Sunday, July 12, 2020

Relic Film Review

Relic is a daring horror drama about the dangers of Dementia. It encompasses the heart of both horror and compassion in one of the best IFC Midnight films I have seen to date.
Kay (Emily Mortimer; Mary Poppins Returns, Shutter Island) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Dark Shadows) travel to visit Kay’s mother, Edna (Robyn Nevin; The Matrix Reloaded, Gods of Egypt) after she mysteriously vanishes from her home. While in the process of taking care of her grandmother, Sam starts to notice strange happenings in the house that seem rather harmless at first glance. Over time the duo discovers that something seems a little off about Edna and she seems to have returned a shell of her former self.
Relic is one of the most unique genre films I have seen in a long time. It encompasses both family and horror in the same realm without trying too hard to win over its audience. It flows beautifully and tells the tale of a daughter struggling to come to terms with her mothers dementia. The choice to use the house as a metaphor for the disease was a brilliant choice and adds to the dark atmosphere of the film. The lack of jump scares and cheap thrills is a welcomed change in modern cinema, especially ones of this caliber. I thought the darkness tone of the film matched beautifully with the haunting music and the artistic videography. They all worked so well together to create a cohesive film that is both memorable and enjoyable.
I first discovered Emily Mortimer when she played Chloe in the 2005 Woody Allen film Match Point opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson. After watching the trailer for Relic I could already see her character coming to life. She has this gift you rarely see in films these days. She pulls genuine emotion from her audience and makes them feel like the character she’s playing is a real person. Even though I didn’t know Kay very well as a character I identified with her as a woman and as a daughter.
Bella Heathcote is known for her portrayal of Victoria Winters in Tim Burton’s interpretation of Dark Shadows. It was great to see Bella in a more controlled environment. Her skills as an actress really shined here. Sam is a young woman who is struggling to figure out what it is she wants to do with her life and incorporating that into this story makes her someone people of all ages can relate to.
Robyn Nevin did a superb job playing Edna. I believed that she was someone’s loved one who is going through a big change in the later years of her life. I really cared about what happened to her. The way Robyn portrayed Edna’s disconnect from reality was both convincing and heartbreaking. I would definitely recommend watching her other films.
I would suggest Relic to fans who enjoy a little drama and realism in their horror films. If you’re looking for some thing that is both Erie and relatable I think this is the film for you. The entire cast is phenomenal. They bring this story to life and I really enjoyed it. I give Relic a 9/10. I wish we had gotten to know Edna before her disappearance in order to really get a good glimpse at how shocking her transformation really was. Aside from that I thought it was brilliant. Relic was praised during its opening at Sundance Film Festival in 2019. The film opens on July 10 In Theaters and also available On Demand / Digital Rental.

Japan Cuts Starts Friday- Buy Tickets

The Japan Society's annual Japan Cuts Festival starts Friday and runs until July 30th. As with all festivals these days it is going to be virtual and the films will be available all through the festival with special events happening at specific times. Details can be found on the website.

Long time readers of Unseen Films will know how much I love this festival. Not only is it a great showcase for great films from Japan, it is also a great show case for great films period.This is a festival where I always find a couple of films I never thought would interest me but which result in me putting them on my end of the year best of lists.

Of course I highly recommend you purchase tickets to see whatever it is that interests you. Again ticket information is on the website.

Normally at this point I would give you a taste of the films that are playing by way of making recommendations. Unfortunately a combination of real world circumstances and receiving the films as things exploded means that I am just now scrambling to see the films so I can review them.

As I write this I have only seen ON-GAKU: OUR SOUND because I reviewed it at the New York International Children's Film Festival earlier this year. (It's great go see it) and FUKUSHIMA 50 which was at the top of my list to see. FUKUSHIMA 50 is kick ass with a first ten minutes (the earthquake and tsunami) which will curl your hair.

Reviews will be coming as I can manage them....

Until then go buy tickets.

Brief thoughts on THE TOBACCONIST which is now in virtual theaters

A young man moves to Vienna to work in the tobacco shop of a friend of his mother's where he gets romantic advice from Sigmund Freud. Unfortunately this is the 1930's and the Nazi's are on the march.

