Friday, June 29, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #26: Kawa

Perfect for pride month is this coming out story I reviewed for DVDsnapshot. Also, the occasional glimpses of New Zealand remind me I'd love to travel there one day. It just looks beautiful.

Official Synopsis:

When successful businessman Kawa (Calvin Tuteao, Once Were Warriors) finds the courage to tell his wife and kids, his parents and his traditional Maori community that he's gay, the struggle he endures is not an easy one. A powerful coming out movie, Kawa is a gorgeously cinematic drama that tells the transcendent tale of bravery, love, family and pride.

Our Take:

Witi Ihimaera's semi-autobiographical 1995 novel “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” reflected his experiences coming out as gay in 1984. This is worth nothing in regards to Kawa, the filmed version, because the supporting characters' reactions to it seem outdated and melodramatic in 2010.

When the story starts, Kawa has already begun a process of embracing his gay identity. Devoted to family and obligated by birth to be a leader in the Maori community, he's rebelling against the life he feels he's “supposed” to lead. Having moved out, he's also started moving on from a very confused wife by exploring both bathhouse trysts and courtship with a local actor. Kawa is keeping a safe foot in his old life to avoid drama, but slowly self-sabotaging his way out.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #25: The Conquest (La Conquête) (2011)

THE CONQUEST is excellent and timely biopic - which is shaping up to be a theme for my movie watching lately. Originally reviewed for dvdsnapshot.

Official Synopsis:

The Conquest is that rare specimen produced while its political subject is still in power. Denis Podalydès delivers a witty yet commanding portrayal of Nicolas Sarkozy and his rise to the French presidency through the lens of his unraveling marriage to wife Cecilia (Florence Pernel). This vivid film depicts the future president of France as a bold and unashamed virtuoso of political combat. Brilliantly etching sharp characterizations of living politicians, The Conquest never veers too far from reality, even while deploying a larger-than-life sense of humor and a buoyant, Fellini-esque score that giddily evokes a circus-like atmosphere of modern politics.

Our Take:

Films about politics are always a strange breed, taking you behind the headlines while usually positing that their subjects are amoral monsters behind those shellacked, calculated smiles. Power and celebrity are sexy, but fame derived from elected authority always seems suspect. Perhaps because of the hunger required to throw your had into the ring? We always assume the best man for an office is the one too smart and decent to run. The best political stories also emphasize those pulling strings and smoothing feathers to keep the political machine on track. It's the wives and advisers (Eve Carringtons and Iagos?), usually far more Machiavellian than the candidate himself. This film isn't a political fiction, though dramatic license was taken.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #24: Carol Channing: Larger Than Life

A few weeks ago, I reviewed a documentary about an actress who seemed to hide as much as she gave. Now I got to take a look at one about an actress who, while she doesn't let us in on everything, kindly shares her story complete with big, over-the-top musical numbers. Originally reviewed for
Official Synopsis:

Carol Channing's life is as colorful as the lipstick on her big, bright smile. Carol Channing: Larger Than Life captures the magic and vivacity of the 90-year-old icon, onstage and off... past and present. It is both a rarefied journey inside Broadway's most glamorous era, and a whimsical look at an inspiring, incomparable and always entertaining American legend.

Our Take:

The Tony Awards recently aired on television, a quaint throwback of a big awards show paying tribute to an art form that's unique in still being mostly geographically-specific. Some see it as the hopelessly retro province of Midwestern tourists and “show queens,” but in a world of digital streaming, you still have to go to Broadway (or hope it comes to you) to attend over-the-top, show-stopping live performances by occasionally legendary talents.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Agonies and Ecstasies of a Neophyte Gardener

The repository of all my hopes, dreams, and salad fixings...
...or, "How I Blew Over $50 Tuesday at Home Depot Because of a Damn Raccoon."

For as long as I've lived here I've stared out at the raised garden plot out back and thought "I really should try putting in a garden." My neighbor speaks with rapt wonderment about the tomatoes the previous owner could coax out of the only sunny patch on the whole yard..

Well, what a difference psyching yourself up for eight years can make!

Instead of just sitting inside all summer on the internet (like you're probably doing), this year I'm taking a chunk of that time to be"The Farmer on His Dell."  Since I was determined to put up or shut up, and Chris is a "doer," we have started out what I'm calling "Garden 1.0." (That we're not on the road every other weekend for once helps, too.) Previously an annual tangle of weeds I'd apathetically chop down either once a Summer or when it got to be ten feet tall (whichever came first), it's now fulfilling it's destiny as an honest-to-goodness "food-growing-place-thingy."

We decided together what to plant. I dreamed big, picturing crops of such yield I'd have to kvetch about learning how to can things. Meanwhile the Sensible One figured out just how few plants we'd actually need. It turns out that if you garden in a manner that's even marginally correct they thrive to the point where a 6'x24' plot of land can quickly choke on its own bounty.

