Friday, May 21, 2010

Watch Out For "Watch This"

A timely piece I wrote for my favorite local blog,, about some of my favorite movies, favorite places, and favorite Cincinnatians!

I'm looking very forward to going to a screening of Tootsie tonight at 7PM.

"Now, where,"
you might ask, "are they screening Tootsie? And why?"

It's pretty fun to be struck by an idea. Sometimes, someone's moment of inspiration goes on to entertain a whole city. Such is the case for Alex Shebar and Allison Johnson. They started a project at the beginning of 2010 to watch all 100 of the American Film Institute's list of Top Films. What started out as a "living room" Labor of Love project with friends has now grown to include the entire city of Cincinnati.

Seemingly unstoppable, the Watch This project has also expanded to include screenings at terrific venues like Take the Cake Cafe (home of the 5/21/10 screening of Tootsie), The 20th Century Theatre (join in on 5/26 for Raiders of the Lost Ark),  Baba Budan's, Grammer's Bar, Virgil's Cafe, and The Cincinnati Athletic Club. They've even arranged to screen King Kong on Fountain Square, and that, my friends, is going to be a blast!

Guess what? I go, and you are invited to join us. After Tootsie, there will still be 61 films on the list to play out through the course of the year. The AFI list includes some of the best Cinema has to offer, including some legendary films considered to be part of the "queer canon" like Rebel Without a Cause, Midnight Cowboy, All About Eve and Some Like It Hot. All these screenings are free and open to the public. This is one of the best kept social nights in Cincinnati, don't miss out.

Here's a list of some upcoming screenings:

􀂃 The Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1981
(Wednesday, May 26 - The 20th Century Theatre)
􀂃 Rebel Without a Cause – 1955
(Wednesday, June 2 - The Cincinnati Athletic Club)
􀂃 Fantasia - 1940
(Friday, June 4 - Take the Cake Cafe)
􀂃 M*A*S*H - 1970
(Tuesday, June 15 - Grammers Bar)
􀂃 The Sound of Music - 1965
(Monday, June 14) - Baba Budans)
􀂃 King Kong - 1933
(Saturday, July 31 – Fountain Square)

You can check out the whole list, along with some insightful reviews at the Watch This.

Tootsie is playing at 7PM on 5/21/10 at Take The Cake Cafe, 4035 Hamilton Avenue. At 5PM, Cafe de Wheels will also be there for your burger needs. Who can resist a tasty burger, a delectable cupcake, and one of the funniest movies I've ever seen?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

One A Week Reviews #20: Art of Love

Art of Love is what I hope is the first of many reviews for Exploitation Retrospect over at Frankly, the review may be as choppy as the movie was, and I've never been more challenged to make heads or tails out of how I feel about a movie - first review flick I've ever watched 2.5 times to get a handle on... I hope you like it.

According to Walerian Borowczyk, Rome in 8 A.D. was a mix of extra-marital affairs, fantastic aquarium bathtubs, phallus-idol worship, and boring sex-ed classes. The basic story here has the poet Ovid teaching his classes on the “Art of Love” while pretty wife Claudia conducts an affair with student Cornelius behind the back of her husband, General Macarius. She’s one big, ripe and frustrated raw nerve of sexual frustration who‘s illicit adventures make up the “thrust” of the plot here. However, this is some languid Euro-erotica and her liaisons are tempered with Ovid’s rather boring narration. His classes may be referred to as “always full,“ but they seem to be a lot of talk and no action. In fact, while Art of Love has the structure of a soft-core sex romp it has the pace of a nap.

Sure, Ovid lectures male students while bored housewives go to the museum to fondle statues of horses (and hallucinate playing with real ones) and get felt up at their own weddings. We have a bunch of well-photographed but chiaroscuro-lit bed-hopping episodes, with a meddling Mother-in-Law, combative neighbors, and lecture hall bits tossed in for good measure. The vignettes get a little more martial when he switches to teaching a class to women and it eventually leads to what I’d suppose is his downfall. We’re not invested in the actual story-line for it to matter.