Based on the novel by Robert Seethaler THE TOBACCONIST is on odd mix of coming of age and historical dramas. The mix doesn't always get it right, sometimes it's a bit too light and at others a bit too pointed with the result that while I really liked the film I never quite fell in love with it the way I felt I should have. I wanted a tad more meat...however that said, I really want to sit down and watch it again and take it for what it is, a solid drama.

Actually the real reason I want to see the film again is the stunning award performance by Bruno Ganz. In a career that spanned decades and is full of dozens of iconic roles, Ganz's Sigmund Freud is something truly special.  Disappearing into the role behind glasses and beard, Ganz creates a character we'd all like to hang out with. To be certain it is almost formulaic in the wise old elder who teaches the youngsters about life way, but Ganz never lets it fully slip into cliche, instead giving us a character who is always real and extremely human. If there is justice Ganz will end up in the Oscar mix when ever Covid allows the awards to happen.

A small gem of a film THE TOBACCONIST is recommended and can found on Kino Marquee.

The Seven Dwarfs to the Rescue (1951; American release 1965)

After Snow White and Prince Charming are married, the Prince must put down a rebellion led by a duke. However, Snow White is tricked into believing that Charming has been captured. When she tries to free him, she's captured by the Prince of Darkness. The Seven Dwarfs are then forced to go and rescue her.

One review of this film said that the New Orleans Bad Film Festival shows the film every five years, because they claim the film's so bad the audience won't sit for it. It's not that bad. While decidedly not good, it isn't really bad, certainly not in any sort of legendary way. It's actually very much like any number of the other fairy tale films produced in Europe at the same time. I'm guessing that this film, like many other similar films, is actually merely badly dubbed. As several reviews said, this film is only bad to people who really don't know bad films.

Like most of the dairy tale films of the time this film takes what most of us think of as a classic fairy tale and puts a spins into the stories we were told as children. It's weird and wonderful, set in a place similar to our own (yet different). It's a really wild head space to be in that all sorts of weird things happen and it takes odd turns, like topless-looking water nymphs kidnapping the dwarfs from the middle of a field. Truly trippy, — this is a film is its own beast.

While decidedly not for all tastes, this film is a must see for anyone who loves weird and wacky films. It's a one of a kind viewing experience and not to be missed.

Waiting For Godot (2020)

I stumbled upon this on YouTube and it is really good. That the Beckett estate allowed  this to be made (they are thanked in the end credits) kind of shocks me because .this film varies from the original in many different ways- and yet it seems exactly on point.

Basically this is Godot set in New York at night and it's damn good. I mean it's so good that it makes the case that Becket needs to be allowed to be riffed on and allowed to breath. Opening the play up and making some changes makes the text come alive. This makes the case that Beckett can speak to everyone- just let people find their way in and not be shackled to Beckett's intentions.

I have no idea about the director Rudi Azank, but I want to see what he does next.

I should also point out that there is another version of this on YouTube on Azank's website called WHILE WAITING FOR GODOT that is slightly shorter and cut differently (I think this version may have a better ending- but I am not sure since I only watched pieces of it)

If you are curious give this film a try because frankly not only is it good, I feat the Beckett people might change their mind and ask it to be pulled down.

One of the great finds of 2020

ADDENDUM: Looking around on the internet after this posted I saw a reference on Twitter from @beckett_letters saying this apparently based on a unpublished pre-censorship version of the play.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Nate Hood on Decade of Fire which hits on VOD 7/14

The autobiographical impulse is a powerful one for documentarians, particularly when their subjects turn to issues near to their hearts. For filmmaker Vivian Vazquez, few could be more important than her hometown of the Bronx. Her new film—co-directed by Gretchen Hildebran—spends the first fifteen or so minutes of its meager seventy-two minute runtime explaining her family’s backstory: how they immigrated from Puerto Rico in the 1950s, fled from Spanish Harlem to the more racially egalitarian and economically prestigious Bronx, and how they put down roots in one of the most vibrant post-war American communities. It’s only after this lengthy prologue that the film settles into its main topic: the decade-long wave of tenement fires that destroyed 80% of all Bronx housing in the 1970s, leaving a quarter million homeless. Once this shift occurs, Decade of Fire, becomes a very different film, a slow-motion horror story as Vazquez and Hildebran painstakingly chart the various racial, political, and economic causes to the urban holocaust.