First came the job I would have given up on if done solo: we weeded. Once done, it depressed me to realize that the maintenance yanking was going to be an open-ended affair. (Right now there's some weird succulent volunteers threatening to take over like Triffids.) I started some seedlings as further commitment to the cause. Going a step beyond, I even sent off a soil sample for analysis. The plot of dirt was ruled fairly fertile, though mostly clay. Evidently low on potassium, it also completely lacks the archaeological treasures or victims of Mob hits I always daydreamed we'd dig up back there as soon as we started digging. Seriously, it was such a running fantasy that I admit to being let down to only find more dirt under all that dirt.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #23: Queen of Blood

The Year: 1990

In the far-flung future of stock footage and quilted coats, Mars proves to be a planet of matte paintings, miniatures, and deedleboppers. Queen of Blood is a great lousy movie, perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon. Frequently (and always unintentionally) funny, this is the finest in inventive low-budget film-making from the Roger Corman school. Curtis Using plenty of stock special effects footage from some Russian Sci-Fi films and (from the looks of it) almost no money except "paper moon money," this is a heaven of cardboard sets and lousy science.

Basil Rathbone sends Dennis Hopper and the helmet-haired Judi Meredith to investigate an SOS from outer space. Having a ride so bumpy they need "oxygenator tablets" to perk themselves up at arrival, they find a crashed alien ship with a dead alien. Our hero, John Saxon, leads a second mission to follow his girlfriend (Meredith), in an oddly convoluted scenario seemingly designed to make the most use out of all the borrowed effects footage, and pad for time. Saxon lands on Mars' moon, Phobos, and finds a second ship, this one with a very alive passenger. Saxon brings along this unconscious alien girl ti rendezvous with first ship, where she quickly becomes a bad influence over the menfolk.

Florence Marley's green-skinned "Queen" smiles like the Cheshire cat, regally and silently seducing Hopper then leaving him for dead. This immediately begs the question: "Why don't they toss her ass into space?"

Friday, June 1, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #22: Immortals

There's something cold and off-putting about Tarsem's CGI abuse in Immortals. Admittedly gorgeous, its clean aesthetic is one glob of frozen Vaseline away from being a mash-up of 300 and Mathew Barney's Cremaster series of art films... and that's just the impression left by the first three minutes. By the time Frida Pinto shows up and John Hurt starts narrating, you question why actors and storyline are being introduced to ruin the clean. cartoon-y tableau. Tarsem may be the most painterly director since Peter Greenaway, but his CGI compositions commit the crime of being, for all their showmanship, not quite good enough. You're always aware of what's been pasted in digitally, and it always looks a little unfinished.

That said, damn, this is one good-looking movie. Nearly two solid hours of sparse-yet-sumptuous eye-candy. Add one more "S" here, "sterile." For all the aggressive fight choreography and sanguine splashes of color, everything here has, again, a touch of aspirational CGI:  the unreality of composited sets and impractical effects. Even using people seems excessive, Immortals should have simply been programmed like an arty video game.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #21: Charlotte Rampling: The Look

Supurbly unflattering cover photo aside, this collection of conversations with a legendary film star was originally reviewed for  DVD Snapshot. Do you really get to know the woman, or is she the living embodiment of the Sphinx herself? I'm still not sure. 

All I know is I really wanna see Max Mon Amour now...

Official Synopsis:

Legendary actress Charlotte Rampling (Heading South, Melancholia) is "the perfect confluence of brains and beauty" (Time Out NY), and The Look is the entrancing documentary that brings you into intimate contact with both.

Director Angelina Maccarone has Rampling engage in candid conversations with many of her closest friends, including author Paul Auster and photographer Juergen Teller. Very much at ease with these old acquaintances, Rampling reveals her views on aging, beauty, desire and death with disarming frankness. Often these conversations veer into the questions raised by her films, like the taboo sexuality of The Night Porter and Max mon Amour, or the tough moral choices of Sidney Lumet's The Verdict.

This "haunting and captivating" (LA Times) portrait was an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival and features clips from many of Rampling's films (including Woody Allen's Stardust Memories, and Francois Ozon's Swimming Pool), showing the breadth and depth of her talent. The Look is a revelatory documentary that deeply explores the mind and work of one of the greatest artists of the past 40 years.

Our Take:

Box-copy hyperbole aside, Charlotte Rampling has always been a mesmerizing movie star, one better than many of the films she's in. For every classic like The Night Porter, Swimming Pool, or The Damned, there's also been an Orca, Zardoz, and Basic Instinct 2 (this last film would have benefited greatly by focusing on her instead of its lead). As a lioness in winter, however, her sixties are suiting her. That voice remains, richer than ever, and her insights are well-earned, but Charlotte Rampling: The Look is named for her legendary beauty and direct gaze. The remarkable face has aged untouched by doctors, the heavier eyelids addressed first thing.

Quietly stealing the movie from Sharon Stone
The conceit here of a "Self Portrait Through Others" should be a smart way to get a subject feeling comfortable enough to open up. The series of discussions held here by Rampling and friends feel like a celebrity interview show. Unfortunately, most of them are self-consciously staged. The woman in question turns out to be observant, intelligent, and realistic. She muses on a series of topics including life, aging, film acting, and beauty... but is also never less than pre-meditated. As The Look keeps you conscious of the camera, and reminds you how good she is in front of it, you have to ask "Is she performing for it as herself, or just performing?"

Friday, May 18, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #20: Films of Fury

 Reviewed for DVDSnapshot, and recommended to everyone, this "Kung Fu Movie Movie" is the most fun Friday Night Flick I've seen in quite a while.

Official Synopsis:

Films of Fur
y tells the story of the Kung Fu sub-culture from its ancient Peking Opera origins to its superhero-powered future. From Enter the Dragon to Kung Fu Panda and everything in between, Films of Fury features the genre's greatest on-screen warriors, and reveals the legend, the lore, and the loony of the Kung Fu film genre like it has never been seen before.

