Archive for the Twisted Category

JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Bizarro Movies, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Dark Comedies, ESP, Fun Stuff!, Heightened Abilities, Highly Stylized Films, Just Plain Fun, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Plot Twists, Psychic Powers, Something Different, Twisted, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)
By L.L. Soares (with a guest appearance by Michael Arruda)

John-Dies-at-the-End-poster

(THE SCENE: An all-night Chinese restaurant at midnight. DAVID WONG —looking a lot like actor Chase Williamson—sits in a booth. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES enter and sit down across from him)

WONG: I didn’t think you’d make it.

LS: We’re professionals. Of course we made it.

WONG: Did anyone follow you?

MA: No, I made sure to drive erratically to throw anyone off our trail.

LS: You drove like that on purpose?

MA: Of course I did.

LS: Yeah, sure.

WONG: Enough of your bickering. I only have a limited time to tell you all about the soy sauce and the creatures from another dimension and the remarkable Dr. Albert Marconi.

LS: No need. We just saw the movie. We’re all up to date.

WONG: Are you sure? Did you watch the right movie?

LS: Of course we did!

MA: Calm down. Why don’t you tell him what you saw?

LS: Okay, sure. The movie JOHN DIES AT THE END is the tale of David Wong, who looked just like you…

(WONG nods)

LS: Wong is in a restaurant, just like this one, telling his tale to a reporter named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). It’s about how he was pulled into a secret plan to save the Earth, along with his friend John (Rob Mayes), who sings in a punk rock band called Three Armed Sally.

Wong’s story begins with a chance meeting with a Jamaican guy at a party named Robert Marley, who tells David several things he should not know. Later that night, or rather the next morning at 3am, David is awoken by a call from his friend John, begging for help. He goes to help John battle some supernatural baddies and then ends up in a police station where a detective tells him that the night before, a bunch of people went to the trailer of a certain Robert Marley after a party and four are missing, the rest are dead, and John is a suspect. David has no clue what is going on, but a phone call from John (that was made the night before but just reaches him now) tells him he needs to get out of there. But he has to fight a man who appears to be a cop (but isn’t) first.

To explain beyond this (early) point would be kind of pointless. JOHN DIES AT THE END isn’t that kind of linear, straight-forward movie that caters to an easy synopsis. Suffice to say that David Wong goes on an adventure that involves a girl named Amy (Fabianne Therese) who has one prosthetic hand, her dog Bark Lee, Dave’s friend Fred (Jimmy Wong), a white rapper wannabe named Justin White (Jonny Weston), the world-famous magician Dr. Marconi (Clancy Brown), and John, who dies early on in the movie, but doesn’t exactly stay dead.

The catalyst for all this is a drug called “soy sauce” (because that’s what it looks like). When you take it, either it creates vivid hallucinations or opens your mind to realities we aren’t normally aware of. I’m not saying which. It’s also alive and when ingested it either kills you, or uses you for its own purposes. And those purposes ultimately involve a plot by people in an alternate world who worship a living machine called Korrok (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), and their desire to enter our plane of existence and make our world like theirs—a horrible place that lives only to serve Korrok.

The movie was based on the novel by David Wong…

(WONG nods)

LS: …this is getting a little confusing.

The movie is pretty good. mainly because you’re never sure what is going to happen next. I liked the fast, witty repartee in this one, and the rapid-fire pacing. A lot of times critics compare certain movies to amusement park rides, like roller coasters, but this movie lives up to the comparison.

It was directed by the great Don Coscarelli, who also gave us the classic PHANTASM (1979), THE BEASTMASTER (1982) and BUBBA HO-TEP (2002), and he does another cracker jack job here, bringing the novel to life.

The cast is pretty solid. I liked Chase Williamson as Wong a lot, he was a strong central character here…

(WONG nods)

LS: And the great Paul Giamatti rarely gives a bad performance. He’s good here, too, but his character is mostly around so Wong can tell him his story (and in the process, tell us). Rob Mayes, who plays John, might be familiar to some people from TV shows like the new version of 90210 and THE CLIENT LIST. And Clancy Brown, as the all-powerful Marconi, has been in tons of stuff from THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BONZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984) to THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) to STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997) and lots of television shows. I thought he was especially good in the sadly short-lived HBO series CARNIVALE (2003 – 2005), where he played Brother Justin Crowe.