You have to give credit to the director’s noted perversity, as at one point Claudia hops into a weird construct of a cow so she can be mounted by a bull-masked man wearing a giant strap-on and all intercut with footage of actual cattle mating. It’s the creative highlight of the movie and if you want to show the audience a housewife is desperate for some lovin’, this ain’t a bad way to do it. I haven’t seen The Beast, but having heard that it's as wild and vivid as this sequence, it’s going on my “must” list.

In the end, though, it took two watches and I'm still not sure what to make of Art of Love. Is it supposed to be some kind of ribald historical comedy, like The Decameron, or a watered-down sexstravaganza clearly inspired by Caligula? It has that strung-together quality like a bunch of gently-naughty vignettes, but then there’s a servant girl fellating her idol to Pirapus like some extra in an Emanuelle flick. Sadly, this has all the posed “sophistication” and none of the innocent glee of good exploitation.

The whole point of this exercise seems to be Borowczyk fueling his old-man fantasies about the pear-shaped bottom of lead actress Marina Pierro. She’s ripe, but not necessarily “all that.” The smut highlight (or is that “lowlight”?) here is some spliced-in orgy footage featuring some very 70s hair, both upstairs and down, that evidently came from a Joe D’Amato Caligula knock-off, but on the whole even this isn’t nearly as spicy as you’d think from the box copy. Not only is this rather staid for soft-core erotica, but as a narrative it feels like someone took a bunch of disastrous random footage and prayed they could save their financial investment with linking narration.

The biggest monkey-wrench here is the ending. The meditative, arty pacing makes Art of Love seem like it’s adding up to something, but then Claudia wakes up from a roadside nap... in the Eighties. Casting everything that went before as a dream is a cheat that feels tacked-on. Considering the movie is barely coherent to begin with, switching things up with a cop-out ending doesn’t help any. In fact, it’s downright frustrating to spend over eighty minutes trying to make sense out of the nonsensical, non-linear story to have all that work feel wasted.

In the end, Art of Love is more for European Art-House super-fans only. You won’t get much of a lesson on Ovid here, and exploitation fans hoping for “Emanuelle meets Caligula” are going to be sadly mislead. If anything, you'll use the downtime to try and remember all the other trashy Seventies and Eighties Euroflicks you’ve heard these voices in.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

One A Week Reviews #19: Final 24: Nicole Brown Simpson and Gianni Versace

A slightly different title for this belated One A Week Review, Final 24 is a Canadian cable television crime series showing the last 24 hours in the life of a celebrated personality. This week we'll be looking at a couple of episodes from season two featuring celebrity murders, the deaths of Gianni Versace and Nicole Brown Simpson.

Gianni Versace: His Final Hours features appearances by his partner, old friends, and celebrity pals like Janice Dickinson. Back-story is interspersed along with historical footage and actor-recreations of the innocuous daily activities of breakfast and window-shopping. Versace's rise to the heights of fashion, from young man bringing sexy to staid Milan to his time at the very top of the couture heap, is related during pockets in the day-to-day structure of of his and partner Antonio D'Amico's life. It's also played in counterpoint against the sad, murderous journey of Andrew Cunanan as their paths inexorably lead to their fatal crossing. It's terrifying to think that one chance encounter with someone can be unregistered by one party and seen as a snub by the other, who'd dwell upon it for years. Yet that's what happened with Cunanan and Versace's first encounter.

Cunanan was traveling the US on a spiraling murder spree (Maureen Orth is here commenting and wrote the book Vulgar Favors about the crime) and stalked Versace and his friends the night before the murder. The tragedy of the spree, the sheer banality of crime, is displayed here effectively. The facts are presented simply, making the selfishness of the crime committed all the worse.

Nicole Brown Simpson: Her Final Hours does kind of belie the statement on the back of the DVD box that the series reflects on the deaths of "Global Icons." Simpson only became an icon of any visibility after her death. Her jogging is shown in contrast with OJ Simpson's golfing, and their days get laid out in parallel.

