Wednesday, April 25

Random Cinematic Year in Review - 1964


A Random Cinematic Year In Review




Preface: I have decided to write this series at least in part because I don't make it out to see new films very often and I've found that I spent too much time at the end of the year attempting to see all the big releases (many of which I'm not even interested in) for no other reason than to make an obligatory 'year end list'... This is a way that I can continue writing about films without feeling the pressure to see a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise take the time to. I'll still see most of them eventually, just on my own time. I use a random number generator to pick a year and I use letterboxd.com to determine the actual release year.

1964

By far, the most impactful event of 1964 has to have been the passing of the Civil Rights Act. Signed into law by LBJ on July 2nd, the act made discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex or religion illegal. It also outlawed racial segregation in public spaces and schools. Although it became the law of the land when it was signed, the actual implementation of desegregation would be painstakingly slow and take about a decade to work out. This would become the framework for decades of legislation to follow, including the Voting Rights Act of ’65, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of ’72 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of ’90.

54 years later and we still have work to do. These above listed progresses made have only given us the path. It’s up to us to stay the course, and correct the recent backslides. Wage and education gaps still exist. POC are still disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, but not job recruiters. And we are seeing a recent up swell in bigoted and nationalist rhetoric promoted as policy.

These sound like disparaging times but I remain optimistic and encouraged more and more every day. Because it’s the spirit of the Civil Rights Act, and the Selma March, and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that we find guiding today’s Americans to the streets and to the polls. The cries of insecurity: “YOU WILL NOT REPLACE US!!” by men whom for far too long have been far too comfortable in their privilege, are being drowned out by marches for women, marches for science, walkouts for education and gun control. Those policymakers that have enabled and abetted this backslide have themselves been backsliding in the polls, many have chosen an early retirement. And we’ve seen resurgence in investigative journalism not known since the days of Watergate. These gears turn slow, but they never stop. And in 50 years, when I write an essay looking back at 2018, this is what we will be remembered for.

NOTABLE FILMS


10 – MARRIAGE, ITALIAN STYLE (Directed by Vittorio De Sica)


Before watching this film, I had only seen a few of De Sica’s earliest films. This is a huge departure from his Neorealism days. It’s one of many collaborations between him and its two stars, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. This might be the most charismatic and attractive couple in cinematic history. Loren’s performance is the film’s clear highlight but I think the script deserves its fair share of credit as well. The story takes place over the course of many years and the dialogue really feels as lived in as it should.

9 – THE NAKED KISS (Directed by Samuel Fuller)


Fuller’s filmography took on subject matter that you just didn’t see in other American films from that timeframe and this is probably the best example. When grading on a curve, this film has a hard time measuring up to some of his best stuff from this era but it still makes a perfect B flick to double-feature with Fuller’s masterpiece, SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963). Both films star Constance Towers and while I think this one is inferior, it is probably a more challenging roll and she nails the performance.

8 – AT MIDNIGHT I’LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (Directed by José Mojica Marins)


I can’t promise that you will like this movie…. at all. This is a low budget production from a low budget time and region. Known as Brazil’s first horror film, it definitely has a certain charm. And if you’re at all interested in cinematic history, world cinema history and/or horror film history, I think this is kind of a must watch. Writer/director Jos­é Mojica Marin also stars as the plot’s villain, Zé (or “Coffin Joe” as he is more commonly referred to). This was the first of what is now a very long series of “Coffin Joe” films that are still being made by Marins over half a century later.

7 – INTENTIONS OF MURDER (Directed by Shôhei Imamura)


I consider this to be one of the most beautifully photographed pieces of film ever made. And it is by far my favorite Imamura film. He always seems to make interesting films but this one is his arthouse classic. Every scene is impeccably and sparingly lit showing off the dark shadows on each character’s faces that mimic their past, future and the very plot unfolding.

6 – THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (Directed by Ubaldo Ragona & Sidney Salkow)


I’ve heard it claimed that Vincent Price lacked range. I guess that may be true. But he never had any trouble making up for it with loads of charisma. He carries the hell out of this film. He’s just insanely watchable. This is the original adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best. If you think you know the gist of the story based on the Will Smith vehicle from 2007, you don’t. Watch this one.