A soul-deadening history lesson, it begins with the rise of redlining minority neighborhoods, leading in part to a decade of “White Flight” in the 1960s when a million white, middle class New Yorkers fled the city for the suburbs. Around 100,000 remaining non-whites were forced from their homes for the sake of Robert Moses’ “urban renewal” plans which tore down Manhattan tenements—did you know the Lincoln Center was built on top of the ruins of working class apartments?—leading to the ghettoization of the Bronx as greedy landlords crammed dozens of people into apartments intended for single families. After that, the landlords simply stopped paying for upkeep, hired local gangs to torch the buildings, and collected state insurance claims which they pocketed before vanishing because, incredibly, state law didn’t require them to use said insurance to repair their properties. Even worse, the same “urban renewal” that decimated Manhattan housing led to the counterintuitive shuttering of many of the Bronx’s fire departments, leaving large swathes of the borough with no firefighters for when blazes broke out.

There’s more, but I hesitate to go on—I’m just regurgitating the film now. What I can say is that Decade of Fire is a chilling, necessary look at institutional betrayal and failure, yet also a glance into a vibrant community determined to rebuild itself, beginning with the family of one determined documentarian.

Rating: 7/10

The Man and the Monster (1958)

A pianist sells his soul to the devil to become the greatest of all time. The problem is every time he plays certain piece by Tchaikovsky, he turns in to a monster.

One part fairy tale, one part throw back to the Universal horror films of the '40s, THE MAN AND THE MONSTER is a nifty little thriller that plays better in the original Spanish language version (El hombre y el monstruo) than in the K. Gordon Murray dub. There is more emotion in the Spanish than in the English dub, which uses the voices you've heard in every other Murray release.

While decidedly not scary by today's standards, the film does have gobs of mood which make it perfect for a dark and stormy night on the couch.


Friday, July 10, 2020

Greyhound: Tom Hanks Adapts C.S. Forester

The U.S. Merchant Marine suffered a higher fatality rate than any other American service branch during World War II. German U-boats were the primary reason. They were always deadly, but especially so when hunting American cargo and troop ships in the so-called “Black Pit,” the central Atlantic waters Allied air support could not reach. A veteran Naval officer with no prior combat experience must protect a large convoy during its perilous transatlantic passage in Aaron Schneider’s Greyhound, adapted from C.S. Forester’s The Good Shepherd by its star and screenwriter, Tom Hanks, which premieres today on Apple TV.

Although he is a career officer, Capt. Ernest Krause’s first command is the destroyer USS Keeling—call sign: “Greyhound.” The newly promoted captain is keenly aware several of his junior officers and able-bodied seamen are far-more battle-tested than he is. However, he takes strength from his Christian faith and his love for Evelyn, who would be his fiancĂ©e, if times were peaceful.

As soon as the convoy enters the Black Spot, a German U-boat is detected on sonar. Greyhound is sent on a detour to hunt it down, in what will be the first test of Krause’s leadership. Unfortunately, the detour will also deplete Greyhound’s depth charges and fuel. Racing to catch up with the convoy, the Keeling is forced to spearhead the rear-defense when a full “wolfpack” of U-boats suddenly attacks.

It is a shame Sony canceled Greyhound’s theatrical release in response to the CCP-virus and sold it to Apple, because it is a lean, tense war film that still deserves to be seen on a big screen. As a screenwriter, Hanks distills the narrative down to its elemental essence, jettisoning any dead weight melodrama, while retaining a nuts-and-bolts realism. Greyhound could almost serve as a training film for destroyer crews, if the stakes were not so dire.

Granted, we do not really get to know the personality quirks of the crew, but Capt. Krause is not on-board to make friends. He is there to keep them alive and protect the convoy. There is an obvious kinship between Capt. Krause and other celebrated Hanks characters, such as Captain Phillips and most conspicuously Capt. John Miller from Saving Private Ryan. Yet, Krause is particularly compelling, probably for precisely the reasons some snobby critics are rather lukewarm on the film. Hanks never gives himself any flashy Oscar-reel dialogue, but what he shows is the depth of Krause’s Christian belief—it is a faith that manifests itself in humility—something we rarely see in film or society during these hyper-cynical times.

