Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein -1948-

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Directed by Charles Barton. 83 mins.

Worth my time? No. (Seen at the New Beverly Cinema, Hollywood)

I saw this movie about a week ago, and I’ve been putting off my write-up because I didn’t want to spend any more time thinking to this piece of shit. There’s a lot of “classic comedy” that fuckin’ blows, and from what I’ve seen, Abbott and Costello make every Three Stooges short look like The Gold Rush by comparison.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein has a reputation for being one of the better later Universal monster movies which doesn’t speak highly of its predecessors. I love Dracula and the first two Frankenstein films, but these creatures ran out of steam with Son of Frankenstein. Why did the studio think that adding the stupid hijinks of A&C into the mix would help? They must have wanted to get more use out of old sets before tearing them down.

I never was much of a Wolf Man fan, but Lon Chaney, Jr. is easily the best part of the movie. Bela Lugosi looks desperate, and Glenn Strange (playing The Monster) is a poor substitute for Boris Karloff. How do you fuck up playing a corpse, Glenn?

On the upside, I found this rad Eastern European poster for the film. It’s way more entertaining than the movie itself.

(Seen on 2014-04-27, written on 2014-05-02)

The Wolf of Wall Street -2013-

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Directed by Martin Scorsese. 180 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at Arclight Hollywood)

While it isn’t Scorsese at his best (was anyone expecting it to be?), Wolf was a damn fine way to break my month-long movie dry-spell. After deviating from his usual “rise and fall of a protagonist crushed by his own excess while striving to prove his manhood and self-worth” formula with the dreadful Shutter Island and the near-excellent Hugo, Marty returns to form. Sure, Wolf is a retread, but it’s one of his better retreads (trumping Casino, for instance).

While Leo’s interpretation of Jordan Belfort is a transparent lift of Ray Liotta’s performance of Henry Hill back in GoodFellas, there are enough differences to make the character interesting. While Hill’s identity stems from the family he joined, Belfort’s identity comes from the family he made. While he treats his wife dirt and has no remorse for the countless investors he fucks over, his firm, Stratton Oakmont, is the love of his life. His employees love him, and he loves them back. Belfort is an asshole, but Terrence Winter writes enough humanity into the character to put him head-and-shoulders above the straw men that are Gordon Gekko and his knock-offs.

The rest of the supporting cast (with the exception of a distracting, inexplicable Metthew McConaughey cameo) is solid. I liked Jonah Hill, though I bet he’ll irritate the shit out of some folks. The other founding members of Stratton Oakmont all have their stand-out moments, and it was surprising to see Rob Reiner show up in a non-shitty movie for once. And Margot Robbie, holy smokes. I just looked her up on IMDb, and it turns out that I’m more than a year older than her.

What the fuck are they feeding girls these days? It must be the hormones in the chicken or some shit like that.

Kyle Chandler has a great screen presence and can hold his own against the better-known stars, but I wish that Winter and Marty would have further fleshed out his character. In a film that, in typical Scorsese fashion, peppers trivial yet interesting character details throughout the story, Chandler’s FBI agent feels less like a person and more like a device. Someone needs to take Belfort down by the movie’s end, and that seems like the filmmakers didn’t care about who did it.

Wolf is the longest Scorsese film I can recall. While I didn’t feel the length nearly as much as most three-hour films, there’s filler to be sure. I got a lot of bang for my movie ticket, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled for when some aspiring ACE member uploads an abridged version on YouTube.

Aside: Not a single Stones track plays throughout the entire film. Hell must be chilly.

(Seen and written on 2014-01-19)

Bride of ReAnimator -1990-

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Directed by Brian Yuzna. 96 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

Holy crap, I really liked this movie even though it has so many things going against it. After all, Bride of Re-Animator is a straight-to-VHS sequel (that’s one) of an iconic movie (that’s two) and demands that the viewer accept a dramatic revision of its predecessor’s ending (that’s three). In spite of all these potential weak links, Bride is a fun horror-comedy that has the inspired special effects of the original if not the inspired narrative.