Other recognizable faces include Angus Scrimm (the “Tall Man” from the PHANTASM movies) as a priest named Father Shellnut. And Doug Jones—mostly known for roles where he’s not so recognizable, including Abe Sapien in the HELLBOY movies, the Faun and the Pale Man from PAN’S LABYRINTH, 2006, and the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, 2007—plays a strange alien being named Roger North.

The cast is really good and the story gives us a good mix of thrills and laughs. The sheer unpredictable nature of the movie is what makes it so unique and enjoyable. Not everything is perfect—but for the most part I thought it worked really well. I give it three knives. People should check this one out.

WONG: Just three, huh?

LS: Errr…Tell him what you thought of it, Michael?

MA: I didn’t see it.

LS: What are you talking about? Of course you saw it. You were telling me all about it in the ride up here.

MA: Sorry. You must be mistaken.

(MA begins to make strange noises)

WONG: I think there’s something wrong with your friend.

(MA suddenly turns into a gooey monster with writhing tentacles)

LS: That wasn’t Michael at all! I’ve been tricked!

(WONG pulls out a gun and blasts the creature, which disintegrates.)

LS: Whew. That was a close call.

WONG: Your mission has been compromised. They’re on to us.

LS: I guess that means I better leave, huh?

WONG: Do what you want, but I’m out of here.

(WONG disappears)

LS: Wow. Neat trick.

(LS waves waitress over and lifts a menu)

LS: I’ll have number 4 and number 15 to go, and make it quick. Okay?

WAITRESS: Right away, sir.

LS (to audience): Well, at least this wasn’t a total loss.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives JOHN DIES AT THE END ~three knives.

THE TALL MAN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Controverisal Films, Family Secrets, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Mystery, Plot Twists, Scares!, Surprises!, Suspense, Twist Endings, Twisted with tags , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2012 by knifefighter

THE TALL MAN
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

When I first heard about the movie THE TALL MAN, I thought it was another sequel in the PHANTASM series. For those who aren’t fans, the Tall Man is the main villain of that franchise. But this new movie has nothing to do with PHANTASM. So I thought, based on the title and the movie poster (with star Jessica Biel prominently displayed), that this was a standard horror movie. I was wrong on both counts.

Then I found out that THE TALL MAN was directed by French filmmaker Pascal Laugier, who previously gave us the movie MARTYRS (2008), which I consider one of my all-time favorite horror films. It had the same kind of effect on me when it came out as Takashi Miike’s AUDITION did in 2000. Needless to say, I was psyched and immediately sought THE TALL MAN out. It was supposed to be in limited theatrical release, but it wasn’t playing anywhere near me. Luckily, however, it was playing on cable OnDemand, so I was able to see it for myself.

I’m really glad I did.

THE TALL MAN is a movie full of twists and turns that are going to keep you off balance throughout, as you try to figure out who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and what everyone here is up to.

It begins in a poverty-stricken small town called Cold Rock, Washington. It used to be thriving once, but the coal mines, the main source of work there, shut down, all the other jobs dried up, and people started losing their homes. Oh yeah, there’s one other reason why Cold Rock is such a sad place. Over the years, there have been several child abductions, and the children have never been recovered. A few people swear they got a look at who took their children, a dark figure that has taken on mythic proportions in the town. Everyone refers to the child stealer as The Tall Man.

It’s here in Cold Rock that Julia Denning (Jessica Biel, who we most recently saw in this summer’s big budget remake of TOTAL RECALL) tries her best to help people get medical care. Her husband was the local doctor, but he’s gone now, and since she was his nurse, she’s able to provide some basic services to those in need. It’s clear however, that even though her husband was respected and loved in Cold Rock, Julia will never be completely accepted by everyone in town. There are some people here who trust her, however, like the mute teenager Jenny (Jodelle Ferland) who will become more important as the film goes on.

Since she’s a widow, Julia has her friend (sister?) Christine (Eve Harlow) babysit her son, David (Jakob Davies) when she’s out making her rounds. David seems to be sickly, but lights up when his mother comes home.

Life is rough in Cold Rock, but Julia does what she can, until the day comes when she returns home to find Christine beaten and tied up, and a hooded figure running away from the house, carrying David in its arms.

While trying to retrieve her son David, Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) falls into a pit of mud in THE TALL MAN.