Our Take:

Films of Fury
has the subtitle "The Kung Fu Movie Movie," and that's just the sort of irreverent fun this documentary is going for. With plenty of film clips and animated segments tying it all together, this is a breezy but comprehensive look at the history of Chop-Socky flicks. Kung Fu on film is about the gracefully executed choreography as much as the whoopin'.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #18: The Museum of Wonders

This week we visit The Museum of Wonders on behalf of DVDSnapshot. The more time that passes, the more I'm convinced this is one for independent film fans. Perhaps perfect for a double-bill with The Last Circus?
Official Synopsis:

When the beautiful dancer Salome learns that the dwarf circus owner Marcel has just received an inheritance, she marries the lovesick, diminutive performer. All the while planning to steal his fortune and run off with her lover, strong man Sansone. When Marcel and fellow performers discover her evil plan, they band together to carry out a beautiful revenge.

In this theatre, The Museum of Wonders, frozen somewhere between reality and a dream, we find ourselves facing a mirror reflecting our souls, through the embodiment of our utmost fears. Perhaps we wouldn't stare in amazement if we thought for just one moment, that these masks... these characters, are simply us.

Our Take:

It's not by mistake that Domiziano Cristopharo opens The Museum of Wonders with a face in the moon clearly inspired by film pioneer Georges Méliès. It reminds the audience that with creativity and the sparest of cash, any filmmaker can stamp of personal vision upon a movie.

Essentially a retelling of Tod Browning's Freaks set among a side-show experimental theater company: Treacherous beauty wiles her way into the heart of a dwarf performer and, upon betraying him, faces the wrath of his true love and the extended family of oddities. There's still some lovingly photographed physical deformities (and the world's scrawniest strongman), but these sword-swallowers, bearded ladies, mimes and the rest make up a self-selected family of outsiders to which she doesn't really belong. Is it any wonder her transgressions must be punished?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #17: Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

I still think the best thing about listening to his music is that even though I don't understand the words, I know the intent is to make you feel kinda dirty... 

Grab a pack of Gauloises and curl up with this bio-pic treat. Originally reviewed for DVD Snapshot.

Official Synopsis:

Renowned comic book artist Joann Sfar's Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life is a completely original take on one of France's greatest mavericks, the illustrious and infamous singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg (Cesar winner Eric Elmosnino). Starting with his childhood in Nazi-occupied Paris, Sfar follows him all the way to pop superstardom as he romances many of the era's most beautiful women, including Juliette Greco, Brigitte Bardot, and Jane Birkin. Employing a witty, surrealistic style and a soundtrack of the musician's greatest hits, Gainsbourg: a Heroic Life is a quintessential time capsule to '60's Paris.

Our Take:

Gather 'round, children, and I'll tell you of a time when smoking was chic... and few smoked better than Serge Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life captures the musician and legendary lover with his ever-present cigarette and unusual worldview. Reformed smokers and drinkers should approach this with caution, but fans of music (and drector Joann Sfar's style) may jump right in.

Through a childhood during the Nazi occupation to stardom as a gravel-voiced pop poet, Gainsbourg is presented as a sophisticated Lothario even in youth. First a painter (Sfar's own illustrations are used here), he grows to be one of the world's most popular musicians, thanks to his jaunty, unusual, and frequently frankly sexual songs. (There's a sly reference to the double-entendre “Lollipop” song, while “Je t'aime... moi non plus” gets a wittily uncomfortable airing.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #16: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

A delight reviewed for DVD Snapshot -  not the world's most illuminating documentary by any means, but it's got Muppets - so what more do you need?

Official Synopsis:

Beloved by millions of children around the world, Elmo is an international icon. However, few people know the soft-spoken man behind the furry red monster: Kevin Clash.

Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey follows Clash's remarkable career, while also offering a behind-the-scenes look at Sesame Street and the Jim Henson Workshop. As a teenager growing up in Baltimore in the 1970's, Clash had very different aspirations from his classmates-he wanted to be a part of Henson's team, the creative force responsible for delivering the magic of Sesame Street on a daily basis. With a supportive family behind him, Kevin made his dreams come true.

Featuring interviews with Frank Oz, Rosie O'Donnell, Cheryl Henson, Joan Ganz Cooney and Clash himself, filmmaker Constance Marks's insightful and personal documentary tells the story of one of the world's most adored and recognizable characters and the visionary behind the icon.

Our Take:

As someone who does not have children, I may be at a disadvantage evaluating the impact Elmo has on them. I know my niece and nephew love him, while the parents who are my peers sometimes grit their teeth at his voice. However, if you grew up with The Muppets, and Sesame Street, as I did, there's something about Being Elmo that takes you right back to childhood. You'll note how children respond directly to Elmo, even with Clash visible... and you realize you'd do the same.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #15: Brainstorm (1983)

As an accomplished movie watcher, I can sometimes get surprised realizing that I haven't actually seen a movie I know a great deal about. Brainstorm is one of those. A bit of a flop, its fortunes were darkened by the death of Natalie Wood during the production. I also knew it was made in two aspect ratios, one being Super Panavision for the effects scenes. When I realized that was all I knew, I decided to get a copy and check it out.

I'm glad I did.