Jeffrey Combs’ Herbert West (now a full-fledged doctor) is entertaining as ever.  Surprisingly, he has become somewhat more sensitive to the feelings of other, particularly his roommate and co-conspirator Dr. Cain (Bruce Abbott again) in the months since the “Miskatonic Massacre.” And David Gale is a good sport for reprising his role as the head of sinister Dr. Hill even though the character was obviously killed off in the first film.

Unfortunately, Bride’s plot lacks focus. The film has three major threads (the construction of the Bride, Lt. Chapham’s investigation, and Dr. Hill’s revenge) and no clear strategy to balance them or combine them in a satisfying matter. The new supporting players (Dr. Graves and Ernest the orderly, in particular) are boring and feel tacked-on.

Despite the clunky convergence of plotlines, the film’s ending is probably its strongest point. The mayhem in West’s lab and the adjacent crypt is just as fun and even more visually impressive (the poor shot-on-video photography notwithstanding) than Re-Animator. West’s experiments with creating new organisms from spare human parts are so gross and clever that H.R. Giger would be proud.

Aside: How the fuck did West and Cain come back to Miskatonic Medical School with no hospital personnel even raising an eyebrow?

Aside: “He’s a wife-beater, Dan! Use the gun!”

(Seen and written on 2013-11-15)

Re–Animator -1985-

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Directed by Stuart Gordon. 87 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on Blu-ray)

I finally bought a Blu-ray player, so huzzah for me! I spent yesterday watching two of the best gore-fests of 1985: Re-Animator and Day of the Dead (sadly, I left out The Return of the Living Dead). Nearly 30 years after its release, Stuart Gordon’s batshit-crazy adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story is one of the most disgusting-yet-hilarious stews of sex and violence ever to grace the screen.

Jeffrey Combs’ performance as Herbert West is perfect and steals the film (as I’m sure was the intent). Despite being insane, West’s one-track mind and hyper-analytical reactions to even the most bizarre situations makes his strangely lovable. It’s easy to find yourself rooting for West by the film’s end even though he’s responsible for pretty much all the death and mayhem in the movie.

David Gale is menacing yet equally funny as Miskatonic University’s resident headless stalker and star researcher. Everett Burrell’s gore effects (rivaling Bottin’s work in The Thing) and Richard Band’s earworm of a score fit the picture perfectly.

(Seen and written on 2013-11-12)

Dawn of the Dead -1978-

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Directed by George A. Romero. US Theatrical Cut, 127 mins.

Worth my time? (No More Room in) HELL Yes. (Watched on DVD)

The first two successors to Night of the Living Dead (Dawn and its 1985 sequel Day of the Dead) are probably my two favorite horror sequels of all time. While the film’s budget clocked in at well under $1 million, Romero had exponentially more resources than he did for Night, and he puts them to good use.

Dawn doesn’t bite off more than it can chew: the story still focuses on a band of barricaded survivors. However, Romero shows the zombie epidemic on a larger scale. The chaos at the television station, the SWAT raid of the apartment, and the aerial views of the civilian militias (who are throwing back beers and treating the apocalypse like a hunting trip) are some of the best scenes in the film.

Despite the similar scenario, Dawn is far from a Night retread. The main characters are not surprised and panicked like those in the farmhouse back in ’68. Two of them are work at a news station and the other two are from a SWAT team, so they are more rational and relatively well prepared. Even so, the bleak ending (though not as soul-crushing as the conclusion of Night) continues the theme that might makes right, particularly in a world gone to Hell.

Aside: Making Dawn a comedy as much as it is a horror film was a great creative decision. There’s certainly an absurd humor in making games out of killing zombies and seizing piles of now-worthless cash and jewelry.

