What I have seen is today’s film, Dark August. I had been saving this one for a while ile ] to review in August, and I’m quite glad that I am finally getting to do so. I was attracted to the movie mostly because of the title as August is not only The Lair’s birthday but mine as well. As that makes us both Leos, anything having to do with that month is automatically interesting on a narcissistic level. Add in the fact that it was released the same year I was born, and you've got yourself a movie I would pick out time and again. Turns out, the plot wasn't too shabby either.
J.J. Barry plays Sal Devito, a man looking to escape “The City” for the quieter climes of a Vermont artist
community. Unfortunately for him, he’s a terrible driver, which is revealed in a series of flashbacks culminating in him running down a young girl. Her grandfather (William Robertson) takes it a bit personal, and lacking the physical strength to exact revenge, he does what any grieving elder would do and calls upon a demon using a dark ceremony of black magic. Soon Sal finds himself followed by a mysterious dark figure, plagued by sudden mysterious ailments, and driven to the brink by paranoia. It is only when he enlists the help of a psychic medium (Kim Hunter) that Sal discovers that his fate may not be something he can divert.
Dark August is a film about two facets of human nature, both of which I alluded to in my opening paragraph. It is easy to tell by Barry’s character’s interactions with his girlfriend and his pottery spinning pal (who looks like a caricature of John Oates) that he has already been a man plagued with guilt. Several times, he notes behaviors he thought he had quit after leaving the city and “stress“ behind, but here they are manifesting again under the strain of the accident he caused. He wakes in [ change “wake sin” to wakes in ] the night from fright, and even before he gets any answers, Barry’s performance is deft enough to convey that Sal already feels the specter of retribution on him.
Director Martin Goldman, who also helmed the uncomfortably titled Fred Williamson vehicle The Legend of Nigger Charley, and cinematographer Richard E. Brooks (whose last job had been lensing George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh) wisely play out the first two acts of the film utilizing light, shadow, and camera movement to build tension. Unfortunately, when it comes time for the climatic spiritualist ceremony and Kim Hunter’s big moment, the camera comes to rest, and the bag of tricks employed in the films opening half has seemingly gone empty. The climax is easily the most boring part of the film with a double false ending doing little to pick up the slack. Hunter, a veteran of the Planet of the Apes, is suitably spooky herself as the medium, but her scenes are so static that little interesting happens. Fortunately the noisy, synth driven score by William Fischer (who also wrote music for 80s trash Tenement) jars the nerves enough to keep some suspense going.
Stacking Dark August up against other exorcism or haunting movies of the 1970s, it surely falls to the low middle portions of the list, but, if you're like me and you’ve seemingly seen all the high profile supernatural Seventies offerings, then Dark August is not a bad way to spend 90 minutes. The first two acts move briskly, and Barry, who also co-wrote the film, (and got his start on Laugh-In) makes for an unlikely but sympathetic character who is a far cry from the mobster roles he often landed or his part as Rack Jobber in This is Spinal Tap.
Yours in Buggitude,
Zachary “The Bugg” Kelley
I'm back again for another dose of Dusking Til Dawning, and this week the series really starts to come into its own. In the first two episodes, I both bemoaned the fact that it was adhering so closely to the film while skimping on the expanded story-line to flesh out the tale. With this week's episode, "Mistress", the series strikes out on its own, and it begins to build a world familiar to fans of Tarantino and Rodriguez's work while plying a mythos original to the series. Plus, this week we get a spin on the "I could do that for you" scene, a mess of freaky visions, and Jake Busey.
Review: I have to admit that I watched Riddle because of Fat Val Kilmer. Ok, sure, he's probably not all that fat, but compared to his lean years when he was playing Doc Holliday, he's looking more like Veruca Salt on her way to the squeezing room than anyone's Huckleberry. Sadly, Val isn't in this much. He makes an appearance as the do-nothing sheriff who sports a ponytail, but that is about the extent of his role. The other name actor, William Sadler, fares little better, but he does have one good dramatic moment before cashing in his check.
Riddle is really a story about the younger players, and the Southern Gothic tale it spins, one of a town, already impoverished by the loss of the local mental hospital, dealt its final blows in the ongoing hunt for Nathan Teller. I really liked the look of the setting. The boarded up Appalachian town looks like many run down communities that I've passed though over the years. There's a quaint feeling that seems to lay on the surface, but underneith, you can almost feel the sense of loss as it pervades the boarded up windows. Sadly, that's where the best of Riddle lies, in the look of the town of Riddle. The rest of the film flounders with little conflict until the last twenty or so minutes, and the only other real moment of menace is over and done with so quickly, without really adding anything to the plot, that it feels throwaway.