5 – SEDUCED AND ABANDONED (Directed by Pietro Germi)


This may be the darkest of all comedies. Part of the Commdedia all'italiana period this film tells the story of a Sicilian family scrambling to avoid the scandal of an unwed, pregnant daughter. What follows is a complex plot of break-ups, weddings, kidnappings and murder. The funniest thing about it may be that the characters think that they are fighting to protect their honor. Unfortunately, what they are actually fighting to protect is prestige, honor’s bastard cousin.

4 – ONIBABA (Directed By Kaneto Shindô)


Just in case you were wondering, foreign arthouse classics don’t always have to be sappy dramas. I mean, I love sappy dramas but this Japanese classic quickly trades in its poverty stricken class struggle tale for one of the creepiest horror films of its time.  Even the picturesque landscape of tall reeds blowing in the wind will end up haunting you.

3 – WOMAN IN THE DUNES (Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara)


I’ve really responded to all four of the Teshigahara films that I’ve seen but this one is by far the best. It’s a surreal story of a Sisyphus like struggle in an oppressive setting. The whole thing reads like a dark moral tale without any actual morals. The fact of its own absurdity makes its visceral nature all the more impressive. The empathetic portal switches between our two leads magnificently throughout the film as their power struggle teeters to each brink. All the while, beautiful close-up shots cut in between give us the perspective of the same tribulations, on a much smaller scale.

2 – SOY CUBA (Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov)


It appears that 1964 was a mammoth year for achievements in cinematography. This one is the crème de la crème of black and white moving photography. Seriously, this is top 3 all time for me. If you are familiar with Kalatozov’s previous Russian films like THE CRANES ARE FLYING (1957) or LETTER NEVER SENT (1960), you know that he was no stranger to amazing camerawork. I can only imagine though, how insanely motivated he must have been, showing up in the tropics of Cuba and exploring the limitless beauty of the people and places.  This 141 minute film is compiled of mostly 3-5 minute long complex tracking shots that are as beautiful as they are inspiring.  

1 – DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (Directed by Stanley Kubrick)


This is my favorite Kubrick and among my favorite all time comedies. The film is pretty much flawless. Peter Sellers was a comedic genius so it made sense to have him play 3 different characters. I think it was probably a little surprising however at the amazing performances we got out of Sterling Hayden and George C. Scott. Neither one has ever been known particularly for their comedic timing but both here are absolutely hilarious. I especially love Scott’s work here. I don’t think I can really say anything new about this film, but it’s important to express my love here. I think that when discussing Kubrick, this one tends to get lost among his more prestigious dramas.

Monday, April 23

Rampage Review


Rampage

Dir: Brad Peyton

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jake Lacy, Joe Mangiello, and Malin Akerman


There was this video arcade at the local mall in my neighborhood; when mom would go to the department store she would give me a few dollars to get quarters for the video games. I would feed quarters into the machines but in particular, when “Arkanoid” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” were taken, a game called “Rampage” caught my creature feature attention. It was a simple multiplayer destruction game where you would pick a gigantic monster, a gorilla named George, a lizard named Lizzie, or a wolf named Ralph, and wreak havoc on a city. Simple and entertaining. 


Simple and entertaining is the whole mission of the new Dwayne Johnson starring action film “Rampage”. Taking primary cues from the video game from the 1980’s, the film adds the biggest action star in the world, some computer generated monsters, and a lazy narrative to piece everything together and composes a film that feels situated for that mind-numbing Sunday afternoon movie time waster.




Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) is a primatologist working with an albino silverback gorilla named George in the San Diego Zoo. Davis has a connection with George, being able to communicate via sign language with the animal. A genetic science experiment on a space station laboratory goes terrible wrong, it explodes sending debris along with genetic mutation materials throughout Earth. Soon three animals, including George, are infected and grow to enormous size all on a destructive path towards Chicago.


