4/20/14

Left Turn at Albuquerque: The Wrong Turn Franchise

When I started this project, I actually thought I hadn't seen the first Wrong Turn. Even going into it, it seemed both familiar and completely new. By the end of the film, I realized that I had not only seen it once, I'd probably seen it a good half dozen times over the years. With performances from some of my favorites, Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under), Desmond Harrington (Dexter) and Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), it shouldn't have been a surprise that I'd seen the flick before. What really surprised me was that such a nondescript slasher could have spawned a franchise of four more films. So, feeling pretty safe in the assumption that I hadn't seen the other four flicks, I strapped in for a work week of Wrong Turn films to see where the franchise stayed between the lines and where it took some detours onto shaky ground. 

4/17/14

From Dusk 'Til Dawn: The Series- Episode 3: I Could Review This For Ya' If You want Me To

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. 

4/16/14

From Dusk 'til Dawn: The Series 1 & 2: These Geckos Will Not Help YouSave 15%

When I heard that Robert Rodriguez was going to bring From Dusk 'till Dawn, the film he co-directed with Quentin Tarantino, to his new El Ray network as a series, I was skeptical. Now, after two episodes, which clock in at just under the running time of the original film, I feel cautiously skeptical. I still can't upgrade it to any level of optimism, but there are moments and performances that almost work in this expansion of the crime story/vampire tale.

3/30/14

Paranormal Activity 5: The Marked Ones- This Time With 94% Less Annoying White People

I have a complicated history with the Paranormal Activity franchise. While I deeply enjoyed the first film, perhaps due to viewing it opening night in a packed theater, I've skipped out on subsequent installments due to my aversion to found footage movies and continuing stories about unpleasant, middle class, white people (I'm looking at you Katie and Micah.) When I heard the fifth installment would leave behind the main storyline and instead tell a tale of witchcraft, demons, and possession with a Latin slant, I knew I was going to jump on board for another round. I'm glad I did. Paranormal Activity 5: The Marked Ones is far from a perfect film, but with engaging characters, an original storyline, and even a clever callback to the first film, it gets Paranormal enough to get Marked highly by me. 

3/24/14

Riddle (2013) What is Radiant, Lustrous, And Attached To Your Huckleberry? Val Kilmer's Ponytail

Synopsis: A few years back, Nathan Teller (Ryan Malgarini) vanished. The shy, socially awkward boy had taken a ride with a couple of boys from the town of Riddle and just vanished into thin air when they stopped at a gas station.  His sister Holly (Elisabeth Harnois) has yet to give up hope, and when she returns home from college for a visit, she believes she sees Nathan in a truck heading to Riddle. Along with the two boys that lost her brother, she begins to investigate, but what she finds will uncover unpleasant truths about her own life and the whereabouts of her brother.

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. 

Rating:4/10 

3/23/14

The Mountie (2011): The Gritty Remake of Dudley Do-Right We've All BeenWaiting For

Synopsis: Wade Grayling (Andrew Walker) is a disgraced Mountie. A former opium addict who shot an innocent while 'chasing the dragon', he is sent to the Yukon Territory for a surveying mission as punishment. While there, he stumbles across a burgeoning trade in the harvest of poppies being run by Lithianian immigrants and tries to single handedly bring law to the frontier. 

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. 

Rating: 6.5/10

Frozen (2013) The Bugg Wants to Build a Snowman!

Synopsis: When princesses Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) were children, Elsa endangered her sister’s life with her magical ice powers. Her parents taught her to keep her ability a secret, locked away, but when Anna announces her engagement to a man she’s just met. Elsa loses control and retreats to an ice castle in the mountains leaving the entire area in a deep freeze.

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.

Rating:: 9/10

Ride the High Country (1962) Peckinpah Takes the High Road

Synopsis: Aging ex-lawman Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) is hired to transport a shipment of gold across dangerous territory, and he enlists old friend Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) and his apprentice Ron Starr (Heck Longtree) to help. Little does he know that Gil and Ron are plotting to steal the gold from the start.

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.

Rating: 8.5

The American Friend (1977): Hopper Hops to Hamburg

Synopsis: When Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) comes to Hamburg, he is approached by a French mobster to perform a hit. Instead, Ripley proposes to convince humble frame maker Jonathan (Bruno Ganz) to commit the murders instead by spreading a rumor that his terminal medical condition has taken a turn for the worse. When the plan works and the mobster makes plans to continue to use Jonathan, Ripley has a change of heart about his newfound friend.

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.

Rating: 9/10

Ten Wanted Men (1955): The Eleventh Guy is So Relieved

Synopsis: Saloon owner Wick Campbell (Richard Boone) is fed up with John Stewart (Randolph Scott) trying to bring law and order to their Western town. When Campbell’s ward Maria (Donna Martell), now the object of his sexual obsession, seeks refuge with Stewart’s handsome nephew, Campbell hires ten bloodthirsty gunman to wage war on the Stewarts and their allies.

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.

Rating: 5.5/10

Going Home (1971): Mitchum Strikes

Synopsis: Fifteen years ago, Harry Graham (Robert Mitchum) murdered his wife in front of his three year old young son. Now, Harry is out of jail, and his eighteen year old son Jimmy (Jan-Michael Vincent) tracks him down for reasons that don't seem to even be known by Jimmy. As the two begin to know each other, Harry doesn't seem to know how to be father, despite putting in some effort, and Jimmy doesn't know if he wants to hug or stab his Dad.
 
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.