Elisabeth Harnois, who is apparently one of the leads on CSI (I'm not sure I've ever watched that.), does well enough as the tour turned sister, but it would have liked to seen her be a little stronger. When confronted by adversity or danger,her character generally cried or ran when I wanted her to fight. Not really her fault, but it left me less drawn in by the character than I would have liked. The other female lead, the sherriff's daughter played by Diora Baird, was much more what I wanted out of the main character, and Baird has some genre cred having appeared in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Begining as well as Night of the Demons (2009) and Stan Helsing. The two male leads were so disposable that I hardly remember what they did in the film.
The real problem with Riddle is that there was no riddle. From the moment Holly sees her brother in town, the audience knows she will be reunited with him by the time the credits roll. While it vaguely hints at some supernatural mysteries, these are never explored, and that leaves no diverting paths or red herrings to follow. A clever viewer will figure out the whole scenario by twenty to thirty minutes into the film, and it leaves little surprises from there. Except Val, and how big he has gotten, and the fact that 50 Cent didn't co-star with him this time. Which is, naturally, a shame.
Final Note: The only town in the United States named 'Riddle' is in Oregon. This film was not set in Oregon. It is possible Val ate Oregon.
Review: I have to admit that I watched this Western (And, yes, it is a Western, America doesn't get dibs) merely because of the novelty of the Mountie main character. As the only other depictions I had to go off of were Brenden Fraiser in Dudley Do-Right and his cartoon predecessor, it's not like I had such a wonderful example of the lawmen who supposedly "always get their man." To a degree, The Mountie changes this perception, amd with a few minor tweaks. It could have been quite the wonderful film.
Unfortunatly. Andrew Walker channels Clint Eastwood almost all the way through the film, and wile I'm sure it is impressive that a Canadian Mountie in the past can do a vocal impression of a future American star, it took something away from what could have been a very unique character. Some moments, namely anything with the villainous Lithuanians, were quite good giving a flavor and character that was both historically accurate and compelling. The weakest moments came from the standard love storyline sandwiched into an already crowded plot. Running under ninety minutes, The Mountie (a.k.a. The Way of the West or The Lawman) is a welcome diversion that doesn't quite get it's man, but it does come close.
Final Note: There was no syrup or pouting in this movie.So, if it wasn't for The Mountie, I wouldn't know it was Canada.
Review: As a 38 year old man with no children, I often put off or don't watch many of these animated features, but I have to admit I enjoyed Frozen immensely. The story takes a springboard from Hans Christian Andersons’ The Snow Queen and diverts it with engaging songs, crisp animation, and thrilling action sequences. The songs are the real highlight with “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “Let it Go” building the dramatic moments with “In Summertime” and “Fixer Upper” providing the laughs.
I don't know Veronica Mars from Betty Jupiter, but Kristen Bell was perfectly plucky as Anna. Idina Menzel sells her character’s tortured isolation, and Josh Graf provides good laughs as the snowman Olaf while Firefly and Tucker vs. Dale alum Alan Tudyk gives a good twist on the Prince Charming role. The songs were stuck in my head for hours, and, for once, I wished I had children if only for an excuse to watch it again.
Final Note: Adele Dazeem appears uncredited. Source: John Travolta.
Review: Ride the High Country was a movie of firsts and lasts. It was the first film of Sam Peckinpah’s to gain acclaim (making some dub him the “new John Ford”) and many say his first classic film (I haven't seen The Deadly Companions (1961) so I can’t say.) It was also the last film of Western star Randolph Scott who retired after saying it was his best work. Joel McCray also intended High Country to be his last film as well, but he was lured back to make four more pictures with his career finally culminating in 1976’s Mustang Country. Both do strong work, and the supporting cast is also well rounded, the youthful love story doesn’t seem intrusive, and small roles from actors such as a Warren Oates make the film.
While the film making shows little of the visual grit that Peckinpah would bring to the genre, the style is highly in the mode of Ford, the thematic grit is already apparent. The themes of honor and loyalty among men, death, and justice all appear here as themes that the director would continue to explore throughout his career. The climatic shoot out (No spoilers there, this is a Western, you were expecting a climatic game of Faro, maybe?) does house some of the kind of action notes expected of Sam later in his career. In the most stunning and historically accurate moment, Scott charges the bad guys, guns blazing, passing though a cloud of black powder smoke as he rides forward, an elegant and perfect moment.