Sister Tanya Brown and a several old friends reminisce on the Simpsons' courtship and marriage (it's surprising that the very, shall we say, "media friendly" Kris Kardashian doesn't make an appearance here). They married and achieved great success and material wealth, but they also had a fight-filled, tempestuous marriage. Reviews of Brown and Simpson's youths don't reveal anything we haven't already learned, ad nauseum, in the mid-90s. In fact this is all pretty well-trod turf. However, treating it as their lives leading up to the crime, instead of the great international circus that commenced afterward, does make it a lot more humane and easy to relate to. The tragedy of their history of domestic violence is made fresh and saddening again. We forget that people were people before they were pawns in "The Trial of the Century." The ominousness of the ticking clock also conveys the sense of ominousness we all have when we look back on the events in our lives that happen immediately before something goes wrong. Left behind eyeglasses bring Ron Goldman into Nicole's circle right when their end arrives.

Not many people assume that OJ Simpson didn't do it. This production shifts to an evidence-heavy look at the final few minutes and hangs out with the "allegedly" game and the "person or persons." The recreation of their murder is harrowing in the same matter-of-fact banality that made the Versace program so effective.

File footage and interviews are sprinkled in with somewhat mediocre recreations featuring actors who notably in no way resemble the people they're playing. The reenactments bring back memories of the best of Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 911. There's decent production values here and, while this is some pretty exploitative and morbid stuff, it's not that terribly prurient. This is not classy television. But it's well produced true crime programming that anyone who likes this sort of Dateline NBC crime recreation is sure to enjoy. Soon I'll be taking a look at another pair of season 2 programs, the deaths of rock stars Janis Joplin and Keith Moon.

I do wonder if Juditha Brown tortured herself every single day after for dropping and leaving behind her eyeglasses...

Full Disclosure: 
MVD  Entertainment Group approached me with these discs for review. I welcome opportunities to review, and if you'd like me to review your DVDs, I'm more than happy to. Please contact me at and we'll set that up!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

One A Week Reviews #18: Shock Waves

Look, I know this review is 2 weeks overdue, and you know this review is 2 weeks overdue. I got a lot going on. I promise 52 by the end of the year... I shoulda just been less specific about when they'd be coming out (heh). Enjoy!

"Sea spits up what it can't keep down."

There's high-concept movies, and then there's Shock Waves. An Elite Squad of Underwater Nazi Zombies.
 A 1977 schlock-feast that opens with a teaser regarding a group of never-captured Nazi Stormtroopers, then moves on to a pretty messed up pretty lady who's been adrift for who knows how long on the ocean, namely Brooke Adams, who spends a short period of the film in a teeny bikini so memorable you'll think she wore it exclusively through the whole thing. She's on a cruise with Luke Halpin, of Flipper fame, and a motley crew of unknowns that happens to be skippered by John Carradine.

After a disturbing, dreamlike afternoon, they find themselves rammed by a "Ghost Ship" in the middle of the night. As their little ship has suffered major hull damage they have to row out -in the least sea-worthy dinghy imaginable - to the nearest island. They lose their skipper, as bony old Carradine has drowned, and come upon a beautiful, dilapidated old Biltmore Hotel. The hotel is a major find as a location. One scene, where the passengers find an old Gramophone playing is actually and effectively spooky. It's air of decadent indulgence gone to seed serves it's resident well, as this scene also leads to the introduction of big, bad Peter Cushing. As characters start to turn up dead, the others start to investigate and quickly learn their host, Cushing, is a Nazi commander who's been exiled on the island for years. He led a squad of engineered troops who're now the undead, the "todenkorps"(? - my spelling is phonetic and I know barely any German). He sank their boat 30 years prior and now they're back... and their timing sucks.

Ghostly, underwater photography of walking and creepily swimming Nazi Zombies is quite effective. It's almost overpowered by the droning score, but still manages to be genuinely creepy. There's an overall dreamlike feeling to the film. It starts out leisurely and engaging, but eventually just seems damn slow. Sadly, it's slow enough you have time to think about the plot holes. Things like Why do the zombies look so good after being underwater for 30 years and uh, dude, what happened to their boat tend to spring to mind. If you ask the questions, chalk them up to "Dream Logic" as it fits the movie nicely.