The story itself involves a team of scientists (Christopher Walken, Louise Fletcher, Natalie Wood among them) creating a device that perfectly captures sensory input and translates it for the subject. You can taste what the person on the other end is eating, feel what they touch, see what they see. When the device also proves to not only be dangerous, but also record emotions and memories, they're dismayed when the government steps in to exploit the device's potential as a weapon. The thrills come in when one when Dr. Brace discovers that the project was funded with brainwashing and torture in mind, and in his further quest to see the recording of one doctor's experience with death. Did the tape record the answers of what happens after?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #14: Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials

This week, it's not a movie, but rather a series of long-lost television specials that should by all rights be classic. Originally reviewed for DVDsnapshot, it's a real pleasure to share these with you.

Official Synopsis:

Before his untimely death at the age of 42, television pioneer Ernie Kovacs left us with a sublime body of comedy work whose influence can be seen on everything from Monty Python to SNL and David Letterman. He made eight TV specials for ABC in 1961, the final year of his life, and these show Kovacs at the peak of his creative experimentation with the medium, featuring many of his comic masterpieces and iconic set pieces. Five of these programs are presented here in complete uncut form, along with many of his celebrated – and delightfully offbeat – commercials for Dutch Masters cigars.

Our Take:

Many people currently only know of Ernie Kovacs by footnote and annotation, but this collection of 50 year old TV specials will change that perception for you, and you may never look at classic television the same way again.

A combination of (frequently silent) slapstick vignettes and visual poetry set to music, these shot-on-video specials surprise with witty, quick jokes that rely on physical humor and absurd setups There is also occasional imagery that may well have inspired David Lynch (a roasted chicken dancing in kinescope or the series of faces during “The Story of Water,” anyone?)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #13: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are as comforting a team as Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, or Steve and Edie. Hammer films, be they horror or a mystery-thriller like this, are as comforting as house slippers. Mannered, stage-bound, and always hinting at much darker thrills than they show, this studio produced gem after gem. All together, it's a match-up equal to chocolate and peanut butter.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is perhaps the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and this is one of many versions of the film. Cushing as Holmes and Andre Morell as Watson, however, have a take on the characters that seems somewhat... breezy. Cushing's Holmes is more a sharp and insightful showoff than someone truly driven by their genius intellect and preternatural powers of observation. Just the smartest man in a roomful of dim bulbs.

He's also a fairly emotional Holmes who makes some rash mistakes and assumptions, which is a dimension you don't see enough in this character. Invited to investigate the death of the lord of Baskerville Hall, where the prologue showed us a murder committed by the debauchery-minded Sir Hugo, who was then himself killed by "something."

Sherlock Holmes, never one to suffer fools gladly in any incarnation, agrees to investigate the death and descends upon Sir Henry (Christopher Lee). The son of the deceased Sir Charles, he's the new lord of Baskerville Hall, and a bit of a jerk. (Okay, he's a big jerk.) Sir Charles dropped dead, perhaps running from the mythical hell hound that curses the family. It's equally possible, though, an escaped murderer named Selden might have had a hand in the proceedings. So is the threat something supernatural, or just a prosaic murderer? Worse, will the family heart condition knock off Sir Henry before anything else gets a chance?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #12: Nightmare (Stage Fright, 1980)

Nightmare is definitely a product of its time as a circa-1980 slasher film. In such a film, a couple having graphic sex in an alley can't really complain if someone comes along and finds them. This includes the audience gaping at the indulgently gratuitous nudity (and those round vaccination scars anyone who doesn't have one has probably forgotten about by now). The couple is, however, allowed to be startled by a high-heel wearing slasher. To sum the plot up in one run-on sentence: a young girl is traumatized by inadvertently causing the death of her sexually active mother then grows up to be an actress in a theater production where all the understudies are getting promoted because someone is killing off the leads. Could these two things be connected? Well, not to spoil things up front, but there's no real mystery to the proceedings. Helen (Jenny Neumann), our protagonist, spends most of her screen time flashing back to either a death scene or yelling at herself behind closed doors. When a film doesn't bother to have you guessing whodunnit, the shots from the killer's point of view seem more appropriate to an experiment in first-person character study.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

That's A Lotta VHS Tapes

Part of getting the house in order (my quickly lapsed "2012 Project") in order to a) shack up and b) be less of a pack rat, means sorting things. Last night, I felt it was high time I addressed my VHS collection. Some of these movies I bought nearly 20 years ago, others are tapes with over 20 years of viewing under their belts than I picked up at one sale or another. Making the list was a full evening's reflection on both how my tastes have changed over the years and my compulsions. I couldn't tell you what possessed me to buy Miss Congeniality. In my defense, almost everyone my age owned Pretty Woman (well, every gal my age).

I doubt I'll ever watch any of them again. I haven't hooked up my VCR in over 2 years to even try and play a tape. More importantly, I'm learning that if I spend this much time intending to do something... I don't do it.

So, my friends, if there be VHS here you're interested in, make me an offer! It need not be a big offer -- or even a medium offer. This is about seeing beloved movies going to good homes with still-working VCRs... offers may also include spare change, cookies, in-trade items, and (non-intimate) hugs.

(That said, I think I might hang onto the Anchor Bay titles and the fairly rare copies of Gregg Arakai's Nowhere and Ken Russell's The Devils and have some viewing parties, unless you're really interested in them?). Also, I can lug 'em to HorrorHound if I'm going to see you there this weekend:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #11: Snow White: A Deadly Summer

David DeCoteau is doing something right... I just can't quite figure out what for all the wrong here. (Originally reviewed for

Official Synopsis:
In this edgy tale of horror, a troubled teenage girl finds herself in a web of lies and deceit when her stepmother attempts to murder her by sending her to a discipline camp.