Director Brad Peyton does a competent job of making the visuals enticing and monsters clearly identified amongst the mayhem, it’s not as much of a confusing mess as some of these other CGI laden films. Dwayne Johnson is mostly reliable throughout the film, here the actor does his best to make the most of a bad script by letting his charming personality come through in as a many scenes as possible. 




Unfortunately the script is a complete mess. Dialogue is strained with awful one-liners and pointed statements articulated solely for the next plot device. Mr. Johnson plays a primatologist who, when the military comes in for information, reveals that he use to be a special ops soldier in the military. This is solely done for the sake of the character being able to fly a helicopter and pick up weapons for the ensuing fight. At another point the two sibling villains (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy) need to capture their creations and conveniently reveal that they have the equipment to do this on their building, it’s a line that feels so blatantly forced that it’s awkward when spoken.


“Rampage” will be defended as simplistic entertainment, and for some of the visual moments in the film it feels exactly like that. But it’s hard to completely commit to the film because of the narrative issues. While it sounds like a great idea watching Dwayne Johnson jump around and fight monsters based from a simple video game premise from the 80’s, “Rampage” the movie ultimately feels like a waste of quarters.  


Monte’s Rating

1.50 out of 5.00

Monday, April 16

2018 PFF & IHSFF Festival Recap – All The Creatures Were Stirring

2018 PFF & IHSFF Festival Recap – Sunday, April 15th 2018

Coda’s ongoing coverage of the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival & International Horror Sci-Fi Film Festival. I'll be using these posts to recap the films I've experienced as part of these festivals.

Well, the festival is over. I had a great time and saw a lot of films. I ended it on a pretty high note. Enjoy

ALL THE CREATURES WERE STIRRING – Directed by David Ian & Rebekah McKendry


I'm always a little weary of anthology films. They usually amount to a collection of short films that should be critiqued separately, leaving no room to know how to feel about the film as a whole. There are plenty of exceptions to this, it's not a rule. It's just something I feel. This is especially the case in anthologies that are compiled of films by different directors and crews such as V/H/S or THE ABC's OF DEATH. Those films are wildly inconsistent in their quality from one vignette to the next and usually the framing device, if there is one, is their weakest link.

I'm happy to report that this is not one of those cases. This film exists somewhere in between SOUTHBOUND (2015) and Michael Dougherty's TRICK 'R TREAT (2007). Every vignette was made by the same crew, just with different actors. This is surprising considering how stylistically different each one of them was. And the framing device was in itself a separate story that book-ended the whole film. This really worked out well. I liked some of the pieces more than others but each one displayed a different refreshing quality.

The shorts are framed around an awkward Christmas Eve date between friends. They find a local theatre production that tells the stories in a far less cinematic way than what we the audience are treated to. It was goofy and fun and the scenes that transitioned to the next short always had me laughing.

The first segment takes us inside of an office Christmas party. I've been to a few of these and I was already horrified before anything awesome even happened. Think OFFICE SPACE ('99) meets SAW ('04). The next piece shows us the dangers of the last minute gift run. This one was probably my least favorite part. It was small and quiet and clever but it just left a bit to be desired. After that, we get the dark comedy adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol followed quickly by a tale about the quickest way to make Santa's naughty list. At this point, I began to notice that each segment was getting more stylistic as we went on. Then the last one, which turned out to be my favorite, transitioned from color 16:9 to a beautiful black-and-white 4:3 to tell a spooky "Twilight Zone-esque" cautionary tale of why you should never show up uninvited during the holidays. 

The cast list is what will likely turn into a who's-who list of genre flick talent. Horror fans will have likely recognized many of them. Brea Grant, Graham Skipper & Chase Williams (BEYOND THE GATES) all show up as well as THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL's Jocelin Donahue. These are the types of actors that we keep seeing show up in better than average horror films in festivals and on Netflix. It's fun to wonder which ones of them will be around in 20 years, touting a storied career with tons of genre credits.

I wrote earlier this week about whether or not I expected SECRET SANTA to make the normal rotation of holiday themed horror. I don't really feel like I have to wonder with this one. It's got a lot going for it. Good production design, camerawork and acting along with a funny script and descent effects should all work together to catapult this film onto some sort of platform for us all to enjoy in about 7-8 months time.