(Seen on 2013-11-01, written on 2013-11-04)

Slaughterhouse Five -1972-

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Directed by George Roy Hill. 104 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

 A nutty, nearly-great piece of New Hollywood. I somehow made it through fours years of UC Berkeley without reading Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, so I went in blind.

 SPOILER ALERT: The eponymous slaughterhouse doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time.

 The biggest draw is editor Dede Allen’s seamless transitions between moments in the life of Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks), a World War II veteran who spontaneously “time-trips” between his childhood, his death, and into eternity. Sacks’ performance isn’t all that compelling (there’s a reason the dude quit acting and now works on Wall Street), but Pilgrim’s life has lots of great moments – which is pretty much all that makes life worth living. Hill (and Vonnegut, I suppose), beautifully illustrate humanity’s tendency to progressively envelope itself in memories and fantasies as it ages.

 I’d love to watch a Slaughterhouse Five / Johnny Got His Gun double-feature since both of them deal with dissociative veterans. Also, the overlapping timelines and juxtaposition of similar events demonstrate that The Fountain, Cloud Atlas (I wish that film was half as good as its trailer), and a gazillion other movies owe a debt to Slaughterhouse Five.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-07-09)

The Heat -2013-

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Directed by Paul Feig. 117 mins.

Worth my time? No. (Seen at Arclight Hollywood)

It’s a bad sign when your buddy cop comedy borrows heavily from Another 48 HRS. Not the original, mind you, but rather the abysmal 1990 follow-up. The Heat has some clever quips here and there, but it brings nothing new to its formula. The only reason I can imagine to see it is if you’re desperate for a film that passes the Bechdel Test.

While I enjoyed Bridesmaids (due mostly to great script by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo) I now suspect that Paul Feig is a closet misogynist. Why else would he make such a dull film penned by a woman (Parks and Rec writer Kaite Dippold) and starring women on the A-list (Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy)? It’s clearly to perpetuate the tired Hitchensian stereotype that women aren’t funny.

I understand that Hollywood is still a white old boy’s club, and I suppose it’s admirable to switch it up in major motion pictures. Still, if you want to further the station of women in show business, it would help if the projects weren’t so lame. A movie has to be good on its own merits – you shouldn’t settle for crap based on demography alone.

Don’t see Soul Plane or Madea Goes to Jail – see Do the Right Thing. See Barbershop. See Devil in a Blue Dress. See Pariah (seriously, see Pariah).

Don’t see The Heat. See The Kids are Alright. See I Shot Andy Warhol (or anything by Mary Harron). See Clueless. See pretty much anything by Nicole Holofcener. See Near Dark (not because it’s woman centric, but because it’s fucking amazing).

Never settle, yo.

– Aside: I fear that Melissa McCarthy is the victim of “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Make no mistake; she’s a very talented actor. She’s no game-changer, though. I have a hunch that the media treats her like one for the same reason that they lauded Susan Boyle; many people, sadly, are absolutely shocked when they see an overweight person do something well.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-07-08)

Psychos in Love -1987-

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Directed by Gorman Bechard. 87 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

 Gorman Bechard is fast becoming one of my favorite shitty directors. I wasn’t even aware of the dude until last Sunday when I was fortunate enough to see his sloppy, confusing, strangely mesmerizing debut, Disconnected. His follow-up came fours years later in the form of Psychos in Love. While time did not much improve Bechard’s skill at composing shots and directing actors, it luckily made him less serious and more imaginative.

 The film is a bizarre and (mostly) clever hybrid of grindhouse gore and Annie Hall. There are frequent interruptions by Joe (Carmine Capobianco), the killer-protagonist who delivers numerous monologues in attempt to make sense of his most recent relationship. Disconnected also featured Capobianco in monologue sequences portraying a cop. He does the job well enough, but I don’t get why Bechard was so enamored by this dude rambling. Luckily, the device it put to far better use in Psychos in Love.