Our Take:
The ever-prolific David DeCoteau has made classic Eighties B-movies, lots of Full Moon features, and created the “Horror Guys in Underwear” genre (The Brotherhood and 1313 series). This genre of bad, bland horror films, light on gore and heavy on tease, is mostly notable for being unable to decide if the target audience is straight women or gay men, then failing to reach either. DeCoteau has evidently decided to take a break from being the only director surrounded by more hot young guys than Chi Chi LaRue and audition for the ABC Family Channel. (I can only assume as in Snow White: A Deadly Summer there's gender equity and everyone keeps their shirts on...)

The plot of with this teen-centric “horror” feels like a TV movie, but TV generally requires higher production values. Here, between a borrowed mansion and a camp for teens that resembles a neighborhood public park, DeCoteau makes the best of limited resources with a quickie take on the Snow White story. (Beating the upcoming big-budget ones to the punch?)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #10: Suspicion (American Playhouse, 1988)

I stray from my usual horror and genre fair with something a little more high-toned, like a stifled remake of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Verdict: They were asking for trouble from the get go.

Marry in haste. Remake in leisure. Watch in boredom. (Originally reviewed for

Official Synopsis:
A powerfully tense remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, this British production of Suspicion boasts a dynamic cast, making it a worthy descendant of the original.

Anthony Andrews (The King's Speech) stars as notorious playboy Johnnie Aysgarth, a seemingly wealthy and carefree bachelor. Jane Curtin (Saturday Night Live, Coneheads) plays Lina, a lonely American who is instantly charmed by Johnnie's arrogant wit. After a whirlwind romance, the couple marries, after which unpleasant truths begin to emerge. Johnnie is broke and a compulsive gambler, a deadly combination. Desperate for money, he starts borrowing against her life insurance policy, and curiously develops an interest in murder mysteries. Lina soon fears for her safety, her paranoia exploding into hysteria after one of Johnnie's friends suffers an unfortunate accident.

A white-knuckle thriller directed with elegance and a morbid wit by Andrew Grieve (Agatha Christie's Poirot), Suspicion is a well-executed mystery that will raise goosebumps, and perhaps some suspicions about your own spouse.

Our Take:
The original Suspicion is one of the few Alfred Hitchcock films I haven't seen. A failure for a film reviewer, but it means I can't compare it's style, flair, or big stars against this American Playhouse television adaptation from 1988... which is good as this remake lacks both style and flair.

Johnnie is a dead-broke blue-blooded playboy who meets Lina, an American her own wealthy parents describe as “spinsterish.” Their short courtship, based on mutual-but-incompatible needs, leads them to marriage while they're really still strangers. Lina quickly learns it's not a good idea to get involved in a man you think might be trying to murder you. Is she paranoid, observant, or just working out how much she screwed up by marrying this cheap jerk?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week Reviews #9: Aenigma

I'm going to start calling my One-A-Week reviews my movie of the week. Why? Why not? No better way to start than this howler of a horror that actually gets better the more you think about it...
I haven't liked any Lucio Fulci movies made after The House By the Cemetery (with the possible exception of Cat in the Brain). They're awful; totally overrated by fans. I know this, and yet I keep watching. I guess it's just the completest in me. Aenigma came out in 1987, and didn't even make it to the states until 2001 on DVD. Is it any good? Well... a bit?

In the world of horror movies, everyone attends school well into their thirites. Seriously, some of these students look older than the headmistress. Eva Gordon arrives at St. Mary's school in, evidently, Boston-Herzigovina. (This is Yugoslavia standing in for Massachusetts.  All she wants to do is make out with "as many boys as possible." It's a shame she winds up quickly possessed by Kathy, a student hit by a car after being humiliated in a prank played by her classmates. Kathy is supposedly brain-dead, but evidently psychic. She make your reflection break through the mirror to kill you and also turns snails into carnivorous murderers. (Yes, snails, and it's hilarious.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

One A Week Reviews #8: Libestraum

I've seen Libestraum on offer for 20 years now and always meant to watch it. I had heard it was something of a meditative mystery featuring the last screen appearance of Kim Novak and had the excellent pedigree of being directed by Mike Figgis. Also, it starred Bill Pullman along with two lead actors, Kevin Anderson and Pamela Gidley, who never really "happened," even though they kept getting the opportunities.

Turns out, I wasn't missing much.

It's fitting that a film named after a piece of music should open with a shot of a piano. In flashback, a man and woman are having a tryst only to be interrupted and shot. Thirty years later, we join Nick (Anderson) as he travels to visit his birth mother (Novak), who lives in the Nursing Home of Dramatic Lighting. She is dying, but as she'd given him up for adoption, this is the first time he's met her. He also wants to study the rare cast-iron-frame building that shooting happened in, now about to be torn down by Bill Pullman's character, Paul Kessler. Paul and Nick are old pals, though their relationship is stiff, awkward, and nearly ended by a work-site accident. Was it fate, or somehow caused by the ominous arrival of a mysterious man in a limousine?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

One A Week Reviews #7: Final Destination 5

There was a period during my twenties, right after college, where I just couldn't stomach horror movies. There was something about finally getting out of school and entering a not-that-friendly real world, that had me finally grappling with an end to "adolescence."With that came a loss of that youthful viewpoint that nothing could hurt me, an innocence I luckily was able to maintain for a large period of my life.