Julia runs after them, down the street to a large truck that drives away. Determined not to let them get away, Julia grabs on to the back door of the truck, and hangs on for dear life. She tries desperately to retrieve her son in a nightmarish sequence involving the truck, a vicious dog, and an accident. But eventually, she loses the trail, and collapses in the middle of the street, where Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie) finds her and brings her into his car. He drives her to the local diner where Sheriff Chestnut (William B. Davis) is, and tells him to get an ambulance, while Dodd goes back out trying to find the child stealer based on what Julia has told him.

It’s at this point that things get strange. While washing up and changing her clothes in the office of Trish (Janet Wright) who runs the diner, she hears the Sheriff and another man in a heated discussion, wondering what they should do next. It sounds like they mean to harm Julia. What’s going on here?

To give away any more of the plot would be unkind, but let’s say, at this point, THE TALL MAN stops being a typical horror movie and goes in a completely unexpected direction. This is business as usual for director Pascal Laugier, who is used to running us through a maze in his movies, MARTYRS being a perfect example.

The cast here is very good, especially Biel, who is turning into an actress you can count on to deliver a decent performance. She’s actually much better here than she is in TOTAL RECALL, partly because she’s the lead character, but also because THE TALL MAN is a more serious, intelligent film.

THE TALL MAN is out there.

M. Night Shyamalan might still have the reputation as the king of the twist endings – even if it’s no longer warranted and he’s become something of a joke. But Laugier proves here that he deserves the title more, and he delivers the scares along the way.

The other aspects of this film are finely tuned as well, including the score by Todd Bryanton, which compliments the film perfectly. I was very psyched when I found out that Barry Dejasu was interviewing Bryanton about his soundtrack for THE TALL MAN for his Scoring Horror column (this review is being posted as a companion piece to his interview).

THE TALL MAN is so different from the usual horror movies we keep getting, and is so much more ambitious in its storytelling, that it deserves a wider audience simply because it tries to do something different, and I was disappointed to see that this one has been getting such shoddy distribution. But if you look for it on cable, you would do yourself a favor to find it.

While I didn’t like THE TALL MAN as much as MARTYRS, which remains Laugier’s masterwork, I still thought it was head and shoulders above most of the horror movies Hollywood has been giving us lately. THE TALL MAN is in no way as visceral and nightmarish as MARTYRS, but it does deliver plenty of chills and it will surprise you.

One thing about THE TALL MAN, that you don’t normally get with horror films these days, is that you’ll be thinking about it long after it’s over.

I give it four knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE TALL MAN ~ four knives.

 

The French movie poster for THE TALL MAN calls it “The Secret” fittingly enough.

In the Spooklight: THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2010, 70s Horror, B-Movies, Deformed Freaks!, Drive-in Movies, In the Spooklight, Mad Doctors!, Medical Experiments!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Twisted with tags , , , , , , , on July 13, 2012 by knifefighter

The following IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column originally ran in the HWA NEWSLETTER in July 2010.  Look for it and all 115 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns in the IN THE SPOOKLIGHT EBook due out from NECON EBooks later this year!
 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT:
THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971)
By Michael Arruda

 

Are two heads really better than one?

Not when one head belongs to an insane murderer, as is the case in THE INCREDIBLE 2- HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971), a lurid little film which for some strange reason I happen to like a lot.

Bruce Dern, one of my all-time favorite film crazies, is cast against type as Dr. Roger Girard, a scientist who has devised a method to create two-headed beings.  Why?  I have no idea, and the movie doesn’t really give us a reason either.

I wish they had.  It would have made things really interesting.  I mean, think of the things you could do with two heads:  read twice as fast, eat your meal and dessert at the same time, drive while texting, and kiss your wife while flirting with the blonde at the next table.

When an insane killer named Cass (Albert Cole) breaks into Roger’s home, attacking his wife Linda (Pat Priest – Marilyn from TV’s THE MUNSTERS!) and murdering the gardener, Roger and his assistant fight back, and the assistant shoots Cass.  Before the killer dies, they attach his head to the hulking body of Danny (John Bloom), the simple-minded son of the slain gardener.  Nice going!

