Ennio Morricone, RIP

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Man, what can you say about Ennio Morricone. Man was a legend. When people ask about my favorite film composers, he’s always one of the first couple that come to mind, along with other titans like Bernard Herrmann, Henry Mancini, and Lalo Schifrin. I’d like to remember him with one of his lesser known but brilliant scores:

Investigation of a Citizen Under Suspicion

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Review: We Are Little Zombies (Japan 2019)

we-are-little-zombiesFirst off, that is not a “zombie movie” per se. Just had to be said. Horror movie fans should check this out – everyone should – but don’t expect any gut-munching.

Rather, We Are Little Zombies is about a metaphorical deadening of the soul, focusing on four pre-teens on the cusp of maturity who meet after losing their parents – to suicide, to murder, to misadventure – and find themselves isolated and unable to express their emotions in any “normal” way.

That may make the movie sound treacly or unappealing but We Are Little Zombies feels more like Nobody Knows as directed with the video game aesthetic and pop visuals of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim and the savage angst of Shunji Iwai. Director Makoto Nagahisa comes from the world of music videos and it shows in this, his first full length feature. Hell, Zombies is constantly threatening to become a full blown musical, much to its benefit. The kids form a band and even pay tribute to what may be the greatest walking dead act of all, The Zombies (Hell, this sent me back to Odessey & Oracle for the first time in months).

The film isn’t flawless, some of the kids are a bit stereotypical – bullied kid, fat kid, punk, ice princess – and not all get their due (the chubby boy in particular gets shortchanged). Not to mention that at two hours, the stylistic aggression can get a bit enervating.

And while I wouldn’t call this a flaw, Zombies can get extremely dark, not every filmmaker would have the chutzpah to present a father beating his son as a digital boss fight.

But it’s engaging, emotional stuff and I look forward to seeing more from Nagahisa (and to checking out his earlier short).

We Are Little Zombies comes out on in US theatres and digital platforms July 10 from Oscilloscope.

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Review: Deathsport (USA 1978)

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This thematic sequel of sorts to Death Race 2000 from the Corman factory doesn’t capture any of the magic of that film (I mean, hey no Paul Bartel involved) but is a goofy good time. It’s post-apocalyptic silliness full of trash royalty like a strung out David Carradine and Claudia Jennings, and has a typically enjoyable villainous performance from Richard Lynch. Lots of “futuristic” motorcycle action and lucite swords, lots of slow motion explosions and stuntmen on fire, and lots and lots of butt naked Claudia Jennings.

Oh, and apparently the behind the scenes was much crazier than what made it in camera, with multiple directors, Carradine decking a director, and Jennings being completely out of control. Read up on it and watch this:
trailersfromhell.com/deathsport/

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Review: Da 5 Bloods (USA 2020)

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I liked it just fine overall, but didn’t think it was one of Lee’s stronger films – too much that didn’t work. But in lieu of a real review (having trouble being coherent on this one – hard to disentangle the message from the quality of the film-making), some thoughts on the good, the bad, and the weird:

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Review: Juno and the Paycock (UK 1930)

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Social tragi-comedy based on a play about a poor Dublin family with a blustering father who come into a brief payday, set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War. The material doesn’t really suit Hitchcock, and only really comes to life in the florid dialogue which was likely lifted from the play and in the central performances of ne’er-do-wells Jack Boyle and Joxer (the men in this film are uniformly awful human beings). For completists only.

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Review: Men from the Monastery (HK 1974)

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Oh my god, dude got stabbed in the TAINT!

Seriously though, this has a reputation for being one of Chang Cheh’s better films, but I did not find it terribly engaging, especially compared to an epic like Shaolin Temple or his later, more outre material. It’s an interestingly structured film about three famous heroes coming together to fight the Qing in the wake of the burning of Shaolin. Alexander Fu Sheng has the best segment as Fong Sai Yuk, in which he gets to fight on a “pile formation” – log tips surrounded by sharpened bamboo stakes.

I usually can’t stand Fu Sheng, but he’s playing straight here. Chen Kuan-Tai’s role as Hung Hei-Gun, a progenitor of Hung Ga kung fu is fine, but suffers, like all the segments, from Chang speeding through the story in favor of straight fight scenes.

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Review: Satan’s Brew (West Germany 1976)

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This arch “comedy“ of manners about a blocked, grasping, bilious poet and his lovers and hangers-on raises the existential question of whether a comedy can be a comedy if it does not actually appear to be intended to be funny. As a savage dissection of Fassbinder‘s personal life and foibles, it’s an interesting document, albeit deeply unpleasant in a scabrous Andy Milligan-esque kind of way. But funny? Barely for a second. I love many Fassbinder films, but as someone who’s not all that deeply invested in his psyche, I found this acid bomb a bit of a chore.

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Review: Gunan, King of the Barbarians (Italy 1982)

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One star for sexy Sabrina Siani, a mainstay of Italian Conan the Barbarian knockoffs. No stars for anything else. This story of two brothers seeking revenge with the aid of a magical Amazon tribe is otherwise an entirely dull affair, especially because the filmmakers make the bizarre choice to quickly kill off the only brother with any personality. Most of the film consists of painfully tedious slow motion shots of beefy men running, riding horses, and ineptly swinging toy swords.

I’m pretty sure this is a bowdlerized cut, because the Amazon Prime version I watched frequently seemed to be framed incorrectly, and while Siani gets naked constantly, the film awkwardly cuts away most of the time. But even if she were butt naked for the entire film (a la Fulci’s Conquest), this film would still suck donkeys.

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Review: That Man from Rio (France 1964)

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Jean-Paul Belmondo stars in a light-hearted action-comedy romp through Brazil, in what mostly amounts to a continuous pursuit of his abducted girlfriend (the tragic Francoise Dorleac) and some archaeological McGuffins. If you know Belmondo’s more populist films, you know that means tons of fun stunts from the man himself (Belmondo was Cruise before M:I Cruise, but likable). Fortunately, those charms more than compensate for the wacky tone, cultural tourism, and shocking lack of tan bikini girls from Ipanema.

More interesting from a cultural impact level, the influence of this film on Raiders of the Lost Ark is absolutely unmistakable (and apparently acknowledged by Spielberg), you can even see direct borrowing like the Map Room of Tanis sequence or Indy hanging off the submarine.

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Review: The Lodge (USA 2019)

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I didn’t much care for Goodnight Mommy, but I thought it had a certain undeniable level of quality and creepiness. This? This was straight up garbage, with plot points lifted from much better movies and noisy music cues substituting for actual scares. I think I’m done with Franz and Fiala.

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