The Final Destination series aims squarely at that adolescent sense, taunting and amusing it's target audience with stories of attractive teens unable to escape their fate. Unlike the slashers of the eighties, where sexual moralizing ruled the day, these films had a pretty bleak representation of death as something coming unstoppably for you. For all their contrivance, they're a little too realistic. Horror movies let people process fears, but sometimes you don't need to be reminded that no matter what you do, it's coming for you.

Now that I'm at an age where I spent less time inspired to consider my mortality and more calculating the increased insurance rates all the poor innocent venues are going to get stuck with after these poor, doomed soul expire there... these flicks are a lot easier to watch.

From the rather ugly credits, which check manners of death from the last four films, to the impressive CGI disaster, Final Destination 5 wallows in 3D effects porn. One more trip to the well, the film features yet another group of attractive young people, lead by one who predicts it, evading a disaster that goes on to still cost them their lives since death just won't be denied. This time, the members of a corporate retreat narrowly escape a bridge collapse. For the series, this may be the most impressive disaster yet.

(Youngins in peril, after the break...)

Friday, February 10, 2012

One A Week Reviews #6: Cat in the Brain (Nightmare Concert)

Cat in the Brain is a walk down memory lane by Lucio Fulci, mostly built from clips from his other (lesser) films. It's a cheap gorefest masquerading as meditation, some weird, director's walk-about. There's a loose story which is even more loosely draped with clips intended to represent the memories of the director in his Winter. Everywhere he goes, events cause him to flash back to the gore that is his business.

The movie opens with hand-puppet cats, who move like Mr. Rogers' furry friends, digging into a huge pile of "brains." Within five minutes we're also treated to a man cooking and eating a chunk of a corpse's thigh, then cutting the rest up in the world's neatest chain-sawing. Not a drop of blood lands on him. This, like half the footage from this movie, is edited in from an earlier Fulci production. The cats are in Fulci's imagination, while the chainsaw murder is inserted as a movie Fulci is making. The poor man can't get his movie gore to be convincing (while it dazzled, it never really was), and his private life is fearsome. Every mundane event in his day brings with it a gory insert shot, most of which they barely bother to match with the locations, lighting, and look of the story they're integrated them into. He just can't catch a break.

Friday, February 3, 2012

One A Week Reviews #5: The Legend Of Hell House

Of all the well-known horror films I've seen over the years, I somehow continually missed The Legend of Hell House. I haven't even read the Richard Matheson novel, "Hell House," that it's based on. I have however read "The Haunting of Hill House," and seen both versions of The Haunting. I wondered, based on the similarities in plot, where a small group of psychics spend some time in a legendarily haunted house, if they'd be similar. In the end I have to say "Pretty much, but with more sex, violence, and tacky fashion."

Lionel Barrett (Clive Revil) is hired to investigate the truth of life after death, and if the "Mount Everest of Haunted Houses" is a real thing. The Belasco Mansion has a sordid history, and has evidently killed off previous teams who hoped to solve it's mysteries. Barrett has four days, and has psychic Ben Fischer (Roddy McDowell), who survived the last go round with the house, mental medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin) and Barrett's wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt) are along for the ride. They're dropped off at the house, and you do expect their driver to say that no one comes there "in the night... in the dark..." as the maid in The Haunting says.

Immediately upon walking in, everything gets portentous and "act-y," with odd noises, thick darkness, and unflattering close-ups. (McDowell particularly suffers, always looking hang-dog and dejected.) They even find a record left by Emeric Belasco (an uncredited Michael Gough), the wonton devil who caused this whole mess, essentially welcoming them to the house. The movie successfully sets an ominous tone, though the general decaying-mansion quality has not aged well in this day and age of condo-set banality, à la Paranormal Activity. The cobwebs, dust, and draperies scream sound stage. Haunted house movies really are scarier when they could be happening in your little Ranch or Cape Cod.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

One A Week Reviews #4: Horrible Bosses

The crude comedy Horrible Bosses succeeds on two levels. On one, it's a showpiece for likeable film actors with comedy chops to shine. But on another level, it succeeds as a wish-fulfillment outlet for so many people who're laid off, fired, or feeling trapped in their jobs by this crappy market and horrible economy. As a kind of wish-fulfillment, this triumvirate take on "Strangers on a Train" satisfies. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudekis play office drones manipulated by bosses who have them by their proverbial short hairs. Feeling out of options, they eventually strike a plan to knock off each others' bosses in a round-robin of "have mercy" killing.

Bateman's Nick works for Spacey, a paranoid, selfish, power mad manager who delights in reminding everyone whose in charge. Kurt (Sudekis) loses his great boss to a heart attack, winding up under the thumb of Farrell as the useless, coke-head heir apparent. Dale (Day) is stuck suffering the (equal parts objectionable and far fetched) harassment at the hands of the sexually aggressive Dr. Julia (Aniston). They're all miserable, pretty much trapped, and decide that their situations are no longer tenable. Botched murder-planning and a running gag about being on the sex offender list are part of this bad-taste comedy's aspirations to be black comedy gold. It's more a silver, but a good time as complications ensue. Things wrap a bit pat.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Out of Touch With Oscar

While I love writing about movies, I generally restrict it to those I can screen at home. I also tend to prefer the lower profile ones. Every year, the Oscar Nominations come out and, even as they increase the number of titles nominated, I find I've been moved to see fewer and fewer titles. Generally the show is lousy, bloated, and self-congratulatory, though I'm the first to defend that this is part (nay, most) of it's fun. I prefer to skim Twitter that Sunday night for real-time, #Oscars-hashtag-baiting snark and look at the outfits and list of winners the next day. Excellent time management, and I don't stay up 'til after Midnight to see which people I will probably never, ever meet won what.