What is it with mad scientists in the movies?  Why do they always settle for less?  If you were on the verge of some amazing medical breakthrough, wouldn’t you want only the best materials for your experiment?  In this case, these guys have been planning for months to construct a two-headed person, and they choose for one of the heads a murderer?  Don’t you think they could do a little bit better?

Our two-headed friend eventually breaks loose from the lab and goes on a murderous rampage, as the movie becomes a straightforward “monster on the loose” story during its third act.

If you can get through the horrible theme song—a song so bad it makes you wonder what racy photos the songwriter and singer had of the director—you’ll be rewarded with a deliciously lurid movie that will tickle your horror movie funny bone.

Bruce Dern is always worth watching, even in movies as bad as this.  And John Bloom who played the giant Danny actually went on to appear in many genre films.  He played the Frankenstein Monster in another infamously bad low-budget shocker, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971), and he also appeared in HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS (1987) and STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991).  He passed away in 1999.

And hey, Casey Kasem plays the hero in the film!  That’s right, the Casey Kasem, of America’s Top 40 fame, and the voice of Shaggy from the SCOOBY DOO cartoons.

He has two heads, but only half a brain!

The screenplay by James Gordon White and John Lawrence never rises above standard low-budget 1970s horror fare, but that’s part of the fun.  Believe it or not, these same two guys also wrote the screenplay for THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972) (starring Ray Milland and Rosie Grier!)

Director Anthony M. Lanza does an adequate job with the material, but his idea of a scary scene is the 2-headed monster fighting chain wielding biker dudes.  This is the type of movie best watched at the Drive-In Theater.  You can go for the same effect by watching it at home late at night on a hot summer evening with the windows open.

The special effects are pretty bad.  You’ll laugh at the long shots of the obviously fake rubber head bouncing up and down on John Bloom’s shoulder.  It looks like something out of a Monty Python sketch.

THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT isn’t really all that incredible, unless you interpret “incredible” to mean unbelievable.  But it is an entertaining little piece of 70s horror cinema, and it’s a nice reminder of what low-budget horror movies were like back then.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011)

Posted in 2012, Dark Comedies, LL Soares Reviews, Murder!, Satire, Twisted, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 29, 2012 by knifefighter

GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Bobcat Goldthwait started out as a comedian, transitioning from stand-up to movie roles in stuff  like the POLICE ACADEMY films in the 80s (he played “Zed” in numbers 2 – 5), ONE CRAZY SUMMER (1986) and the talking horse comedy, HOT TO TROT (1988). His characters were odd, and he often made loud, phlegmy noises when he spoke. In other words, he wasn’t for everybody. Some people thought he was funny. I’m sure plenty of others thought he was annoying. As for me, I was on the fence. He was unusual enough to get my attention, but he was in a lot of movies that weren’t very good.

He began his directing career in 1991, with a strange and dark comedy called SHAKES THE CLOWN, which gave us a look into the personal lives of some very unhappy clowns. The movie opens with Shakes (yes, his name refers to the fact that he’s also an alcoholic) waking up after having spent the night with Florence Henderson (Mrs. Brady herself!). The movie got mixed to negative reviews when it came out, but I kinda liked it.

Along with movies, his directing career has also gotten him work on television shows like THE MAN SHOW (2000 – 2003), CRANK YANKERS (2002) and CHAPELLE’S SHOW (2003).

He’s been focusing more and more on movies for the last few years, and has had some success with independent comedies like SLEEPING DOGS LIE (2006), about a woman with a very embarrassing secret that ruins all the relationships in her life; WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (2009), where Robin Williams plays the father of a really annoying kid, who turns his son into a legend by writing a poignant and fake “diary” for the kid after he accidentally kills himself in a very embarrassing way; and now GOD BLESS AMERICA. Goldthwait has become one of our best directors of dark satire.

In GOD BLESS AMERICA, which has been making the rounds of some theaters in limited release recently, Frank (Joel Murray) is a lonely, divorced guy who just lost his job, and is on the fast track to losing his life as well—when his doctor tells him about an inoperable brain tumor he found. With everything falling apart around him, Frank gets out his gun, puts it in his mouth, and decides to end it all.

But the television is on (it seems like his television is always on), and there’s a reality show on about a horrible girl celebrating her 16th birthday, belittling her rich parents into spending as much money on the event as possible, and Frank suddenly finds a reason to live. Why just kill himself, after all, when he can take some of the world’s more loathsome people with him?