It is hard to say where the blame lies. Mitchum had just come out of retirement (and he claimed he signed the papers for the wrong film intending to star as a San Francisco jazz musician), and he’s as solid as ever, but the role of the son might have been neurons Vincent whose expressions range from blank to has to poop and back to blank. He does finally work up enough Oedipal rage to merit the Golden Globe for which he was nominated. Director Herbert Leonard definitely believed in the project, waving his fee entirely, but, as his second (and last) feature film, the material might have been too complex. The final blame may lay with the producers who cut 12 minutes from the film, reassembled it, dumped it into theaters for a week, and then pulled it into obscurity. This one is mostly for Mitchum fans.
Final Note: Mitchum’s character kills his wife with a bowling trophy, and then continues to talk to his grown son about bowling and going to bowling alleys. Ummm, insensitive much?
Rating: 5/10

The Virginian (1946) McCrae is for Western Lovers.

Synopsis: When new schoolteacher Molly Wood (Barbara Britton) arrives in the small Western town of Medicine Bow, she meets two friends and cowhands who both have romantic notions about her, the charming Steve (Sonny Tufts) and the mysterious Virginian (Joel McCrea). However, there is a cattle war on and Steve starts to take up with the conniving Trampus (Brian Donlevy) who the Virginian believes is behind the spate of rustling. As Molly begins to fall for the Virginian, she is confronted with the realities of law and order on the range.
Review: The Virginian, based on a 1902 book by Owen Lister hailed as the first Western novel, is one of the most remade properties in all of film history. Starting in 1914 with a version by Cecil B. Demille, it has been followed by versions in 1929 (starring Gary Cooper), in 2000 (with Bill Pullman), and even 2014 (with country star Trace Atkins). I was interested in the 1946 film because of my recent viewing of Ride the High Country which starred McCrae and fellow Western legend Randolph Scott. Having no context for McCrae, I wanted to go back and see what stock his classic material came from.
My first impressions of McCrae and The Virginian were that it was going to be a standard horse opera with overtones of romantic comedy. I was quite surprised when the tale descended into betrayal, the brutality of Western justice, and revenge. While there was a constant romantic thread throughout between McCrae and Britton’s school teacher, The Virginian took on a much harder edge, and McCrae was able to convey both the lighter moments and the dramatic twists with relative ease. He had a charm and affability that was quite dynamic when opposed to the mustache twirling evil of Brian Donlevy’s evil rancher.
There were also quite an impressive number of cattle driving scenes, and in one moment, a rustled band of cattle is diverted downstream to cover their tracks. While it is certainly clever on the villain’s part, what impressed me was the footage of dozens of cows treading water down a fairly fast rushing river, a scene today that would only be accomplished through use of computer trickery for fear of animal rights groups. I’m not saying I disagree, but it is an impressive sight. It was an enjoyable movie, but in the end, it left little impression apart from McCrae’s capability.
Final Note: Director Stuart Gilmore would leave directing behind and spent most of his career as am editor working of films such as The Andromeda Strain, Toys in the Attic, and Sweet Charity.
Rating: 6.5/10

2/25/14

Return from Death a.k.a Frankenstein 2000 (1991) Joe D'Amato Brings Horror to Life

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. 

11/4/13

Frankenstein 1970 (1958) Karloff of Future Past.

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.

11/2/13

Don't Go in the Lightning Bug's Lair #1: Don't Look Now (1973)

For my final "don't" of the Don't Go in the Lightning Bug's Lair countdown, I've chosen Don't Look Now, the 1973 film by Nicolas Roag. It's seriously excellent, but seeing as I didn't get it up by Halloween and won't be able to write a deconstruction better than the one on Wikipedia, I don't think I'm going to do a full review on this one. Though Don't Torture a Duckling gave Don't Look Now some serious competition, Roag's artful deconstruction of grief and loss are truly a cinematic feat. However, it wasn't that much fun to watch. Some of the lesser titles on this list provide more silly enjoyment than the bleakness of my top 2 picks, and Halloween is more of a time for fun than depressing movies about dead children. So that wraps it up for this year, and next year I hope you all join me back here for more Halloween madness. Until then, reviews commence as normal within the next couple of days. Thanks to everyone who took time out to read and comment on my Halloween countdown selections.


Bugg Rating







10/30/13

Don't Go in the Lightning Bug's Lair #2: Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)

While yesterdays duo of “Don’t”s had the most ubiquitous message when they assured, somewhat misleadingly, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.  Today’s film, coming in at Number 2 on the countdown, comes from Italian horror master Lucio Fulci, and, in the inverse, it has an impenetrable title which only viewing the film will explain. Popularly known as Don’t Torture a Duckling, the original Italian title, Non si sevizia un paperino, actually translates more literally as Don’t Torture Donald Duck, but even in an age where Escape from Tomorrow is a film that gets released, it is hard to imagine the litigious House of Mouse letting that kind of title fly. Coming off three solid thrillers, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, One on Top of Another, and Beatrice Cenci, Don’t Torture a Duckling was the first of his films to really delve deep into a horror, albeit a human one. It also marks Fulci’s first real foray into gore while he was still at the top of his giallo game. Lucio reportedly named it as his favorite among his catalog, and I have to admit in advance that it ranks pretty high up there for me. I was actually surprised I had yet to review it as I've watched it a good half dozen times. So, I suppose do what you want to a calf, a kitten, a puppy, a chick, or a fawn, but whatever you do Don’t Torture a Duckling.
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