The meat of the movie consists of intentionally awkward conversations and genuinely funny murder scenes. If Dario Argento did killing as ballet, Bechard does it as vaudeville. I commented in my Disconnected write-up that Bechard is an obvious film buff, and in stead of referencing thrillers, Psychos in Love spends its time making surprisingly inspired references to the Marx Brothers, Howard Hawks screwballs, and Bananas-era Woody Allen.

 What I found to be the most fun part of Psychos in Love is its eagerness to call attention to its low budget and lack of talent behind the camera. One sequence has a character angrily pushing away a boom mic that’s sunken into frame. The titular psychos argue over the scene number of an earlier plot point. And in a complete break of the fourth wall, a murder scene culminates with the camera turning to the special effects crew, pumping tubes of fake blood with reckless abandon.

 While Disconnected is worth watching as a curiosity, Psychos in Love is fun enough to warrant viewing on its own merits. I just might have to do a survey of the complete Bechardography.

 

– Aside: I recognized several sets, props, and pieces of clothing directly from Disconnected.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-05-03)

Popeye -1980-

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Directed by Robert Altman . 114 mins.

 Worth my time? Yes. (Watched on DVD)

 I’d been meaning to see this for awhile now. I’m not the world’s biggest Altman fan (although I enjoy McCabe & Mrs. Miller and California Split), but this film’s very existence is what enticed me to watch it. Robert Altman actually directed a freakin’ Popeye movie. That’s like Mike Nichols directing a film adaptation of Hi and Lois.

 The sets and costume design are marvelous in usual Altman fashion, and while the busy scenes with many characters and conversations is impressive on a technical level, I don’t really think it fits the tone of the story. Then again, Altman would probably respond that if I wanted a series of simple dialogues and two-dimensional interactions, I should stop watching the movie and pick up a copy of the Sunday funnies.

 The problem is that the film’s plot is actually far more simplistic than the storylines of Thimble Theater, Popeye’s classic comic strip. It’s more on the same narrative level as the old Popeye shorts by Fleischer studios, and that works fine if the running time of almost two hours. The movie’s padded out with a lot of musical numbers that are either low-energy, or so chaotic and with so many singers that you can make out what the hell they’re actually saying.

 Also, when Robin Williams’ Popeye is singing alone, it sounds less like a whimsical tune and more like an early piece by the Residents. Creepy-ass impression, Robin.

 So why was this movie worth my time? I can’t explain it easily. What I do know is that its utter weirdness grabbed me and didn’t let go. Also, Shelley Duvall screams in this movie even more than she did in The Shining.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-04-03)

Red Heat -1988-

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Directed by Walter Hill. 104 mins.

 Worth my time? No (though it has some merits). (Watched on DVD)

The lone Schwarzenegger vehicle in the Hillmography could just as easily be called Rocky IV-8 Hrs. It’s a bummer to see that the arguable inventor of the buddy-cop film would return to the genre so quickly and with so little new to offer. The supposedly witty dialogue largely falls flat – who was the first to spread the lie that Jim Belushi was a talented comic foil? – and the plot is nothing but chasing a flat villain with a number of McGuffins along the way.

The whole shebang culminates in a scene so derivative that it could have been from National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1. It features the foggy standoff from 48 Hrs. right alongside the bus station game of chicken from The Driver. If Walter Hill movies have taight me anything, it’s that every locker in every bus station conceals a stash of at least $1 million in cash.

Still, the film has its occasional confusing charms. The fact that the film’s first act is entirely in Russian (sans subtitles) is bold for a Hollywood blockbuster. Plus, since Arnold’s character is bilingual, we get to hear him mangle his lines in two languages for the price of one!

The solid supporting cast (including Laurence Fishburne and Peter Boyle) is underutilized, but it’s nice to know they’re around. Plus, a very young Gina Gershon plays one of the more interesting (yet equally male-dependent) woman characters in the Hillmography.

– This movie actually has the nerve to explicitly refer to one of its characters as a “loose-cannon cop.” We should all feel vicarious shame.

Next up in the Hillmography: Johnny Handsome.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-02-05)