So he steals his idiot neighbor’s sports car, and tracks the girl down. Figuring he is going to die anyway, Frank isn’t concerned about breaking the law or its repercussions. He finds the girl, Chloe, in the parking lot of her high school (in one of the rare instances when she isn’t being filmed for her reality show), getting into the car that her parents just bought her (that she complained about, screeching, on television), and offs her. One of the witnesses is another girl, named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who, instead of being horrified by the act of violence, thinks it’s terrific, because she hates the self-involved reality TV star, too.

Roxy tracks Frank down to a motel room afterwards (where again, he’s about to blow his brains out) and convinces him that he’s onto something here. Why just stop at one horrible reality star, when there are so many more who deserve to die? Not only does she save Frank from killing himself, she gives him a final mission in life. And she wants to be his sidekick in his killing spree.

So they go around killing more despicable people, including that girl Chloe’s mealy-mouthed parents (Larry Miller and Dorie Barton), and a bullying, Bill O’Reilly-type political pundit, and as the bodies pile up, so does their glee at what they’re doing. Strangely, while the media covers the murders on the nightly news, no cops seem to be on their trail, and not until the end, in a scene on the set of an “American Idol”-type talent show, do they seem to be in danger of being arrested for their crimes at all.

As the movie goes on, their criteria for who deserves killing grows more and more trivial, as even talking in a movie theater becomes an execution-worthy offense. And what about when Frank finds out that he might have been misdiagnosed?

The acting here is top-notch. Joel Murray is one of those actors who you’ve seen in tons of things, but might not know his name. Most recently he had major roles in the Showtime series SHAMELESS, where he played another sad sack named Eddie Jackson,  and the AMC series MAD MEN, where he played ad man Fred Rumsen. But you might have also seen him on network shows like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and TWO AND A HALF MEN. While I was watching the movie, I kept thinking that he looked a lot like Brian Doyle Murray, who also has a huge list of television credits. When I looked him up, I found up that Joel and Brian are brothers, which means that Joel also has another, slightly more famous brother, named Bill! To think I’ve been a fan of Joel’s for all this time without realizing he was Bill Murray’s brother! Joel specializes in playing down-on-their-luck guys, and he’s perfectly cast in GOD BLESS AMERICA.

Tara Lynne Barr holds her own in the movie as Frank’s only friend and “sidekick” Roxy. Her acting resume isn’t quite as extensive as Murray’s, but she had roles on TV shows like CROSSING JORDAN (2005) and The Disney Channel’s THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY. Based on her performance here, I wouldn’t be surprised if she started getting a lot more movie roles. She’s that good.

Obviously, with this very dark storyline, GOD BLESS AMERICA is not going to appeal to everyone. Some people are just not going to ever find murder funny. But for those of us who have watched reality TV and totally despised the shrill, self-obsessed idiots who populate too much of  our “popular entertainment,” this movie has the potential to be a very wicked guilty pleasure.

GOD BLESS AMERICA is not perfect, however. The fact that nobody tries to stop them for weeks struck me as completely unrealistic, which just emphasizes the fantasy elements here. This is not the real world. And there are times when Frank and Roxy’s agenda (especially Roxy’s list of the kinds of people she hates) seems rather elitist, but I guess that’s the point, since, by the time they’re killing people for just being rude, things have reached an absurd level. There are, though, moments in the film when it just seems to be preaching at us, about what’s wrong with our society and popular culture, and it’s those moments that are the movie’s weakest. As a viewer, I don’t want to be preached to. Luckily there are only a few missteps in that direction. Not enough to ruin what’s good about the film.

Despite its flaws, I found GOD BLESS AMERICA to be pretty entertaining. And there are some very funny moments here. There’s a lot to like about this movie if your sense of humor tends to be dark. I give it three out of five knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

(Note: If GOD BLESS AMERICA isn’t playing in limited release in a city near you, you might also be able to catch it on Cable OnDemand)

LL Soares gives GOD BLESS AMERICA ~three  knives.

YOUNG ADULT (2011)

Posted in 2011, Controverisal Films, Dark Comedies, Kelly Laymon Reviews, Twisted with tags , , , , , on December 20, 2011 by knifefighter

The Psychological Abuse of YOUNG ADULT (2011)
By Kelly Laymon

[THE SCENE: A bar.  KELLY LAYMON walks into her neighborhood bar and sits down.  Her eyes are red and her face is puffy.]

