since I started this list in September. I've never wavered this much before concerning where films belong- they are all extremely special among the best films of 2015

IN MY FATHERS HOUSE- deeply moving tale that starts where the feel good ending should be and goes on. You ill call you're dad when its done.

SHAUN THE SHEEP- screamingly funny film takes four or five times through to catch all the jokes. Brilliant. And stay way past the end credits for a final gag

TRANSFATTY LIVES- grand fuck you to death by a man who loves life too much to ever leave it

MY LOVE, DON'T CROSS THAT RIVER-heart breaking tale of a long married couple . It will crush you and make you jealous that anyone could love like this

THE BUSINESS OF AMATEURS - hard look at college athletics that looks at the bad, and surprisingly the good. Its a film that should be seen by every college bound athlete

MY NAME IS EMILY is a wonderful story about  young girl coming of age that surprises on so many different levels.

The Hitman (1991)

Chuck Norris is a good cop "killed" by his corrupt partner who ends up being reborn as a hitman for the mob. Actually he's working undercover with a plan to bring down the two biggest crime families at the same time. Things become complicated when an Iranian gang moves in and Norris's ex-partner recognizes him.

Good but unremarkable Chuck Norris film is seems to be be one of his more violent affairs with lots of mob style violence. Whether this is true or not is not for me to determine, but does seem to be the case. Perhaps its partly the result of the dark state of the plot. We are really down among the bad guys and the slightest mistake will get someone killed.

The problem with the film is that it is essentially a story we've seen any number of time before. Sure we're watching Norris be a bad guy, but its tempered by his taking care of the kid down the hall. If this film really wanted to be daring they would have just had Norris be a bad ass hitman. I like the film, but watching it again for the first time in a decade or so I realized why it's not remembered much-its too similar to better films.

Still if you're a Norris fan or want a thriller that isn't too taxing THE HITMAN is  worth a shot(more so because its frequently in the cheapo DVD bins)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Film Finds of 2015

Every year I post a list of film finds. These are the films are too memorable  not to be on a year end list. Some of them probably should be on the best of the year list but a whim or a slight misstep kept them off, some are just so odd ball that they need to be noted. They are an ecclectic bunch and I would gladly watch anyone of them again- and in many cases over some the best of the best films of the year.

TOP FIVE- Chris Rock's near masterpiece is best when the film reduces down to just Rock and Rosario Dawson simply talking

PREDESTINATION- Robert Heinlein done expertly

EXODUS- Ridley Scott's epic is reviled by many. Yes there are problems but it plays closer to reality than any version and outside of Sigourney Weaver isn't all that bad.

IRON MASK-The best silent Douglas Fairbanks ever made as as far as I'm concerned. Yea I love THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD but this is greater

SUPREMACY- unexpected crime thriller is better than it has any right to be

FLIGHT OF THE FALCONS- fantastic look at schooling in Afghanistan

BIRTH OF SAKE- hypnotic look at how one company still makes sake by hand

KING JACK- Excellent coming of age film that absolutely feels dead on right

MAN UP- a wonderful romantic comedy that is way better once you pass a certain age and can relate to being over 30 and trying to date

HAVANA MOTOR CLUB-This should probably be on the best of the year list but I'm not sure if my passion for racing influenced how I feel about it. I need to see it again and reserve the right to move it to best of the year

STUNG- get past the first 15 minutes and then this giant wasp attacks a party movie is a blast and a half.

AFIREM- Glorious black and white Romanian epic about the hunt for a slave. One of the best Oscar hopefuls and a damn fine film in its own right.

DIXIELAND- if this didn't become artificial in the final minutes this would have been on my best of the year list. One of the most unheralded film of the year

GNOMIST- Small gem of a film about gnome houses

MAGGIE- a zombie film that is way better than it has any right to be. One of Arnold Schwarzenegger's best

LADIES OF THE HOUSE- John Wildman's throw back horror film is one of the recent spate of great horror films.

WE'RE STILL HERE- Ted Geoghagen's homage to Italian horror is better than its sources because he gives us characters we care about

N-CAPACE- Documentary essay that will have you thinking

YES MEN ARE REVOLTING and entertaining as they try to get us to understand why we maybe doomed.

NO LAND'S SONG- the power of music to heal will move you

RUINED HEART- Christopher Doyle lensed film that takes a cliche story and makes it magic

100 YEN LOVE- a seeming loser falls for a boxer. Wow. Another Oscar entry that should have made the cut.

SEASHORE- Great coming of age story

NINA FOREVER- what do you do when your dead lover keeps coming back? A great horror comedy romance

ON THE HORIZON-this romance has some of the greatest sequences in any film this year

BUNNY KILLER THING- Nuts completely nutty midnight film that must be seen late at night with a crazy audience

CASH ONLY- kick ass crime drama that with twist your gut- this is the calling card of a great filmmaker

POSSESSED- one of the best animated films is a send up of horror conventions and is NOT for kids.

WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX- no budget action film where anything can happen and the filmmakers riff their own creation. WOW and then some

JOKER GAME- Throw back adventure is like the best of Hollywood moved to war time Japan.

BACK TRACK (ADRIAN BRODY)- great thriller that defies convention to be something wonderful and unexpected. I saw this at the end of Tribeca and it had four or five of us standing in the hallway talking about it for almost an hour when it was done.

SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE- Adult romance is witty and charming and foul mouthed and a winner

FAR FROM MEN- adult adventure may bore some with its slowness and existential take, but for me, one the trip that is the center piece of the film happens films don't get better than this

ARMOR OF LIGHT- Right Wing conservative minister takes on the gun lobby. It will make you think

PRESCRIPTION THUGS- heart felt look at the drug industry. A kick ass piece of journalism

MAN VS SNAKE- Better than KING OF KONG. A super video game documentary

BOUNCE- why all creatures need to play.

MIRIAM HOME DEIVERY- Moving bio of a midwife in NYC. Good times with good people with one hell of a real set piece in a hurricane

MAD TIGER- portrait of P-Lander Z is a moving look at music and friendship

ROYAL ROAD- wonderful meditation on life and exploration

MADE IN JAPAN- Japanese country music...

HARBINGER DOWN- a hell of monster movie with no computer aid

THE FENCER-moving story of a man on the run who changed the life of the kids he taught.

Delta Force (1986)

Having a fortune and a reputation on a film based on the Israeli raid on Entebbe, Cannon rejiggered the true life adventure into a star studded action film with Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin as the heroes of an American rescue team.

The plot of Delta Force has a group of terrorists lead by Robert Forester seizing control of a plane of American B actors (Joey Bishop, Lainie Kazan, George Kennedy, Martin Balsam) Its left to Norris and marvin and their band of good guys to get them back. It’s the usual heroics with a rah rah American attitude.