Hanks is quietly powerful as Krause—it really might be some of his best work yet, even though it comes in a combat-driven film. Most of the rest of the ensemble are good soldiers playing good sailors. However, Stephen Graham is memorably salty and flinty as Krause’s first officer, Charlie Cole. Elizabeth Shue only appears briefly in an early flashback as Evelyn, but it is a rather poignant scene, in which she and Hanks express much, while speaking rather little.

Of course, for real-life veterans and military experts, the greatest strength of Greyhound is its authenticity. Shot aboard a currently commissioned Royal Canadian frigate, Schneider conveys a dramatic sense of the close-quarters and the near-blind confusion of nautical warfare. The terminology sounds accurate and the gun-metal-grey color palate is as legit as it gets. Viewers will understand the tactics and strategy, as they unfold, while Schneider clearly establishes the spatial relationships between destroyer and U-boats—at least when it is known to the Greyhound crew. This is a radical departure from his last feature, Get Low, but he does a truly impressive job marshalling the warships, aircrafts, and explosive effects, while still getting the best out of his leading man.

Krause is the sort of American veteran who made the “Greatest Generation” the greatest. The same is true for all the Merchant Marines that he fights so hard to protect, so we should remember them all. Greyhound is definitely a fitting tribute. Tight and suspenseful, it is the best WWII combat-focused film since Hacksaw Ridge. Very highly recommended, Greyhound premieres today (7/10), on Apple TV.

Nothing Stays The Same (2019) hits home video July 14

NOTHING STAYS THE SAME was probably one of the most important documentaries of 2019. I know it's a weird thing to say about a film about a music venue in Austin, Texas that's trying to stay open — but it’s absolutely the truth. NOTHING STAYS...speaks to every town and village in America, and asks what happens when you allow crazy construction across your town when, more often than not, it is going to destroy the very thing that you are known for?

The film is the story of Austin, Texas: specifically the Saxon Pub. Austin is a mecca for live music, and the Pub was considered one of the best venues to see great music. People from all over the world have come to it, because they loved the music and the community that exists around it. The city once had dozens of places like it, to see all sorts of music. However, as more and more people came to town, costs rose and the venues that hosted live performances were driven out via taxes or problems with landlords, who either raised rents to impossible levels or simply kicked the tenants out to build apartments. The Austin music scene, as a result is dying.

This is the case with the Saxon Pub, which faces closure because the landlord got an insane offer from a developer who wants to build more apartments like the ones that surround it. As the bar faces an uncertain future, filmmaker Jeff Sandmann investigated what the loss of a legendary space such as the Saxon Pub would mean in the short and long term.

Filled with glorious music, NOTHING STAYS THE SAME is just a great film — a spot-on examination on the crazy gentrification of not just Austin, but America. The film ponders what will happen to the city when music that once filled every corner of the city goes silent. What do you do when the cost of living in the city is so prohibitive to anyone who just wants to make music? Worse, the venues the musicians once played in are closing. The reason that many people go or move to the city is rapidly disappearing. The city that once had a charming character is now becoming a land of dull apartment buildings.

Director Sandmann is to be commended. He's made a film that not only shows us what's in danger if our culture goes away, but also the battle to stop it. It's a battle that is being fought across the country on all sorts of levels. While specifically aimed at music, this is war that libraries, museums and other cultural institutions are fighting across America. By showing us the battle for the Saxon Pub, Sandmann makes the fight something we can all understand.

Not to put too fine a pint on it, NOTHING STAYS THE SAME was one of the great films of 2019. Don’t let the fact the film runs just over an hour fool you: it has more info and emotional punch than films running twice or three times as long. Not only does it inform, but it also entertains — as I said, it's filled with great music. This is a must see.

Annotated Obit for my Dad

This is the obit that we put together  for my dad which was posted on the funeral home website.

Steve Kopian 82, best known as “General”, peacefully passed away at home on July 2nd.

A loving husband, father and brother, he is survived by his sons Stephen, Thomas, Joe, his “adopted” son Stewart, his daughter-in-law Diana, granddaughter Avery, sister Betty, many nieces and nephews, and his best friend... his dog Buster.

He is preceded in death by his devoted wife Karen, parents Stephen and Anna and sisters Deloris and Joan.