That said, if you're in the mood to give yourself over to a story with a leisurely pace, you can do a whole lot worse. Shock Waves is a '70's curio but a pretty good time with great atmosphere... especially when you consider that more that 95% of this flick takes place in the daylight. It's pacing reminded me of Let's Scare Jessica To Death, another love-it-or-hate-it mood piece (one I happen to favor).

In the end, though, this really reminded me of something along the lines of an old eight-page EC Comics moralizing horror story stretched out to 85 minutes. Is it still worth a watch? Yes.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Jay's One A Week Reviews #17: I Sell The Dead

This movie was a pleasure to review for - You really should seek out this very enjoyable and rather black comedy.



It was a time of ghouls, ghosts and most ghastly of all, the fine art of grave-robbing. Dominic Monaghan of Lord of the Rings and Lost stars as 19th century corpse-snatcher Arthur Blake, who pilfered the cemeteries and coffins of England until his capture by police. But just before Blake is to meet the hangman's noose, he will confess to a peculiar priest (Ron Perlman of Hellboy and Sons of Anarchy) his gruesome tale of vampires, zombies and cadaver-dealing that takes him from the savagery of the criminal underworld to the terrors of the undead. Producer Larry Fessenden (Wendigo, The Last Winter) and Angus Scrimm (Phantasm) co-star in this deliriously grisly and hilarious homage to foggy graveyards, bloody mayhem and the golden age of gothic horror.

Arthur Blake and Willie Grimes are a pair of grave-robbers in the best "Burke & Hare" tradition. As the film opens, with some colorful credits and a delightfully playful musical score, Willie's losing his head and Blake is giving his final statement to a priest. What's in his story, however, proves 19th century crime to be a rather... supernatural past-time.

Aesthetically, I Sell the Dead is a mash-up of the best features of Hammer Horrors and old EC comics with the same black-humored heart. They say "life is nasty, brutish, and short" but in this world, it doesn't end peacefully or finally. As they steal bodies for Dr. Quint (Scrimm, who looks to have one heck of a "Scrooge" in him judging by this performance), their misadventures move from corpse-robbing to "the resurrection trade." Something of the zany spirit of The Evil Dead is here in the slapstick humor and daring camera work. Monaghan and Fessenden stay droll in the face of various and sundry creatures of the night. The framing sequence of storytelling knits the various anecdotal encounters together in the best Hammer and Amicus anthology tradition.

The film has a terrific look, with areas of New York standing in for the misty, stage-bound England so familiar from those Hammer films. However, it's more modern in it's very black comedy. There are occasional comic-book panel images, layered montages, and other digital effects. They all stand out, but mostly are there to enhance the thrills. What could be wrong with that? Director Glenn McQuaid is a visual effects and titles designer directing his first feature, an expansion on his short film "The Resurrection Apprentice," which sadly is not included on this disc. That design experience shows in this film, that looks darn rich and stylish for it's lower-budget roots. Funny and a visual pleasure, I have no idea why this hasn't had a bigger profile. I Sell the Dead is not to be missed.

I Sell the Dead
comes on DVD widescreen in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio and with English and Spanish subtitles. Special features include two separate commentary tracks (one with Monahan and Fessenden, one with McQuaid), an hour-long making of featurette that's quite exhaustive and a nice and in-depth 13 minute featurette on the special effects. The trailer for the film is included, along with those for Dead Snow, Pontypool, The Escapist, Five Minutes of Heaven, and In The Loop.
The DVD packaging also comes with a comic book adaptation of the film.

In the vein of Hammer's sixties-era gothic films, old EC horror comics, and the humor of Edward Gorey, I Sell the Dead is a small, humorous horror gem. With rich style and black humor, this horror-comedy makes for a good night's viewing. Not rated, and not for the little ones, but if you enjoy droll humor and a little monster make-up, you can't go wrong.