This is a solid action film. It’s not high art, but it’s extremely entertaining. Part of the reason I think the film works so is that it really is close to the Entebbe story. I remember watching it when it came out and I wondered if they were just riffing on the real life events. Apparently they were and using it lends a sense realism that is missing from most action films. (Unreality would creep into the sequel which had Norris and an John P Ryan in a rare good buy role taking on Columbian drug dealers. The film is completely over the top and silly – and so much fun I watched it twice in a row when it played in theaters being one of the few times I ever just stayed in the theater and watched a film back to back)

Definitely worth your time and a bowl of popcorn.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Worst films of 2015

See over 1000 films in a year and some films are bound to suck. To be fair there were worse films than these but these I actually wrote down.

The worst thing cinematically to happen to me was discovering that Tim Woodward EXISTS. This writer, director and producer turned out three pieces of dung that I saw in rapid succession and had my soul scarred as a result. Ed Wood is a genius by comparison.

JAMES FRANCO in THE INTERVIEW was much too over the top. His silliness wrecked the film for me making an okay film intolerable.

TSILI- cinematic experiment has characters doing interpretive dance at the start and then insisting on hand holding you in its story about hiding from Nazi's. Its so bad I vowed never to see any film from the director ever again (seriously I won't ever do so willingly)

ANNABELLE- terrible horror film about a doll. Lifeless

GOOD KILL- ten minutes in to the film Bruce Greenwood give a five minute speech that is effectively about what the film is and what its trying to say thus making everything after it even more utterly pointless than it already it.

LUCIFER- cinematic experiement was shot to look like we're watching through a port hole. I've seen it twice and I still don't know why we're forced to do it or why we're being asked to see the film.

RAIDERS!- feature length DVD extra about a bunch of kids who took 30 years to make a shot for shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark- why is this 90 minutes? I got it after ten.

THE INVITATION- despite every one who didn't see it at BAMcinema Fest being able to review it I still can't because I said I'd hold off until the theatrical release. Just know this nonsensical tale of a death cult killing off people at dinner parties is stupid as a stick and has plot holes you could drop whole towns into.

ELIMINATION GAME- remake of a kind of classic (a film called Turkey Shoot or Escape 2000) is just bad. I mean really freaking bad.

MOJAVE- fantastic endlessly quotable dialog can not save this film about a serial killer and an actor going after each other after a chance meeting in the desert. It all falls apart because none of it ever makes sense.

REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM (NOAM CHOMSKY)- Even if you like Chomsky you'll be bored by this "no duh" recounting of all his talking points for the past 4 decades. Its the sort of thing that makes you question why anyone took him seriously

FASTER HORSE- 100 minute commercial for the Ford Mustang is one of the dullest films ever made

MUNE- fantastic images are wrecked by a film with a plot that makes no sense even internally. I loved that I saw this big but regretted having to sit through this crappy film about the battle between night and day.

Theresa is a Mother has hit Netflix

Back in September I did a partial review of THERESA IS A MOTHER promising to finish the review at a later time because I was knee deep in the New York Film Festival. I did a partial review of the film because I saw half of it and  I loved what I saw and wanted you to to go see it in a theater or download it on VOD. Basically I wanted you to see this great little film ASAP so I spoke before I finished it because I knew I wouldn’t be finishing the film in time to make the theatrical release.

Time passed. I finished the film, I watched the film multiple times…and I never wrote it up. Mind you I didn’t remain silent about the film I was talking it up and hard selling it to anyone who I thought would enjoy it.

Now that the film is hitting Netflix and is about to go into a second round of theatrical screenings in February so  I need to tell you that you need to see this. This is a sweet little film.

To be honest looking back at the original review  I realized two things, if I had never said that I never finished the film I could have gotten away with not having had to do a second review (which I was reminded I had promised to do by someone who is very good at reminding me of things).  The second thing I realized is that I really can't do better than what I originally wrote.  To be certain I could write up a more detailed discussion of the plot or I could change some stuff around but it wouldn't have the enthusiasm or the emotion that will get you to take a look at the film.

What follows is an edited version of my original review. What it says is what I still feel about the film and it explains why you need to see this either on Netflix or VOD or DVD or in its theatrical march this February.  For better or worse just see this film and here's why:

THERESA IS A MOTHER has Theresa at the end of her rope. The dream of a life in music isn't attainable with two kids and no husband to help raising them. Heading back home to the parents she all but cut off she finds that things are not as they were and that they and she have changed.

Yes it sounds like a story that's been done to death before, and it has but this time out its coming to us in a form that is a really good, really well made film that somehow has slipped completely and utterly through the cracks- I don’t remember hearing about the film until I got the promo material which, to be honest, I completely dismissed. That was my mistake. I won’t let that happen again. This is a great film with great characters and real emotions.

You NEED to see the film. Trust me, THERESA IS A MOTHER is going to be one of those films that in a couple of weeks your friends are going to tell you you should see. Seriously once people see this film they are going to be talking it up and telling their friends they should see it. Once you see it you'll be getting on twitter and Facebook and whatever and telling people they have to see this. You will, I have been preaching about this film for the last three months- and the people who've seen it are talking about it too.

Go get this film on VOD or DVD and see it. You don’t be told by your friends that you need to see this film after I’ve already told you. Seriously you’ll just hang your head and feel dejected at not having gotten in on the ground floor of something great.

That kind of makes this seem like a Ponzi scheme- but it’s not- this is a really good movie that you really should see.

Over The Top (1986)

Over The Top was made when Cannon films was slowing going insane and drifting toward imploding and Sylvester Stallone thought he could do anything and make money. While Stallone may have been able to make a movie about anything and get it financed the insanity of Cannon thinking it was invincible lead to a notorious film that helped speed the company’s demise.

Over the top has Stallone playing a trucker who married rich. After his wife dies leaves his son with his rich in laws. Eventually deciding to make amends he tries to get the boy back and part of his plan is to win an arm wrestling contest where he’ll be able to win a truck with which he’ll start his own trucking company.

This is and always has been a very silly movie. It is in the enviable position of improving with age if only in that any pretense of it being a serious or good film has been wiped away by the decades and we can just laugh at the film without embarrassment. We can now look at this film and realize this is the moment that Stallone’s career started to slide. Yea he would have some hits after this but mostly it was a series of missteps and WTF choices. Stallone would try to stay close to hits (Rocky/Rambo) and action. Outside of Copland and Oscar he would never really move outside of the testosterone fueled box he found himself in.

Truth be told I’m not a fan of Over the Top. The film wore out its welcome way back when it came to home video and it was perpetual renter at the store I worked at as people would want to get a film they could make fun of. If you want to see something silly I recommend Over the Top

Monday, December 28, 2015

Cinematic disappointments of 2015

Every year there are some over hyped films that get your hopes up and then let you down. Normally at the end of the year no one talks about the films that ruined your evening  at the movies, but this year I want to list the films that disappointed me to no end.

INTERSTELLAR- Christopher Nolan's  epic WTF. a grand tale of exploration was wrecked by deus ex machina twists and long drawn out pacing. Did this really have to be almost 3 hours long for such a weak pay off?

LEGEND OF THE KNIGHT- over hyped, over praised look at the societal influence of Batman and how he makes us better. A no duh sort of film that looked so good in the trailers but had nothing that's new for anyone who's ever looked at society and comics. And outside of Deny O'Niel talking all too briefly about  Batman there is no reason to watch this.