While he earned his living with the Nassau County Health Department, his real passions were sports and the fire department. The General was a champion athlete in multiple sports. He played football and track for Glen Cove High School, where one of his track records still stands. He then played football for the University of South Carolina, and eventually played for the New York Jets during their first season in the AFL as the New York Titans. An avid softball player, he continued to play on different leagues right up into his 70’s.

He was a sixty-year member of the Glenwood Fire Company where for a time, he acted as Trustee, and was a member of the drill, softball and bowling teams. He had great loves for Polish polkas, motorcycles and cracking wise.

Through it all, despite the fact that he could make his family crazy, they loved him as much as he loved them. A celebration of life will be planned at a later date.


That was the piece that went on the funeral home website. But as with anyone's life there was more- a hell of a lot more. Stories kept leaking out over the last week such as he apparently played professional baseball (I believe for the Twins) while in college but it had to be hushed up lest there was a loss of eligibility.

There are the Jim Brown stories of how he played against Jim Brown in high school and while he couldn't beat him in football or lacrosse he could in other sports. 

And then there was the endless tales of the people who he knew - and at times you wouldn't believe that he knew all these people - he really did.

The problem with my dad was that he was always too busy living life to always tell it. I was lucky enough over the past 15 years to spend a great deal of time with him so stories would fall out of him. I don't even remotely know them all- I don't think anyone does- but I suspect that most people who knew him for any amount of time ended up shocked as he casually told stories. The football tales, the softball tales, the firehouse stories, the hockey stories, the polka stories, the travels with his insane grandfather stories, the life stories all just dropped out at random moments.

I loved when we would go to a motorcycle show with Mr C and as they were looking at the bikes he'd start to tell a story. Sometimes I'd heard it sometimes not. Some would be his adventures, and some would be about his aunts and uncles or friends.

He wasn't perfect. He could be a gruff son of a bitch. He would yell and scream at times if something happened- it wasn't until I was in my thirties that I finally got to understand how he went, the screaming was because he didn't know how to show that he was worried, but  there was a point here the anger burned off and you saw the worried parent underneath. I also think my mom didn't really get to understand him in someways until he retired- largely because that was the point when they finally spent time together. Don't get me wrong I always loved him but there were times we all wanted to kill him

In many ways he is one of my heroes. I loved what he could do. I loved how he gave to the community. I know we all hated there was times when the outside of the family came first - but at the same time we did delight when he was there with us.

I know the last few years were tough. The illnesses slowed him down- for a man who was constantly going not being able to run and play sports was hard on him. At the same time he always tried to look ahead. I ill work out so that down the road I will be able to do something.  This Covid crap put a damper on things- we were looking ahead to do things and go places and while we went for rides almost every day the fact that we couldn't go to eat, or go see motorcycles, or boxing or something else really messed up his psyche. he was trying to live as fully as he could but the danger of a disease he didn't have  made it it tough to know when he could get up and moving- would we make the Queens Motorcycle show? How about Boxing at the Garden? When was he going to get out and have lunch with his buddies?

And while his best buddy was Buster, the absolute love of his life Avery his granddaughter. Through all the bad times the thought of seeing his little girl was what kept him going. He wanted to give her everything  but knew he couldn't. He also knew he had toteasure what time he had with her. His life was such that as things transpired last week I was screaming at him to come back because Avery needed him.

Sometimes god has other needs.

Of course there is so much more to say- so many stories to tell- but I don't have it in me. (Actually I do but I need to keep a distance lest a collapse into a heap.)

Someday I will tell the tales. Someday I will not hurt. Someday I will understand what he really meant to me.

For now I will just mourn the loss and smile at the memories and be amused that he is still floating around (at the funeral yesterday he somehow managed to have his coffin pull a button off a good friends jacket in what had to be a final joke - and there are other occurances)

For now I will just say  what I said to him every night as I went to bed " Goodnight pop, love you. See you in the morning"

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Island of the Doomed (1967)

A bunch of tourists take a trip to a largely deserted island. No one lives there except a lone baron (Cameron Mitchell). As they're driving down a deserted road, a man staggers out in front of them. Something was obviously wrong with him before he expired. They're rattled but press on. They finally meet the baron who takes them in. Of course, all is not well — the Baron is a mad horticulturalist and is keeping a garden full of carnivorous plants.