While I knew I was this out of touch, I was surprised to see that out of this year's list of nominees, I’d only seen ONE of the movies on it.

No sweeping art films about War, or childhood, or family dynamics. Nah, just the one with poop and pee jokes... and I loved it.

I guess it gets all my votes.

Friday, January 20, 2012

One A Week Reviews #3: Valkyrie

Sometimes, a boy who loves cheap little B-movies of ill-repute and varying quality must curl up with a big-budget stab at "Historical Epic." To class up the joint, ya know...

At least I picked one with Nazis in it.

Valkyrie is based on a real-life WWII conspiracy by a group of high-placed Nazis lead by one Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg to overthrow Adolph Hitler and take over the Third Reich. Bryan Singer followed up the brilliant X2 and the wildly uneven Superman Returns with this lavish, well-paced period piece that builds real tension out of events that we know going in didn't succeed. The co-conspirators attempted a handsomely-filmed coup to rescue Germany from Hitler's extremism with subtle special effects. (It only takes 70-plus years for film to play Nazis as individuals with conflicted consciences, and even then you're not that empathetic because, um... Nazis). A plan put in action at around the film's midpoint actually had me engaged to the point where I wondered if it would succeed. That's the sign of a well made thriller. The "Operation Valkyrie" section of the film is a fascinating race against the clock, while you wait for the other shoe to drop the entire time.

Tom Cruise plays the lead and, since no one is putting on garish German accents here, the other Nazis are pretty much all English actors. It is a movie truism that all bad guys have British accents, right? Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy counterpoint each other, the first now-doughy and the other resembling a sternly greased skull. Eddie Izzard and Tom Wilkinson, both barely recognizable when first seen, round out the conspiracy. Carice van Houten, so exciting in Paul Verhoeven's Black Book again enters the WWII film-fray as von Stauffenberg's wife. Sadly, she was only been given a series of meaningful looks to play in lieu of a actual, developed character and fades out early on. (Seriously, check out Black Book. It's awesome.)

(Now we talk about the big Movie Star, after the break...)

Monday, January 16, 2012

The 2012 Project: Making Some Progress By Making A "T"

The space, as it started to look tonight.
On Friday night, I had to sit down and admit I wasn't where I wanted to be in my little "2012 Project." I'd whipped up chaos in my home office while trying to finally wrangle the kind of organization I maintain in an office... office. I also thought that rearranging this office would invite more productive, paying "work" in from the Universe. (This is as close as I get to Feng Shui.)

That disturbed whirlwind of clutter settled to ground as I turned my attention to the many other projects I'm juggling at the moment. Ten days between that post and the first, and all I'd done is make a mess. Work trumped my workplace, but I still want this to become a productive space for creating and freelance work. Also, as I let pictures of this mess I made out there into the world in some probably misguided belief that public accountability will motivate me, I knew I had to re-prioritize this task.

(So, what did I do? After the break...)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

One A Week Reviews #2: An Englishman in New York

After 34 years, John Hurt returns to playing Quentin Crisp in An Englishman in New York. It's a sequel, the follow-up to The Naked Civil Servant, where Crisp shared his story of becoming "one of the stately queens of England" through strife and the Twentieth Century. Here, we rejoin Crisp as he emigrates to America and we rejoin Hurt as he revisits one of the most marvelous characterizations of his career.

This film opens with a TV interview from the night in 1975 after The Naked Civil Servant aired, making Crisp a national sensation. He rises to the occasion and, when invited to the US on a publicity tour, he falls in love with New York and decides to stay.

Quentin Crisp excelled at the brilliance of honestly being one's true self. He gets an agent, played by Swoozie Kurtz in a why-is-she-here performance, who helps him become the toast of the town. At this point he's in his Seventies, but Hurt makes him seem like he's at the prime of his life. He gets a one-man show and a film review column, but his topic is his view of the world. His life of holding court at every invitation and singing for his supper must've gotten tiring after a while, but he pretty much lived on cocktails and crudites. He drifts into  becoming the toast of the art scene.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The 2012 Project: Where Does One Find The Time? (And If You Know, Call Me!)

There's a "Forest for the trees" message here somewhere...
To sum it up: "This week, I'm a movie reviewer who doesn't have time to watch a movie." I know this because my "One A Week Review" this week is going to be a day late and "One From The Vaults" (a backlog I was hoping to not have to tap into for a couple months yet...)

My 2012 Project got put on hold this week. I'm not proud of that. This attempt at taking the long view of my "New Years Resolutions" was supposed to ensure that "Slow and Steady" would "win the race." It isn't supposed to result in "um, this is just going to have to be done on Tuesday." It's now 10 PM on a Friday night and I'd love to unwind a bit. But I can't... instead, I'm straightening my head out with writing to explain how I made bold requests to be held publicly accountable for organizing and eating better lead to a week of silence.