UNDER THE SKIN- Scarlet Johanson is really good as an alien hunting humans, but after a mind blowing first half hour the film just goes off the rails and stops working.While never bad, it's never remotely as great as that first 30 minutes.

SELMA- wasn't that good. A good but unremarkable telling of the events surrounding Martin Luther King's historic march. Nowhere near as good as some claimed, a botched PR handling of the film (it wasn't screened for anyone until after most end of year awards had been chosen) was turned into a chip on it's shoulder where the PR people  and the film's supporters made you feel like you were  being racist if you didn't love the film. No it's just not that good and it has historical problems.

EPIC OF EVEREST- restored version of the silent film of the Mallory and Irvine attempt on the mountain has lots of nice scenery  but little else. In actuality it's boring as all hell even if it does capture the pair disappearing into the void.

WHITE GOD- held out to be a great story of canine revolution, the film never was a clever as advertised and while it has moments, it never fully comes together.

WOLFPACK- Sundance darling bewildered the Tribeca audience I saw this with. Yea its an interesting story but at the same time its clear too much isn't said, too much is constructed and after a while you stop caring.

MERU- glorious you are there film about the climbing of a legendary peak really puts you in the moment and is really good until you realize the story has no context.  Who are these people and why should be care? I still don't know. Why is this on the Oscar Short list?

SON OF SAUL- the story of a prisoner in a death camp trying to find what happened to his "son" was supposed to be a gut punch of a film. For some perhaps for me it was okay. I blame the always in the face of Saul style and the lack of understanding for events in the camps. I say that because at the press conference the director seemed amazed that the prisoners helped with the executions.  This was news to him? Really? Neither a gut punch nor remotely a best foreign language choice it just sort of is.

CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT is hitting theaters once more starting Friday

This is a piece I did way back in 2010 when Unseen Films  was not even 6 months old. It was a piece that had been suggested to Ken Fries by writer JM DeMatteis at a comic show. The piece not only concerns Orson Welles CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT but his version of Don Quixote and his way of making films.  With CHIMES finally hitting theaters Friday after a long absence I'm reposting this piece in the hope of getting you to go see it.

Chimes at Midnight is considered by many people to be one of Orson Welles' best films and one of the best or the best Shakespearean adaption on film. For me it’s not quite the greatest Shakespearean adaption ever on film, however I do think it contains some of the best work Welles did on film, as well as flashes of of some of the best Shakespearean moments on screen.

The film was the out growth of a stage production that Welles was doing which stitched together all of the Falstaff pieces from Shakespeare in order to create the story of the man from start to finish and which would give him a role that he could hold center stage for the whole evening. Welles took the production, and with the aide of some of the greatest English actors and actresses put it on film.

Let me begin with a confession by way of a long rambling aside.

While often hailed as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time Welles more often then not couldn't get the money to make a film. He would work through out the 1950's,60's and 70's trying desperately to get the money to make a movie. If you can't believe that an artist as great as Welles sold out and made some of the terrible films he did, you need to understand its because he needed the money to make the films that were closest to his heart. The result was that his personal films were more often then not were long in production, shot all over the world in a style that is best summed up as unique, at worst as choppy (in some films characters talking to each other never appear together because the shots were filmed years and continents apart), and very often many, if not all, of the voices were done by Welles after the fact because the sound was lost, never existed or retakes required an actor who was unavailable.

The sad thing about the films he made like this is that they have been cut up and mixed up by a variety of companies that did or did not own the rights which further complicates opinions about the films. A perfect example is Welles' Mr Arkardin which has been so chopped up that Criterion released a DVD edition with three of the many known versions.

If you look at the films he made in this manner or from this period it's pretty easy to spot them since they all have a certain feel coming from the choppy shooting schedule and economy of style. Some times the style and the feeling works and some times doesn't. In Chimes at Midnight the feeling works, Othello and Mr Arkardin its less successful

Another example is also his long in production film of Don Quixote which was put together in some form after his death.

Welles was working on Don Quixote for two decades. From the surviving footage it can be seen that the film had both a period setting and a modern day portion I really can't say more since Welles was cutting and re-cutting the film all along the way and so many people saw so many different cuts and sequences that its impossible to know if there ever was one grand plot line or if Welles was making it up as he went along (I vote he was making it up). And in typical Wellesian fashion Orson never had all of the footage in his possession so several sequences are apparently being held by investors who never saw any return on their investment.

After Welles died the surviving available footage (several sequences were unavailable due to investor liens) was cut together by director Jess Franco who worked with Welles on some productions and it was received with very mixed reviews. Some people loved it some people hated it. I think its a complete mess and if it weren't for some stunning sequences- say they windmills- I would argue that Welles wasn't that great a director as we thought. (Franco, who has taken numerous brickbats for his cutting of the film, has rightly stated that he did the best he could with what he was given.)

In all honesty I would dismiss the film and Welles except that since I saw the film I read several interviews by Welles and his collaborators that lead me to believe that the film was never supposed to be finished. Actually what I feel is that Welles at a certain point stopped making "films" as such and just began to crank out movies that he finished because he was contractually obligated to do so. Welles loved film and had these ideas and he just shot the film because it gave him joy to do so. I don't think he really wanted to ever finish anything because if he did he's have to stop making movies. Don Quixote was never finished because it was his toy and he never had to finish it. The rest of his films were finished because he had to contractually; or in the case of the Shakespeare films like Chimes and Othello because they were the Bard, whom he respected and had a beginning a middle and an end.

Chimes at Midnight is one of the films from the wilderness years that it seems very few people have seen. It is out on DVD but the company was small and unless you were looking for it you probably never noticed that it was available, assuming you knew the film existed at all.

The film is based upon Welles Five Kings play which condenses Henry IV,V,VI and bits of Richard III into one story. The film refocuses everything so its all about Falstaff from his appearance in the plays to his final exit.

Its a film that is clearly Shakespeare and yet strangely not. The film is very much real and alive and not the formal static productions that you see with many Shakespearean adaption (I loath Olivier's films for that reason). Yes Welles resorts to a formalness of presentation at times, but that is because he's using it for effect, mostly during the sequences having to do with the actual royal court.

At times the small budget seems to have forced the film into close up and into tight odd camera placements that work wonders putting us into the action. With out a typically huge Hollywood crew Welles could get int places that are small and cramped and feel very real. The fact that Welles shot the film in a stark black and white makes the film come even more alive since the film looks more like old photographs or movie footage that might actually have been of the events.

The performances are really strong, as they should be with people like John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Margret Rutherford in the cast. These people are English acting royalty and the words of the Bard are like the very air to them. Even Welles, in a role that was very close to his heart, is amazing. Here is one of the few times where he was actually giving a performance and disappearing into the role instead of just saying the words and ham boning it up.