ISLAND OF THE DOOMED (aka Maneater of Hydra and The Blood Suckers) should have been made a decade or two earlier. This tale of a mad scientist and his experiments is way too campy coming out the 1960s and in bright colors. This should have been dark and shadowy, with Lionel Atwill in the lead. Seeing it recently in the stunning version that Sinister Cinema put out has me pondering what I think of the film. For years, I had watched it via faded grainy and choppy prints, and my feelings were tied to the fact it looked like a misunderstood schlock classic. Seeing it pristine makes me think differently. This isn’t to say the film is bad: it’s not, more that as it stands now, it’s good in a bad sort of way.

Is it worth seeing? If you love good bad movies or if, like me, you're a sucker for crazy monster films — it is.

Reposting a piece on why you shouldn't take critics and film writers (myself included) seriously

I just stumbled across a piece I wrote in 2014 and I think it is an apropos take on all criticism- particularly film criticism which says don't take what we say as gospel but rather only as a friendly suggestion. I have tweaked it slightly from its original form.

I recently had someone comment to me that my pieces were very personal. They were not happy that the pieces were not merely a statement of facts but they talked about me and where I was coming from. I replied that was the only way I could write, I can't write about how I feel about something without explaining where those feelings were coming from. I added that I always liked that in reviews because it gave me a handle on where the person writing it is coming from.

Unseen Films is not typical film writing, then again I'm not trying to be a real critic rather I'm just trying to tell you what I thought and felt about a film.

Of course that doesn't mean that I and many of my fellow film writers aren't full of shit. I say this because after watching the reaction of some of my colleagues after several screenings at NYFF (the Godard film in particular) I was horrified at the thought that people actually take what we say seriously.

Please stop that. Don't take us seriously.

No offense but the way people will discuss the deeper meaning of anything is ridiculous. Movies are what they are, just as works of literature, and any meaning or resonances you find there are because of the connections you make to them and what they may or may not be saying. There is no deeper meaning unless you put it there and want it there.

I have had several conversations about the deeper meaning of a couple of NYFF films and to be honest the people telling me why watching a tiger wander around an apartment for an hour is an orgasmically intellectual experience had me biting my lip so as not to laugh in their faces. Its a tiger wandering around a room for an hour while someone reads bad poetry...its pretentious twaddle. It means nothing.

I freely admit that I am full of it a lot of times, but I hope that I, and the other guys and gals at Unseen will always explain to why a film hits us a certain way. We try to clue you in to our own personal biases which make it less an intellectual pronouncement of why something is great on a higher level, but rather a personal experience as to why we feel so strongly about a film.

We film writers are not gods buts we're just a bunch of film nuts who just started writing about something we like and never stopped. Many of us, myself included, have no lives, we just have films, which means we don't really know from real life, we only know film life.(And having met several "important critics" you too would suddenly stop taking us seriously if you knew what they were really like)

If you decide to listen to us don't take our strict ratings as the be all and end all and instead read what we are saying and look at the words beyond the its good or bad. I say that because the true value of what we write is there and not in the thumbs up or down its in the expression of what we say and how we say it. Read a lot of reviews by a particular author and get a feel for how they write and what they really mean. Sometimes a phrase taken at face value will mean something else if you know an author. You have to get to the point where you know what a writer is saying like you know how some of your friends explain a movie.

We don't know anything more than you do, we just may have seen more films than you have (which means nothing if they aren't a broad spectrum of types and genres).

Ultimately take what we say on advisement. Let it help steer you but don't let it be the deciding factor, after all all we know are our own personal tastes, you on the other hand are a perfect judge of your own.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Shudder: The Beach House

This film could spur sales of air purifiers, but it certainly does not promote recreational pot use. Careful what you put in your body, because it just might stay in there. It is not immediately clear what those air particulates are, but they look ominously foreboding in Jeffrey A. Brown’s The Beach House, which premieres tomorrow on Shudder.

The Beach House starts slow, but finishes strong. At first, the film seems to be an exercise in social awkwardness, when Randall takes his girlfriend Emily to his father’s vacation home on the exact same weekend Mitch and Jane Turner had arranged to borrow it. The older couple tries to be gracious, but there is tension, because the Mrs. Turner is clearly ailing. Presumably, this will be their last visit to the beachfront property. However, everyone seems to relax when Randall breaks out the edibles (over Emily’s objections), at least for a short spell. Still, the heaviness of the dust or pollen in the air remains an unmistakable ill portent.