BARTENDER: Which sangria you doin’ today?

KELLY: I think I’ll go white.  My soul’s too broken to think about much though.

BARTENDER: Are you okay?

KELLY: No, probably not. I was sad anyway, but I just saw a movie that damaged me.

BARTENDER: That good, eh? What movie?

KELLY: YOUNG ADULT (2011), with Charlize Theron.  It just opened in wide release.

BARTENDER: Oh, she won an Oscar for playing a guy, right?

KELLY: I think you’re thinking of Hilary Swank and BOYS DON’T CRY (1999).  She won an Oscar for that.  Theron won one for MONSTER (2003) though, too.  She didn’t play a guy.  She just gained some weight and skipped the make-up trailer.

BARTENDER: How bad can it be?  I don’t know the plot.  I’ve just seen small clips on TV.

KELLY: It’s about a ghost writer who writes an about-to-be-canceled Sweet Valley High-style young adult series.  She’s an alcoholic slut who watches reality TV shows to pick up hip lingo for her books.

BARTENDER: Well, you’re a writer and you drink a lot of sangria…

KELLY: Hey, easy with that…

BARTENDER: So, what does she do?

KELLY: She decides to revisit her hometown and try to win back her ex-boyfriend, who’s now married and has a newborn.  He’s played by Patrick Wilson, who is so good at playing bland boyfriends/husbands/etc..

BARTENDER: So does she win him back?

KELLY: I won’t say.  But that’s not the problem.  The problem is that Theron’s character is an awful stereotype and a downright terrible human being.

BARTENDER: Well, you’re really nice.  Don’t worry about turning out like her.

KELLY: That wasn’t one of my concerns, but you’re about to give me a complex.

BARTENDER: Can it really be so bad that you showed up in a sadder mood than usual?

KELLY: Yes.  I don’t think every story needs to have a lesson or a message or that the person necessarily needs to grow.  But to watch a movie about someone who is a mean, nasty, terrible bitch and treats everyone awful…and then one of the small town simpletons that’s on the cutting block for ridicule tells her that her shitty attitude is okay….is just depressing.

BARTENDER: Was this a big studio film?  Or do ya need to hit an arthouse to see it?

KELLY: Kinda big.  Enough that it had Charlize Theron in it.  And it was written by that Diablo Cody.

BARTENDER: Why does that name sound familiar?

KELLY: She wrote that awful JUNO (2007).  And won an Oscar for it.  I don’t know why she’s a golden child in the industry.  I wonder if she knows any real people.

BARTENDER: Oh, I liked that.  Ellen Page is cute.

KELLY: I thought it was too trendy for its own good.  Uber-hipster garbage.

BARTENDER: Did you see YOUNG ADULT alone?

KELLY: Uh…no.  I actually saw this one with a friend.  She was pretty upset by it too.

BARTENDER: Was anything redeeming about it?

KELLY: Yes.  Patton Oswalt was great.  He plays one of the forgotten un-cool kids that Theron’s character ignored back in the day.  She only knows him by his old nickname, “Hate Crime Guy.”  He was gay bashed in high school, even though he wasn’t gay.  He was the only character who seemed like a normal human being that we’d encounter in life.  As far as Oswalt, aside from his comedy, he’s really proven his worth in small indie gems like BIG FAN (2009).

BARTENDER: I usually only understand about 50% of what you say, but today you’re really losing me.  I don’t know who Patton Oswalt is.

KELLY: I’m sure you’d recognize him if you saw him.  He was on that show, THE KING OF QUEENS (1998-2007).

BARTENDER: Have you seen J. EDGAR (2011)?

KELLY: Not yet.

BARTENDER: It’s really good.  I know people are criticizing the make-up in it, but…..

KELLY: A) This is MY movie review.  B) I think it’s really funny that The Academy threw an Oscar at Clint Eastwood for UNFORGIVEN (1992), but he still had twenty years of films in him.  And better movies than UNFORGIVEN.  But, hey, this ain’t about J. EDGAR.

BARTENDER: Did you see INVICTUS (2009)?  They win!  I knew that!  It was so anti-climactic.

KELLY: That’s not the movie I need to talk about..