The real joy of the film is that it isn't really Shakespeare. Its not the plays we all know in the order we all expect and as a result the film springs to life with a vibrancy that many films of Shakespeare's plays do not have. By cutting loose the words and the rough story from the source plays Welles has created a living breathing film that makes the words not lines of dialog but the actual words of the characters on the screen. The film has the feel more of events that really happened instead of a rigid series of events that are following a preset course. Its best summed by the question when was the last time you watched a Shakespearean performance and didn't know what was going to happen next? (I am of course assuming that you knew the material going in)

Regrettably the film is all but lost now because it's so off the radar. Unless you saw it before or unless you are a Welles fan odds are you've never seen it. I know being in love with the Bard is no guarantee you'd know about the film since a guy at work who can quote chapter and verse had never heard of the film until I mentioned it. This is a film that is in desperate need of rediscovery. As it stands now the film is out on DVD in the US from a very small company. I have a copy of that DVD but at the same time it was hard to come buy since it took my looking at several retailers to find it. Fortunately I've heard that a major restoration of the film is in the works and with some luck this film will get a major push back into the consciousness of film and Shakespeare lovers.

Definitely worth a look, especially if you don't like Shakespeare since this is a film that may finally make the words of the Bard click with you.

Opens at Exclusively at Film Forum in NY and Cinefamily in LA on January 1, 2016

Revisiting Masters of the Universe (1987)

For a long time Masters of the Universe was my Uncle’s favorite film. There was something about the mindlessness of all of it that absolutely delighted him. It was one of those films that you’d always catch him watching whenever it was on cable TV. I say that not as a knock against either the fillm or my Uncle, rather it’s to infer that this is a wonderfully mindless film that gives its audience the cinematic equivalent of toys that the source TV show spawned- namely a good time.

The film has He-Man and several of his friends crossing through a dimensional rift in order to battle the evil Skelator and his band who have come to earth in order to attempt to take over the world. The film follows the good guys vs bad guy clichés pretty as expected and then adds in some fish out of water jokes as the heroes and villains from Greyskull try to deal with our technology.

This film is kind of review proof. Either you go with the straight face silliness and have a great time or you don’t and you run fleeing into the night.
Personally I like the silliness and I genuinely wish that the him had spawned a sequel, if for no other reason than to have another shot at Frank Langella chewing scenery as the villain. His delicious villainy is the stuff of legend- or would have been had the film made more money and found an audience on the first run.

If you ask me this film is an absolute blast and a must see- just leave your brain at home and have a big bowl of popcorn on your lap

(This is a revist because way back in 2011 Eden took a lookat the film in connection to out look at films where Moebius did design work. That review can be found here.)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

End of Year 2015-My Favorite photos of 2015

I'm beginning  the year end look back with a post that consists of my favorite film related photos that I took. Most were taken at festivals or for interviews, some others just happened.

The tear end lists continue tomorrow with Festivals, followed by Disappointments, Worst films, Film Finds and my two part best of the year list.

Cosima Spender looking suitably regal. Talking to her and her husband was a high point of Tribeca

Justina Walford and John Wildman look so nice and made a film best described as disturbing. How is this possible?
John Cleese Roaring with laughter and I'm in the freaking front row, it can't get better than that...
Except when Eric Idle laughs and Michael Palin tries not to....
I don't care that I was far away it's Monty Python, together and I was in the house
My favorite Tribeca picture
Kevin Pollack and me. No explanation is needed
My sightline. The things I do for my readers
Riff Trax Live. in MST3K mode
Two of my most favorite people in the world waiting for Moomins
After an Osamu Tezuka screening at the Japan Society, snow.
Being quoted on a DVD case is way cool
High Fiving Cookie Monster-life doesn't get better than that

Ringo Lam one of the coolest men in the world enters to charm NYAFF
Brian Depalma humbled by the audience reaction to the film of his life

I just like this picture of Jia Zhangke
Yes it's blurry but this picture of John Tuturro reminds me of my late friend Lou

We will never forget the past thanks to Marcel Ophuls
One of the sets from NUFONIA MUST FALL a film/live performance hybrid that moved me
Me and the Quays- and life doesn't get cooler than that
Cate Blanchett at the NYFF
Iron Man Helmet that was auctioned for charity at New York Comic Con
The filmmaker's box at the New York Film Festival screening of BRIDGE OF SPIES
Jeff Daniels pondering

2015:The Year in Festivals

Normally I do a list of the great festivals prattling on about  how good they are. This year I'm going to talk about some stuff that happened, good and bad, and our plans after covering in one form or another 53 or so fests.

Let me start out by reiterating the best fests of the film year from my perspective- they are in no particular order


You'll notice the list hasn't changed much- except that the SOUTH ASIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (SAIFF) is missing. This isn't a sign that the festival has ceased, rather its simply that I didn't cover it other than to say that it was happening.

If you're asking why, which would be a valid question considering that we've grown more and more fond of the festival, the answer is simple, there has been a change in the festivals management and it simply couldn't happen.

What happened? I don't know.

I know that things started to look off several months ago when the dates of the festival began to move around. I kind of knew something was amiss when at one point it was listing as being at the SVA theater at the same time as DOC NYC. The dates shifted at least three times. The website was down for a while.  As things got closer to the time it was to start- but still several weeks off I contacted who I thought was doing the PR  and was told he wasn't. Additionally he didn't know who was doing it. I then started to get emails to my personal account (I'm on the festival mailing list because of ticket purchases) and found the website was back up. I attempted to contact the press office and got nothing despite repeated attempts.

The original plan for this year was to actually attend as many of the screenings as possible and to do some interviews, but the change dates, throwing it deeper and deeper into the year and finally the holiday season made it more and more unlikely. I might have been able to do it but the venue change added extra travel time I couldn't work around within my schedule. The final nail was the lack of contact from the press office. It isn't because I must have screeners or comps, if I want to go to a fest I buy my tickets for the public screenings, rather with SAIFF I am clueless as to what the films are and which ones I should see. If I'm going to one or two I need to be pointed toward them and I couldn't get that this year. In previous years I had Ted going "If you're not sure what to do start with..." I got walked through the festival in past years- something I really would need if I wasn't doing everything.

To be honest I missed not covering SAIFF and after it being the final fest of the year for the last three years I feel like I have no closure. This year the film ear just drifted off into nothingness.

Hopefully next year I'll get there and the film year can close out properly

I freely admit to over doing this year and I hope never to do it again because it damn near killed me.
Why do I say I over did consider the following:

We covered 90 of the 110 or so features at TRIBECA
We did 132 of 157 totals films at DOC NYC
We did all but one or two films at JAPAN CUTS
We got to most of NYFF films
We did over half the feature films at FANTASIA
We covered most of The NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN'S FILM FEST missing mostly shorts.

It was too much and while seeing that many films may be fun to do, it's the writing them up that's the killer. The result of it being killer is the reason that things ill be changing in the new year. I'll have more information on that in a special piece that's going up on January 3.

This year New York Asian Film Festival split from The Japan Societies Japan Cuts series and it caused a bit of chaos. It wan't that there was anything wrong as such more that they didn't quite work out the separation with the result the over lap killed some people. Admittedly the last six or seven years there was overlap but in many cases the films played multiple times and you had a chance to catch most things, this year it was largely a one or the other.