It turns out, Brown is revisiting one of the classic horror-sf sub-genres, but it would not be sporting to say which one. One the other hand, it is probably fair to say it will involve a good deal of body horror. Frankly, there are times when Owen Levelle’s hazy and moody cinematography brings to mind Dean Cundey’s lensing of classic early John Carpenter films, like Halloween and The Fog, which is very high praise.

Liana Liberato (atoning for Trespass) is really very good playing Emily in various stages of relationship impatience, stoned but not blissed-out, hung-over, and completely terrified. She covers a greater emotional spectrum, but both she and Noah Le Gros totally sell the bodily horrors. Veteran character actor Jake Weber (from Medium and American Gothic) also helps make the first act feel slightly off-kilter.

When things take a perilous turn for our young couple, Beach House locks in and grabs on tight to viewers. There are sequences worthy of the classic films in the genre (not that we are saying what that is). It is the kind of film the audience needs to stick with, out of faith, but Brown rewards the effort. Highly recommended for fans of horror with an element of science fiction, The Beach House starts streaming tomorrow (7/9), on Shudder.

The Road to Hong Kong (1962)

The final ROAD film is a scattershot affair with Hope and Crosby as entertainer/con men who end up dealing with a secret organization that wants the secret rocket formula that hope has locked in his brain.

An odd mix of comedy, satire, music and fourth wall-breaking nonsense, the film calls back to past glories while sending up the spy genres and films set in Asia that were filling theaters at the time. Some of it works, some of it crashes and burns, and some of the non-Asian actors in stereotypical performances makes you cringe. I smiled my way through the film but I never really laughed with the film being way too knowing to ever really fall into.

Hope and Crosby play their roles on autopilot, which for them makes them entertaining. Joan Collins fills in for a mostly absent Dorothy Lamour and is much better than the material she's given. Lamour shows up toward the end playing herself and singing a couple of songs. As for the cameos — they're amusing throwaways with Peter Sellers getting the most screen time as an Indian doctor who runs rings around the Hope and Crosby.

Even by the up and down standards of the series, this is just amusing diversion but little else.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Joe Bendel on WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES (2020), which opens Friday 7/10

Technically, they are not zombies in the Walking Dead sense. They are zombies like the “She’s Not There” British invasion rock band. Of course, they are a kiddie band, but they have grown up awfully fast. Death has brought them together and death might just be what breaks them apart in Makoto Nagahisa’s We Are Little Zombies, which screens during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Death will be their constant companion. As fate dictates, the four youngsters meet at the crematorium hosting their parents’ funerals—that’s right, all eight of them. Yet, strangely, they feel little emotion, which even they find somewhat odd. Instead, they band together, trashing their apartments and taking refuge on the streets. They have contempt for the future, living only in the now.

Of course, their stories are uniquely awful. Hikari Takami’s parents died when their tour bus had a fatal collision. They had been hoping to save their marriage by taking a strawberry lovers’ tour (at least they managed to avoid a divorce). Yuki Takemura’s parents committed suicide to escape their creditors. Shinpachi Ishi’s parents were killed in a gas fire at their greasy wok restaurant. Ikuko Ibu’s ‘rents were murdered by her stalker music teacher, because he thought she wanted him to do it—and maybe she did. Ibu is the oldest of the four, so naturally the boys all develop a crush on her.

Yet, it will be Takami who leads their band, “The Little Zombies,” filtering his Gameboy soundtracks through old school synthesizer modulators. Their street performances go viral, launching them to pop idol status, but you can guess the path of their career trajectory.

Little Zombies is not a horror movie, but it is definitely a massive cult film. With its intrusive 8-bit soundtrack and seizure-inducing rapid-editing, it is like an all-out assault on the senses. It is an exhausting film, but you have to respect Nagahisa’s ability to maintain the breakneck lunacy. Even if it makes your eye-sockets bleed, it is a heck of an accomplishment. As an added bonus, Nagahisa’s screenplay is riddled with clever, postmodern breakings of the fourth wall and self-referential wackiness.