BARTENDER: Okay…since I know that you like those sloppy bachelor films about guys who can’t get their lives together, why did this one upset you more than the others?

KELLY: Most characters have some depth. Or at least a nugget of something interesting.  This just felt like being shitty for shitty’s sake.  And, then, just when you think that maybe she’s reached a point where she’ll embrace a true reality and change her ways…she doesn’t.  She continues to be a horrible human being and the other characters basically allow it.  I spend all day upset about how mean, rude, cynical, and nasty people are becoming towards each other.  This film embraces those terrible attitudes.

And I can understand characters who are in their 30s and lost, like Theron’s character.  My life’s a mess and I know what that feels like, but I don’t act like a raging douchebag along the way.

BARTENDER: So you really ARE single?

KELLY: Not the point.

BARTENDER: And you said you’re damaged, right?

KELLY: I’m not that damaged.  I think I’d better wrap this up.  This conversation is getting weird.

BARTENDER: Maybe they were trying to be funny.  Like satire?

KELLY: It didn’t feel like it.  It really seemed like this horrible person was being put on a pedestal for being who she is.  It really damaged my soul.

BARTENDER: Maybe you should’ve seen NEW YEAR’S EVE (2011).

KELLY: I’m not a moron.

BARTENDER: I’m just surprised that a movie buff would let a film like that get under their skin like this.  Maybe it’s a good sign that this movie made you think so much.  Maybe that’s how good it is.

KELLY: No, it’s not a sign of how good it is.  It isn’t.  Just because a movie made me obsess about how much I hate the way our world is turning doesn’t make it deep.  I’ve blown more meaningful farts into hot tubs.

BARTENDER: Do movies usually affect you this much?

KELLY: Not really, no.  I usually either really enjoy something or feel so-so about it.

BARTENDER: I mean with the crying and the emotions.  You’re scaring the other customers.

KELLY: If you take TOY STORY III (2010) and THE MUPPETS (2011) out of the mix, then my record on uncontrollable sobbing over movies is pretty clear.

(KELLY pushes a button on her phone to check the time.)

KELLY: Now where’s that sangria?  I’m pretty sad and about to be alone with my thoughts.  I think I need to go home and watch a snuff film to perk me up.  Or THE HURT LOCKER (2008).  Or THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991).  Or VERY BAD THINGS (1998).  Or……anything else.

© Copyright 2011 by Kelly Laymon

 

Criterion After Dark: THE NIGHT PORTER (1974)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Art Movies, Criterion After Dark, DVD Review, Garrett Cook Articles, Twisted with tags , , , , , on September 7, 2011 by knifefighter

CRITERION AFTER DARK
THE NIGHT PORTER (1974) Directed by Liliana Cavani
DVD Review by Garrett Cook

The Criterion Collection has gathered together some of the greatest films in history, movies ranging from Fellini’s 8 ½ to Kurosawa’s RASHOMON to Richard Linklater’s SLACKER. These are the kinds of films that are essential to most any film buff, movies that transcend genre, time and place to reach a new realm of relevance. There is a vast variety of things to choose from.

In this column, I plan on exploring some of the darker, weirder, more violent and sexually exploitative films in the collection: the more risqué selections. One week I might discuss a grim, gritty noir, the next a trippy art film, the next something deeply shocking and transgressive. I’m starting with Liliana Cavani’s THE NIGHT PORTER, a movie that marries the art film and film noir. ~Garrett Cook

There isn’t much one can depend on in film noir. There aren’t many people to trust, the protagonist can be as much of a heel as the antagonists, and nothing seems to be the way you think it is. But one thing you can count on more often than not is that somebody will fall for The Wrong Man or The Wrong Woman. Or maybe The Wrong Man will fall for The Wrong Woman. And if that happens, there’s gonna be real trouble. As the noir genre stretched out and expanded, it decided to test out just how wrong a man or a woman can be. The relationship in THE NIGHT PORTER (1974) is a nasty example of this, and one of the best ones out there.

In a cold, whitewashed vision of 1957 Berlin, Max (Dirk Bogarde) is a porter at a cold, whitewashed hotel that could be perceived as a microcosm of postwar Europe. In his day-to-day life, he deals with a sexually insatiable countess, the house gigolo and a male ballet dancer who performs nightly in front of a spotlight for absolutely nobody, like Norma Desmond with PTSD. His life is a hell of sorts, haunted by shadows of his past. His Nazi past.