NYAFF also took up residence for the final weekend at the SVA theater. This was way cool since they could double book stuff and have two screens of madness going. I can't wait for next year

I need to say that I'm thrilled that the Japan Society is now doing regular screenings. Why they didn't do it before always vexed me. And while I hate then schlep to the actual building , I love what they screen and that they now are really spreading culture by showing more films.

This year I was disappointed in the New York Film Festival. Its not that the films were bad- actually in retrospect, when I compared them to previous years they were pretty good, the problem is they were very of a type-old school arty. And while they were very high class, they were also far from challenging and rather unexciting. I blame the programmers who have been in place in one for far too many years. I also blame the patrons of the Film Society who seem to like a certain type of film. What I find troubling is that while I usually can cover a film festival and be assured that my numbers will triple when compared to the regular readership, during this years NYFF the readership numbers went down. It seemed that no one was reading on the films.Or no one was reading our stuff. As someone said to me the blue hairs who go to NYFF only get their information form certain sources and are not tech savvy. (Readership shot through the roof with Scary Movies, DOC NYC and the fests that followed NYFF)

In a related note Gavin Smith has left Film Comment magazine. Smith is a great guys and hell of a programmer whomanages to bring the most interesting things to New York. I'm hoping he remains a programmer at the Film Society and the New York Film Festival because his tuff has always been some of the best.

One last thought, by way of a word of warning to PR people.

2015 was the first year where I've run across film festivals which will not let me review their films. I have no idea why since in a couple of cases they would have had a week or two of free advertising since two of the three fests this happened at I was going to wade in and really cover. They would send me links but I was only going to be allowed to do capsule reviews in a curtain raiser.

Thank you no.

I will not devote hours and hours of time watching films if I can only write a line or two about them. While I completely understand that in some of the cases the films were getting a later release and they want coverage when the film appears in theaters- others were not and they could have used some sort of coverage to get the word out.

From this point on I will not do that. Unless you can make a good case don't ask me to cover your festival if you're going to limit what I write. I don't want to sit on reviews- I still have reviews I can't run from BAMcinema Fest because I was told I couldn't write up the films- never mind everyone else who saw the films at other festivals did reviews- those of us from BAM are still embargoed for a couple of films. Hell, films like STINKING HEAVEN  which have gotten releases and PERVERTS PARK which has not have reviews half finished on my computer because I was not allowed to do a full review back in May.

From this point on if anyone wants me to restrict reviews for the entire festival I'll give you a curtain raiser but don't dangle the films if I can't review them, I don't have time for that nonsense- especially when you spring it last minute or wouldn't restrict me if I bought a ticket.

Some thoughts on whats coming---

2015 was the year that the New York Jewish Film Festival began to tickle my fancy. It's essentially the first festival of the year and every year its has a bunch of truly great and wonderful unexpected films. This year two of my favorite films of the year KING OF NERAC and DELIMAN played there. And there were several other films which absolutely enthralled me as well. As this posts I'm hard at work watching and writing on next year's festival. DO buy tickets there is some good stuff there.

Strangely NYJFF is not going to be the first fest of 2016 that we cover. The first fest is going to be NEIGHBORING SCENES a festival of Latin American cinema. I've seen a couple of films and all I can say is WOW. (And look for some coverage of The Museum of the Moving Images First Look Fest as well)

Honestly it's not even January and the film year is already shaping up to be something special.

Missing in Action (1984)

Shot after its sequel and moved up because it was the better of the two film MIA has Chuck Norris going back into the juggles of South East Asia in order to rescue some POWs still being held by the enemy. Of course it’s all full of typical Chuck Norris action as he kicks and kills his way to freedom.

A great deal of fun this film is full of great action as Norris beats his way into the hidden prison camps and takes our guys back. Its crazy over the top action but just believable in a cartoony way that you buy it.

Despite being fun on a very rudimentary level the film has some serious issues on a larger canvas than the movie screen.

One of the wave of action films that appeared about ten years after the end of the Vietnam war which reimagines it as a winnable one either because the truth of the loss was purely bureaucratic or because it creates a situation where we can get last licks. MIA, like Rambo 2 or Uncommon Valor is one of those films that has one good man essentially winning the war by doing the right thing. Never mind that many of the men they are going to save die in the attempt we still win in the end because our hero survives to the end. Its bullshit of course but it was probably part of the countries healing.

The other problem with this film, and the other films in the series, is that the films are ultimately a yellow peril stories. While it’s never said verbally the bad guys are pretty much bad because they are Asian. If any Asians aren’t bad then they are either sacrificial lambs or the oppressed needing to be saved. The non-whites are clearly needing out guidance.

I'm probably reading way too much into all of this, I mean this is nothing but an exploitation film, but at the same time the poor traits are there.

That said I really like the film a great deal and enjoy it when ever I run across it on cable.

The trouble with THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) -a rambling look at the new Quentin Tarantino film

Quentin Tarantino needs an editor.

No, he needs his enormous ego punctured and he needs to get smacked in the head.

Someone really needs to tell him that while he may know how to weave fragments from a variety of sources together he doesn't know everything and his fucking around with the studios to make them jump through hoops to release his over long films in utterly pointless roadshow versions has to be stopped.

Can't anyone tell him no?

Why is Harvey Weinstein, who is so good at cutting up the films from people around the world, unable to take a pair of scissors to any of Tarantino's over long cinematic digressions?

Could some please tell me?

Yes I saw the HATEFUL EIGHT.

Yes I paid money to see it in the roadshow version.

Sadly the film broke and the framing went askew and it looked much worse than the Academy screener I saw some of. It was a screening that left me less certain the way forward is through film projection (though I do think its the way of preservation) -but that's another story for another time.

As for the film itself---the best thing I can say is belt yourself in and relax this is going to take a while. I should also warn you I may spill the beans about a few plot points.

Before going on I do like the film- but I have lots of problems with it. My best expression of  my feelings toward the film is that if it lost an hour it could be Taranatino's best film.

From here on I'm going to explain what I think went wrong and what is keeping the film from being the best it can be. However I must warn you that if you continue reading you're agreeing that you're okay with spoilers....

The plot of the film has John Ruth (Kurt Russell) taking Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by stagecoach to Red Rock to be tried for murder. He wants nothing and no one to stop him. Along the they pick up bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson and Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), the new sheriff of Red Rocks.  Time is of the essence since they are trying to outrun  a blizzard. The group stops at  Minnie's Haberdashery, an inn/tavern, where they find the owners gone and the people from an earlier stage waiting for the storm to pass. Things become tense as Ruth tries to figure out who is good and bad, he is certain that at least one of the people in the tavern is there to free Daisy.

Billed as an action packed western (just look at the commercials) this is in fact a three hour mystery that would work wonderfully on the stage but much too talky and bloated for the motion picture screen. Anything approaching action only comes in the final hour. Despite what the commercials say this is a not an action film even if lots of guns end up being fired.

The problem here is that the film runs very close to three hours, and if you see it, as I did, in the roadshow version it runs well over three hours and I'm really not sure why. To me there simply isn't enough material to support a three hour story here even with digressions and extended monologues.