Final Note: Charlton Heston, who starred in Peckinpah’s Major Dundee, attempted to get a remake of Ride the High Country off the ground in the 1980s. His hand picked co-star, Clint Eastwood.
Review: The American Friend is my first Wim Wenders movie. So I have nothing to compare it to in that arena. In all honesty, I didn't realize it was based on a Patricia Highsmith Ripley book until I had already got the film. I wanted to see it based solely on the cast which included two of my favorite directors, Sam Fuller and Nicolas Ray, in supporting roles alongside Hopper and Ganz. Their appearances, especially that of Fuller as a mobster and pornographer, were enough on their own to make me adore this film. However, there was much more to unfold here in The American Friend’s neo-noir tale of betrayal and friendship.
The American Friend moves with a sleekness though a world awash with an exaggerated color palate that brings the feeling of Noir without sacrificing the spectrum of tones. Since it moves so effortlessly, Wenders chooses wisely what to show the audience and what to leave out. Certain portions are hard to follow in a spacial sense with characters moving across countries or continents suddenly. Ganz and Hopper both bring the goods, and they deliver on the relationship between the two men with an effortless ease.
Final Note: With a dreamlike quality, a complex relationship between two male leads, and a crime story, The American Friend is recommended for True Detective fans who need some cinematic methadone.
Review: After watching Ride the High Country, I realized I had never seen any of the Westerns of Randolph Scott or Joel McCrae. I decided to dip my toe into Scott’s catalog with this title. Ten Wanted Men was an enjoyable film that kept the action moving at a good pace for its ninety minute runtime, but, if it weren't for Boone’s lecherous performance and a few other touches, I didn't feel like this one was anything that special. Scott wasn't that charismatic, and the script was easily plotted with little surprise in store for the viewer.
Lee Van Cleef and Dennis Weaver both show up in small roles, and Denver Pyle is supposedly in there if you can find him (I couldn’t). The high points really come up whenever Boone is being a creep or his chief henchman, played by Leo Gordon, is giving him a hard time for being unlucky with the ladies. Gordon also provides an interesting touch as his gunman sports gladiator style wristbands with his Western garb, a touch I had not seen done before.
Final Note: Jocelyn Brando, who plays Scott’s love interest, is the older sister of Marlon Brando, and was five years his senior. She passed away one year after her younger brother.
Review: Going Home isn't an easy sell of a movie. Beginning with Mitchum’s character murdering his wife, it’s hard to feel sympathy for him. On the other hand, Vincent’s character is sullen and moody, not really the hero type either. Then again, this isn't a movie about heroes and villains. It’s about an unlikely relationship and the emotional scars that murder leaves on a family. It really boils down to a character study, and a somewhat haphazard one at that.
Despite the fact that the phrase an "average Joe" remains in the lexicon of colloquialisms, in the last thirty years the name Joe has taken a drastic drop in popularity. It seems that the average on "Joe" just isn't what it used to be. Speaking of Joes that'd defy the average, there's one that I like who frequently has highs and lows above a median line, and that is Joe D'Amato. Born Aristide Massaccesi, the Italian exploitation master, who hid out under a number of Nom de plumes apart from his adopted moniker, made an incredible string of almost 200 films before he died in 1999 at the age of sixty-two. While most of them ranged from soft-core to hard-core to oh, my, is it okay to film that?, D'Amato is best known for his horror movies, specifically Antropohagus, Buio Omega, and Absurd, but there was one that has somehow flown under my radar. So join me as Joe takes us on a futuristic ride, which looks like the 80s despite being filmed in the 90s, this is Return from Death (Ritorno Dallas morte) a.k.a Frankenstein 2000.
While there's little better in life than movies from the past that take a shot of what life will be like in the future, there's really nothing better than when they get brazen enough to tack the futuristic year at the end of their title. This traps the movie or TV show into a path where it can't escape feeling dated, and, quite often, this leads future viewers to see the work as nothing more than a campy projection, like how incredibly behind the times Disney's "Futureworld" looks next to the ’80s era exhibits at Epcot center. Today's film definitely falls into that trap, unless there's been a catalog with home nuclear reactors available for purchase in the past forty three years. However, it does hit on some things that were surely 70s, interest in the occult, rampant narcissism, the dominance of TV, and the fact that no matter what era it is Boris Karloff is the man. Some twenty seven years after Karloff portrayed the monster in James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein, he returned to the laboratory, but not with a bolted neck. Instead, he portrayed a descendant of the creature's creator in the 1958 film that imagines mad science at work twenty two years into the future. This is Frankenstein 1970.