Frankly, it is pretty amazing how deadpan Keita Ninomiya, Satoshi Mizuno, Mondo Okumura, and Sena Nakajima remain, despite the maelstrom of insanity swirling around them. It is a different sort of performance, maintaining stoic discipline rather than emoting, but they fulfill their duties faithfully. Recommended for fans of Sion Sono at his most out-there, We Are Little Zombies screens in Covid free theaters and VOD starting Friday

And it's intermission time


With the last few days still rocking my world, I'm taking a couple of days off to take a break and process the massive sea change that has just occurred in my life (details when I can talk about it in more than an off handed shields up sort of a way).

For the next little bit I'll be pausing putting up Stay At Home Fest Bonus Films. I have about a week's worth of movies bookmarked, but I haven't had a chance to actually drop them in.

I'm also taking a break from new releases for a bit. There will be some — and there should be more — but things happen. I have the site programmed for many day ahead, so there will be new-to-you content, but it will be largely older films. I won't be away that long, but because I knew things like this could happen, I planned ahead.

For right now, know I'm okay (I'm not pushing it past that) — and I'll be back soon.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Mighty Oak (2020)

MIGHTY OAK vexes me. It is a film with an awesome cast, great music, beautiful filmmaking craft (outside of a bad car crash) and a script that makes you wonder what drugs they were on. Give Sean McNamara points for kind of pulling off the impossible and making a film that shouldn't work compelling, but at the same time screenwriter Matt Allen needs to be sent somewhere dank and dark and never allowed to return.

When Gina Jackson's brother is killed in a car crash she thinks her life is over. They were heading with their band to a gig that was going to make their careers when a drunk driver switched lanes and hit them head on killing Gina's brother. Ten years on Gina is looking for cash and wants her brother's guitar back. She discovers it in the hands of a ten year old named Oak who plays just like her brother. Could he be her brother reincarnated? Can she get the band back together and lead them to glory?

Okay- if you aren't picky and you can just go with it, MIGHTY OAK is an amusing film that kind of works. Its the sort of film had me getting teary in the end despite knowing what was going to happen and having tons and tons of issues with what went before.

The problems with the plot are many. A lot of this doesn't make sense, timeframes are wrong, there are way too many plot threads, The film shifts focus seemingly at random. Much of this you have to accept because the film asks us to, I mean if you were in an exploding rock band that ended abruptly, would you just go along if someone suggested that a ten year old was going to take over the lead? Worst of all a lot of the characters are grossly under developed. For example Oak's mom is cypher. While we are allowed to think she is a drug addict, it's not until a too late in the game revelation are we clued in that she actually has Lupus.

I was talking to the screen through much of the running time wanting to know why these choices had been made. Of course I didn't get an answer, but I still asked why.

And at the same time I couldn't stop watching. I had to see how it was going to come out, more so when somewhere in the second half the get the band back together plot gets pushed aside for the question of what Gina is doing and what she wants best for oak even after his mother dies. Say what you will about the script the cast sells this film big time.

Is MIGHTY OAK worth seeing? Maybe. The cast is great, the songs are good and while the script is honestly and truly a WTF were they thinking  affair (and I left out some big WHAT!?! moments) it swerves enough in the second half that you probably won't get very turn way ahead of the characters. It is not typical Hollywood and that does count for something.

MIGHTY OAK hits VOD in July 7th and if you feel the urge give it a shot.

Stay At Home Festival Bonus Film Aleksandr Ptushko's Gulliver's Travels

An amazing Soviet version of Gulliver's Travels

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Harryhausen: The Lost Films

Chronological look at the films Ray Harryhausen might have possibly been part of but time and tide prevented him from happening. It also reveals cut sequences from some of his classic films.

Take it as a given this is a great book. A mixture of text and pictures LOST FILMS gets the mind going and makes us fall in love with film all over again. Mostly it makes us wonder what might have happened had HArryhausen said yes or been able to get access to Tarzan or John Carter of Mars? What would he have done on the Empire Strikes Back? Would The Elementals of King Kong VS Frankenstein been a classic? We will never know- but we can imagine.

I don't know what to say other than if you love Ray Harryhausen's work this is a must

Stay At Home Festival: The Stone Flower

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