To be fair, once the film gets going, and when it stays on point, the film really is some of the best filmmaking of Tarantino's career. I could argue that the bits that work are at the top of his cinematic output, the problem is he gets off into digressions and allows sequences that just go on and on with the result instead of having something that is a tight little thriller on the order of something like CUTTHROATS 9, we have something else.(By the reaction of many in the audience today most people are going to find this boring)

When does Tarantino go wrong?

Literally at the start.

Using grindhouse style titles and cheap Euro-thriller music the film feels much less than the epic roadshow film that he was aiming for. Tarantino says that he wanted something on the order of BEN HUR or KHARTOUM but instead we get music that says Dario Argento or gaillo. Tarrantino has talked about how happy he was to work with Ennio Morricone in a western setting, but those opening strains sound completely out of place. The score comes back into line one the story starts (though the songs used are way too out of place to work).

The film then gives us several long sequences of the stage driving through the snow. That's all well and good,but they just go on and on. We watch as the Major is picked up by the stage and this long extended sequence as he walks and talks to Kurt Russell who even reads the warrants for the dead men he is carrying. There is no reason for it to go rambling on other than to explain why he shot the film in 70mm.

There are several sequences where characters talk and talk for no good purpose. Tim Roth has a speech or two that could be cut. The monologue that closes the first half of the film serves no purpose other than to have it cause the shooting that closes the first part. While I have no problem with the shooting, I am baffled as to why it's has to be as it does. Yes its something akin to the great speeches in other Tarantino films, but here it serves no real purpose... especially since it's directed at a character who has no purpose in being in the film. Why is he there? Simply to give Bruce Dern a role. The pointlessness of his role is revealed via the flashback, he is ultimately just this guy who exists to get shot at the end of the first half of the film. If anyone had any sense he should never have been in the film to begin with.

I am at a loss about the need for this film to have an intermission. I have been to many many epic films and roadshow attractions, but this is the first time where the break feels artificial. It was as if Tarantino put it there because he wanted to make this roadshow film and it was the the only point where it could go. It was a kind of shock moment- but at the same time it's the wrong place because its the moment where the audience is hooked and instead of dragging us kicking and screaming to the end- we are given 20 minutes to talk about other things. (officially its 12 minutes but it ran closer to 20 for us)

And then Tarantino missteps further by giving us a long narrated sequence that shows us "Daisy's Secret" and what happened when we weren't looking. Its a narrative blunder  that keeps us outside the narrative for an extended period of time. Worse it proves that Tarantino's intermission was a bad idea since he has to explain to everyone what was going on a few minutes before. Not only does it explain what we've just seen it also shows us a whole bunch of stuff we should have seen ourselves and not been told about.

The plot problems continue with the flashback that reveals what happened four or five hours earlier. Its not that the sequence is bad, but it's done in such away that if you think about what you're seeing it sets up all sorts of questions that can not be logically answered. This ties into Tarantino's dialog which begins to reference more and more things that are outside of the scope of our knowing.  This wouldn't be as big an issue except that Tarantino has structured a good portion of the film not as a western but as a mystery of sorts. Mysteries have certain rules that you have to follow or they collapse. Tarantino doesn't build the ground work. Worse what we see has the feeling of Tarantino bending things because he wants it go a certain way.

(I won't get into the continuity goofs as flash back sequence alternates from blue skies to clouds and back again, how blood stains change or how snow levels seen to be much worse at the start of the film, are much heavier than they should be when we see the same location five hours earlier way before the blizzard comes not long after the stage arrives at Minnie's.)

Beyond the plot, and other mistakes and errors I am troubled by the films seeming misogyny. Why is it there?

I've had it defended as being part of the time and part of our times, which is fair enough, but why is it in the film itself? What purpose does it serve? To shock? The graphic violence and stories about degradation do that  on their own, but why is Daisy little more than a punching bag?

Seriously-explain it to me? I've seen hundreds of horror films, slasher films, which were viewed as anti-women. I've seen twisted porn images that made me wince, and on some level I could find a defense, however thin for them to be considered not misogynistic. Here I can't find a reason.  Even more damning is there may only be one time where she doesn't say or do something doesn't result in her getting hit, shot  or beaten.  Yes she is a "bad girl" but even so everything results in some form of violence against her. The one time where it isn't a blow to her its to the guitar she is playing as if Ruth is silencing her.

Why would anyone such as Jennifer Jason Leigh take the role when all she is is a target? It's come out that Jennifer Lawrence was in talks to talk the role, but to be honest having seen the film I completely understand what she walked away- and it has nothing to do with JOY.

If you want to take things further consider that when we see other women die notice how ugly their deaths are, shot once they lie on the ground in pain and gurgling and then are shot again in a manner that is kind of gratuitous more so since the men seem to enjoy the killing.  If you look at the shootings of male characters either they die right away or are allowed to carry on stoically.

What is Tarantino thinking?

Apparently he thinks he's an auteur who in 25 years will be hailed as a great film director.


He's a filmmaker who is capable of great things but allows his ego to get in his way. He raids older films and steals out right and while he can polish things up and make a film that stands on its own (JACKIE BROWN or parts of this) he would much rather use the work of other filmmakers and call it his own. He pontificates about films and genres that he only half understands and calls people out because he has the bully pulpit and other people don't.

Recently Spike Lee, who has been making films for five years longer than Tarantino, was on the radio in New York saying he doesn't need an Oscar because his films are in the National film registry and are being taught in colleges. Lee''s almost 30 year career has spawn genuine classics and has most importantly changed the world for the better (DO THE RIGHT THING). Almost twenty five years on Tarantino is looking a head to another 25 years down the road when he gets respect.Quentin if you are not getting it after 25 years you're sure as hell not going to get it after 50.

To be honest I respect him as an artist and a filmmaker- I just think his big ego gets in his way. He doesn't know all. Worse his desire to coast by largely cobbling together bloated epics based on sleek exploitation fare is ruining his chances of ever being taken truly seriously by the majority of the film community. Yes he writes witty dialog and yes he knows where to steal from, but he doesn't know where to stop. He doesn't know that hes gone from being a raconteur to being an asshole. I'm guessing that the reason he doesn't see it is his ego has started to sag over his eyes and he can't see anything.

The thing that pains me most about HATEFUL EIGHT is that if he cut an hour of it he's have a great film. Its painful to see that sitting in this pool of bloody vomit is what could have been and should have been one of the all time great westerns. I truly love sections of the film but there is so much garbage here that it brings the whole thing down.  I hate that this film is being roadshowed. I hate that it was needlessly shot in 70mm giving it an expanse to what should have been a claustrophobic film. (And who ever called the setting a western Tardis- you nailed it) He needs to realize that the films he is aping were 90 or 100 minutes for a reason, they don't work at twice the length.

Should you see it?

You don't need to see it in 70mm unless you want to get the roadshow book. Yes the few vistas are spectacular but digital projection will be fine. Additionally the film doesn't need an intermission and all the extra music cues.