Max posed as a doctor, presided over demeaning inspections, shined lights on concentration camp prisoners and performed jobs surprisingly similar in a morbid way to his work as a porter. He watched the ballet dancer perform for the Nazis back then, instead of for nobody. Max is methodical and monotonous, but also seedy and perverse. The same steely detachment follows him into his day-to-day tasks, performed occasionally with smug superiority, but never with genuine joy. It seems as if there was only one thing that ever brought him a degree of joy, and that was during his days as a Nazi.

That was The Wrong Woman; the woman for whom he was The Wrong Man. And of course, she walks into this cold, tragic hotel. Her name is Lucia now. She’s an opera singer. A model of elegance and composure. A performer, like the ballet dancer. And, like the ballet dancer, she had once been a prisoner under Max’s supervision. One of the filthiest, most provocative dances ever put to film is viewed through flashback. A teenage Jewish concentration camp prisoner humiliated by her Nazi captors, but spellbound by one of them. Dressed in military fashion and moving like Marlene Dietrich possessed, it’s uncomfortable. Sexy, tragic, confusing and wrong, just plain wrong. All adjectives that could be used to describe this movie, a film that will play with your heart, your ethics and your sense of decency.

The Wrong Woman and The Wrong Man, they love each other. She’s traumatized, and wants to stay away from him. His former superiors are concerned with getting caught and she’s a witness. He wants to stay away from her. But of course, The Wrong Man and The Wrong Woman can’t stay away from one another for long. Noir wouldn’t happen if that were the case. Max has done a lot of awful things and he probably deserves to get caught, but this movie, in these circumstances, turns him into a sad, icy man whose heart might be melted just a little by love.

Initially, he fears she will turn him in. He meets her with violence. She meets him with passion. The scene is akin to Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rosselini’s love scene in BLUE VELVET (1986)….if Dorothy were crazy about Frank. Mad love. bad love, Wrong Man/Wrong Woman love. The lines between dysfunctional romance and just plain dysfunction grow blurry, maybe even fade. And propriety and political correctness are certainly nowhere to be found. They hole up in a tiny apartment and things blur even further.

You find out about an unspeakable favor he did for her. Our hero looks pretty horrible. Our heroine does not come out smelling like roses either, since she has persisted in her admiration of this monster. Moments after seeing him do this for her, she cavorts, plays and teases. An uncomfortable air of sociopathy washes over the movie and if you had trouble pinning down this relationship before, it looks really bad now. Max is redeemed somewhat by his desire to protect her from the Nazis who want to eliminate her. Max is loathsome, but he doesn’t want what the other Nazis want out of life, he wants to be left alone and to love, however inappropriate that love might be. In movies, we forgive a lot of people a lot of terrible things they do for love. Here, your mind will reel and struggle to the very end.

Criterion has selected what they think to be the best, and when I select a movie from the collection to watch, I select what I believe to be the best of the best. Why does THE NIGHT PORTER fit in? Because Bogarde manages to be both brutal and cool, grotesque and still strangely human as Max, a hero you should hate, who still in spite of everything reveals his humanity. Charlotte Rampling is sensuous, lovely and conveys both vulnerability and strength as the victim who could still be the hero’s undoing. The cinematography is poetic and lush, but not needlessly extravagant. The story is heartrending and a test of one’s moral compass. It forces us to think about things we’d rather not, tests our boundaries and definitions of things like love, rape, evil and crime.

It’s beautiful, it’s sick, it’s deep, it’s painful, it’s scary, and it’s tense. It goes beyond our expectations of both noir and art film, of our comfort level with erotica, without having constant violations on our sensibilities like SALO (1975), or things of its ilk. Considering what it’s about, it’s as tasteful as it can be and as artistic as it can be. And frankly, The Wrong Man and The Wrong Woman don’t get any more wrong than this. One of the cruelest love stories of all time.

Is the Criterion Edition worth a buy? Maybe. The transfer is nice, the movie is unusual and the packaging is fantastic. The Criterion Store prices it at 23.96, which is a little much for a disc without features. I’d suggest seeing this via HuluPlus or Netflix before committing to a buy, especially since the emotional weight of the movie might make it something you don’t watch very often.

© Copyright 2011 by Garrett Cook