Additionally be warned the film can be tedious. The people around me were largely bored by it. Yes some people liked it, but no one was raving in the 3/4 full theater, most just kind of got up and walked out- puzzled about the length. That's not scientific, just reporting of one screening on a Saturday morning.

Ultimately this has some of the best work Tarantino's done but's a mess.

(I know I should talk more about what works, but all I can talk about is what doesn't)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Nightcap 12/26/15- Bone Tomahawk, By the Sea, Ridiculous 6, a random thought (foreshadowing a longer piece) and tons of links from Randi

Lost Property from Asa Lucander on Vimeo.
I was not going to do a Nightcap this week but I found a short comment I wrote earlier this week, saw a couple of movies that would never get full reviews and I found Randi had sent me a ton of links I figured why not.
The family Christmas movie this year was BONE TOMAHAWK.

It wasn't planned, but I walked into my aunts house and they were watching it.

I'm going to do a full review down the road but for know know that this story about a posse going out to rescue a kidnapped woman is a very intense stomach churning film of exploding violence and dread. I was wincing.

I really liked the film a great deal, as did my cousin. My uncle I thing was unsettled by it and not entirely happy with its lack of clear cut lines at times

I'm mentioning the film because I think, good bad or indifferent its a film that anyone wanting to see a film off the beaten track should see.
Angelina Jolie Pitt's BY THE SEA is a gorgeous film. Its a film whose visual style hearkens back to the Euro art films of the 60's and 70's. Its a film where each image oozes with mood and meaning and emotion.

Its a shame that the story of an American couple in crisis is such a slog to get through. Its knowing looks and longing glances and it kind of goes nowhere real fast. I was bored silly
The Adam Sandler film RIDICULOUS SIX got into trouble when Native American actors got pissed at the portrayal of their culture in the film. The offending bit of the script was released and it did read rather badly.

Then when the film was released on Netflix the film was crucified-largely, it seemed, by people who either didn't see the film and never were going to or people who hated Sandler and his films and decided to use it as a chance to bludgeon a guy they hated for the hell of it.

On Christmas I did sit down and watch the film and a couple of things became clear relatively fast:

1. The film seems to exist to give a bunch of Sandler's friends a chance to hang out with him and get paid doing it.

2. The people kind of cared in the making of the film and had they cared a little bit more not to walk through the motions this might have worked.(Hell there are some clever riffs in the film)

3. The film could be seen as offensive to just about everyone- especially if you don't like running diarrhea jokes involving donkeys

4.  It's not as horrible as everyone has made it out to be. Yes its not particularly good, But at the same time it's a badness born of laziness and an inability to really make the jokes work beyond the instant smile.

5. Its badness is not the "truly awful this is so bad I can enjoy this as a bad film" film of the "this is bad beyond words" bad film of the sort that's not remotely watchable the first reviews made it out to be.- rather this is a bad film of the sort that comes from a film not working. It's a kind of almost might have worked film that just misses because the timing of the jokes is largely off and because the low brow humor isn't sold correctly.

6. Once the film gets going the dead faced dullness of the film kind of gives way to a film that you end up staying with to the end because you're hooked- making you wonder if they had either played it straight or had the jokes worked better this might have been a pretty okay film.

Worth a shot if you're very forgiving- and are in the mood for a film that doesn't really work
I was doing some reading on crime films of the post-World War 2 years and found an interesting statement about how so many of the films that came out following the war portrayed the returning vets much differently than we think- that they were damaged goods. In a line or two the review of some “disposable” film noir stated that the crime films dealt more realistically with the men returning home as people haunted by their experiences… and that was it. A simple line and onward to discussing the film.

I didn’t think much of it.

Hell I read it in context and kept going.

It wasn’t until about a half an hour later when the comment was pinging around in my brain that it occurred to me that the author was dead on right. Instead of GI’s coming home to glory they were coming back to a world that didn’t make sense. If you look at the low budget output of the various studios, not just crime and noir films,  you find that there is this whole subgenre of the returning vet films. Sure some are set years after the war but it’s clear the war left its mark. We all think of the “greatest generation” as a bunch of stoic men of iron but if you really look at popular culture or its fringes you see that things were messed up.

Why was the 1950’s so saccharine- a desperate attempt to cover up the psyche war wounds. It was all pretend and pretense. Hollywood covered for the fact that everyone was hurting.

I would guess that the pain of the parents bled out into the children and things got weird in the 60’s as the kids of the vets went to war themselves or rebelled… all one need to do is look at the low budget or independent films to see where society is – more so than the mainstream since the big studios follow the trends

There is a sociological study here. Probably a doctoral thesis or two as well.

And a post or two down the road
And now Randi's Christmas bounty of links
BBC News Quiz for the year
Star Wars Awakens trailer music
Moomin Advent Calendar
Lessons from Late Night
MAke Superhero Snowflakes
Sound of Music Live Behind the Scenes
How to deal with Anxiety
QI christmas outtakes
Scary Movies you've never seen
Questionable Christmas cards
Star Wars remade without  a single bit of Star Wars
The darkside of Penguins
The Nutcracker's history
What did Christ look like?
The Overlook Hotel in gingerbread
Basil Fawlty is back
The Tunnels of England
This week our look at 1980's Cannon films continues as well as a week of entries from my personal best worst and notable lists

Bloodsport (1988)

It was with BLOODSPORT that Jean Claude Van Damme burst onto the scene and became a superstar pretty much overnight. I think the reason he became a star was a combination of his charming personality and having a very good vehicle to show it off.

Supposedly based on a true story, how much is really true has been debated over the last 3 decades BLOODSPORT is the story of Frank Dux the first American to win the Kumite a martial arts competition that one fights essentially to the last man. The film follows JCVD when he disobeys order and goes AWOL from his military job to fight in the competition. He is tracked by two government agents (Norman Burton and a young Forrest Whitaker) and falls in love with the one American woman in the place. Will Dux be able to survive the battles and avoid the agents trying to arrest him?

Of course.

Cleverly plotted the film is not. On the other hand it expertly charts a course to hit all of the action movie clichés so that they work their magic for maximum effect. The fights are well done and despite knowing that Dux wins, the film manages to create enough suspence that you don’t know in what condition he’ll be in when that happens.

And of course JCVD is a charming rogue. While he never approaches Oscar territory with performance (that would come more recently) he is charming enough that you genuine like him and his character. Its not hard to understand why he became the superstar he did.

One of the most enjoyable action films of the 1980’s BLOODSPORT is an absolute must see

Friday, December 25, 2015

Hellbound (1994)

This a weird film- it's also a really bad one but its a lot of fun. Its the sort of film that doesn't know what it is- Chuck Norris action film? historical drama? horror film? comedy? A desert topping? A floor wax? All of the above?

How weird does this film get? After a demonic servant of satan rips the heart of a rabbi who stabbed him with a holy blade a hooker comes out of the bathroom and the demon gets a look like Stymie of the Little Rascals  just got caught masturbating by his mom. Its one of the funniest things I've seen in a long while.

The tone of the film keeps flopping around. From historical epic for the 1st 15 minutes, the film becomes a weak cop drama for the next 15 inutes and then for the next 30 it’s a comedy with Norris and his partner in the middle east.

The first fifteen minutes has a bunch of 12th century knights looking for treasure and freeing the demonic servant of satan. When the knights realize what theydid they manage to put the demon back into a crypt and seal him up. The price then destroys the scepter that gave the demon his power. Then in 1951 he escapes when tomb robber release him. The film then jumps to now where Chuck Norris is a cop. Norris gets put on the trail of the demon when the hooker, you remember the hooker who saw the demon with the rabbi's heart, literally lands on  his police car when the demon tosses her out a window. Eventually Norris and his partner end up in Israel and in a running battle with the demon.

The performances are uneven. Norris is fine walking through yet another action film. The problem with Norris in the film is it's clealy a contract film and not something he has any passion for. He's walking though it and it shows. Calvin Levels as his partner is okay if overly loud. Christopher Neame as the demon is laughable. The growly voice and over top looks just kill any menace. He's one of the reasons this film should be viewed as MST3K material

Hellbound just doesn’t work. Outside of the action sequences this film really is a mess. It could have survived the TV show like feel if there had been something here beyond that. But there is nothing. Worse what is here is so silly and so wrong headed that you'e going to laugh it all the way through even the so called scary pats.

Late in the life cycle of Cannon this is a prime example of why the studio collapsed. It’s an ill thought out films that desperately seem to be an attempt to store past glory and it just missed the mark. Didn’t anyone think about it? I think not.

All that direision aside since the films is so funny for all the wrong reasons- it's the pefect film to watch with a bunch of friends

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Invasion USA (1985)

In the wake of the Reagan administrations jingoistic pronouncements and the rise of the new right there were a mini-wave of films of evil commies make a strike at the heart of America. Films like RED DAWN hit theaters and fed audiences to feel rah rah in the waning days of the cold war. Invasion USA is Cannon films entry into the sweepstakes.

Silly beyond words, but damn entertaining, this film has an army of terrorists (they are really commies) making their way into the US lead by an evil Russian played by Richard Lynch. The government know that the only chance we have is to enlist Chuck Norris who is the only man to defeat the evil Lynch. Norris wants no part of it, but when the baddies come gunning for Chuck he willing joins the battle.

Pure live action cartoon, and rather violent for a Norris, Invasion USA requires a not only a suspension of disbelief but a couple of stiff drinks (no not really but it will get the laughs flowing). You won’t believe the craziness that occurs as not only the entire US population but the whole of the US government does nothing as a whole army of terrorists drive in from the sea and cause havoc. At no point does anyone other than Norris do anything and while the action scenes are entertaining In a mindless sort of way they have no real logic.

Its all great fun. This is the sort of film you put on after a hard day at the salt mines and unwind to. It’s a simple good vs evil tale done in grand style. There are no high aspirations beyond wanting to entertain and it achieves that and then some. This is in no way high art- or even low art.

As for the films politics, they were always laughable. I have no idea why the Soviet army was changed to being terrorists, except perhaps it would have made it too silly for words. I remember seeing this when it came out and talking to strident right-wingers and even they found it silly. (Except Donald Trump who seems to believe this is what is going to happen any day now)

Worth your time and a bowl of popcorn

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Cobra (1986)

COBRA is in the running for the worst film that Sylvester Stallone has ever made. Its as stupid and wrongheaded a film as you can get and somehow it managed to make a great deal of money. The film is in it’s way kind of like a Arnold Swartzenegger’s COMMANDO which reduced a film’s plot to it’s absolute basics and then went with it. The difference is that COMMANDO is stupid fun and COBRA is just bad.

The plot of Cobra has Stallone as a cop protecting Brigite Nielson, his then wife or girlfriend, from a huge gang of satanic killers. What does the gang do beyond kill people- beats the shit out of me, but there are a lot of them and they kill you just for the hell of it. That’s all there is to the plot it’s a couple of good guys versus the state of California in a film full of crashes and killings.

And that’s it. There is no real rhyme or reason it’s just Stallone killing bad guys.

And it’s interesting for a while…and it was kind of interesting back when it came out, I mean I owned a copy of it on VHS because I liked the film, but watching it now it just plays soooooo bad. I mean really bad. Stallone doesn’t act he just mumbles and stands. He’s clearly taking himself way too seriously Brigitte is just there. The bad guys make no sense, especially since they seem to be infinite in number. If a group was this big they could take over the state not merely randomly kill people. And as for the action, its aged badly. It doesn’t help that Brian Thompson as the lead bad guy is terrible. Never the best actor, he got roles because of his look, here he’s given stupid shit to do and he can’t overcome the crap script to make anything other than a cardboard character.

I know what I originally liked about the film was that it was really cool action- but the truth is now looking back after 30 years of hyper cutting and insane over the top action the stuff here isn’t all that hot.

This is a really bad movie- it really is.

Why am I writing the film up? Because it just came packaged in a collection of Cannon Films and I was going through that enjoying myself until I hit that turd ball… and since I’m aiming to do al the films….

Do yourself a favor just avoid this one

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

In an industrial complex located in the junglea horrible accident releases a gas that turns the dead into ravenous zombies, In the silence a film crew is sent to the jungle to investigate as is a team of commandos- both of which are heading toward their own doom.

Gory Italian horror film  from Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn) is one of the many films that took George Romero's bloodletting in DAWN OF THE DEAD and upped the ante. The film also seeks to make some kind of statement with how the industrialized countries raping of the third world will result in our destruction. The facility that causes all the problems is named HOPE (If you want to take it farther you could see it as analogy to the rise of radical religion seeking to wipe out the unbelievers.

The film always walked the fine line between gross out horror and parody with the gun team behaving unlike anything you'd ever see in the real world. The insert shots of the jungle which are obviously not from the the film (they are supposed to be from New Guinea but seem to be from somewhere else) and the scenes of the naked reported trudging into the jungle bringing roars of laughter instead of real fear.  At the same time there is a tension as the zombie mayhem coupled with the real world documentary shots create a  high level of unease.

I saw this film for the first time way back upon it' initial release in the US. I remember being both grossed out and disappointed. The violence turned my stomach, It may not have been done as well as some other films but it was done in such a way that it rattled your cage (especially when coupled with the footage that was obviously not faked) . I was also disappointed because the there was a smart ass condensation that kind of made the film less than fun. The filmmakers held everyone in contempt so you were left to wonder why did they bother.

Seeing the film for the first time in probably 15 years I was shocked at how much better it played then when I first saw it. Yea it's a bleak little film that seems to hate all of humanity but it still is a creepy little film. The tension is still there. Yes it's still funny (the zombies eating the big bones in the native village are a hoot) but it still fills you with a real sense of genuine horror.

What I find interesting in retrospect is how director Mattei ended up remaking this film any number of times after this. If you look over his career you realize that many of his later films, such as MONDO CANNIBAL are simply variations on the plot and themes laid out here.

Recommended for those who like their horror bloody or want to see where the gore of today came from