Long story short, it got stuck this week and I'll be returning to documenting that first office project on Monday.

Long story long, I had some ups and downs this week: a couple great meetings - all with people whose company I genuinely enjoyed, some big disappointments, buggy software, and a jam-packed go-go-go set of errands and tasks to conquer. So busy in fact that I thought I was having a hallucination when I encountered this cross-walk light in Mt. Lookout that had been blocked by a pole, rendering it utterly useless. There's a "forest for the trees" message here somewhere, or at least a thuddingly good metaphor for the things that block our path in life. Excepting one evening in with my sweetie, I really have had no other downtime. Every other night this week has meant turning in late after working on this thing or that until 1AM or later.

I have work I want to do and work I need to do.While I'm not sharing details yet, I have several projects "simmering on the stove," and they're starting to come together. I have a real passion for the goals I have now. I've made promises to try and help friends accomplish goals as well, and I also want that to mean something. Each of these various goals, however, are making me work for it. (This is where, on Twitter, I'd plug in an emoticon. It's sad to realize that those will soon be acceptable in text to a large segment of the populace. Not my segment, but a segment.)  It's a lot of work,  but very positive. I'm also looking at a couple upcoming delivery deadlines.

Tomorrow night, after work, I'm going out with my sweetie to the Symphony. We got some free tickets as a Klout promotion, making for a classy (and affordable) evening of culture. The timing's also perfection as Sunday we mark an 18 month anniversary. (I've been busy enough that such a milestone nearly went by without my noticing. Catching it, I know I can still see the big picture.)

This is why, tonight, a half hour after I started writing this, I'm about to turn back to barreling through work. I'm mentally recharged now, and I thank you for taking the break with me. I'll keep going until midnight, or later, to serve my projects and goals. It's important I find the time and energy to accomplish that, because tomorrow night I want to be fully present. Isn't enjoying our time spent with loved ones what makes all this work worthwhile?

Friday, January 6, 2012

One A Week Movies #1: Curse of the Crimson Altar (the Crimson Cult)

Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, and Michael Gough? Yes, please!

The Curse of the Crimson Altar, known as The Crimson Cult in the US, is an old-school Sixties horror flick that must've felt racy at the time (Nudity! Psychedelia!) and remains charming today.

"...and drugs of this group can produce the most complex hallucinations, and under their influence it is possible by hypnosis to induce the subject to perform actions he would not normally commit. (Extract from a Medical Journal)"

Any movie that opens with that quote then fades to a green-painted Barbara Steele in a golden ram's headdress presiding over a topless woman in black leather pasties whipping another woman as part of a ritual to get a man to sign his soul away... you know is a treat.

When Robert Manning (Mark Eden) realizes his brother Peter, the man in the ceremony, has been missing for ten days, he heads off to find him. Craxton Lodge in Graymarsh, however, is the center of a Witches night celebration, which involves men in sportscars trying to run down women in body stockings. It also requires young adults holding the kind of seemingly-racy-but-actually-rather-innocent orgiastic party people only have in movies... unless I'm running with entirely the wrong crowd. The party's host, Mr. Morley, is a delightfully dry and withdrawn Christopher Lee. He, along with vixen niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell) and creepy butler Michael Gough, quickly seduce Robert into staying at their large manor home.

(Delicious camp and a green chick ripe for Captain Kirk's plucking... after the break!)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The 2012 Project: New Years Resolutions (or: You've Gotta Make Clutter to Eliminate Clutter)

Two bookshelves, or " one more thing that needs organizing"
New Year's Resolutions. The umpteenth post you've seen on them in the last two weeks. I humbly beg your indulgence on what is to follow...

Every year I start right out of the gate ready to change. The plan is to improve every part of my life I have an issue with, turning it into some idealized, imaginary version. You can guess how well that works. Much like me, I'm sure you generally forget you resolved to attempt any changes by, oh, January 15th? (At least, I think that's the day all the new members stop going to the gym...)

This year, however, I'm going about it in a slightly different way. It's a quest that's as much about self-improvement as it is being responsible about completing the tasks I set out to do. I'm calling it "The 2012 Project," and I'm really the big project.

I used to make a big, long list of things I aspired to do in the new year. It was "clean the office, clean the basement, paint the basement, clean the medicine cabinet, reorganize the blah-blah-blah," all without rhyme or reason... and that doesn't work. I wind up overwhelmed by this laundry-list of minutia that doesn't really take into account how work gets done. If I wasn't doing it in December, why did I think I would do it in January?

So this year I'm going to share some of this with you, so we use the power of public scorn... I mean, "accountability," if I get off track. Yes, I bet a lot of people do do this, and no, I don't know how many of them succeed, but let's give it a spin.

First, instead of just a big list that you can't crack because it has no real organization, the hierarchy is in place with three umbrella ideas:
  • Business
  • Organize
  • Health
These then each drill down into some smaller goals. "Business" covers a few biggies, though, as far as "smaller goals" go: full-time work, ramping up my freelancing, and working on my writing.

Simple projects around the house and bettering my head fall under "Organize." This is everything from working on the office and filing to getting back into the habit of reading. It's a pleasure I cherish, and I've somehow lost the thread when it comes to doing it. Books are a pleasure, not just a stack of clutter in need of sorting.

(Embarrassing details about my life and home... after the break!)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Teasing The 2012 Project

Just a teaser in regards to my first upcoming post in "The 2012 Project." It's a photo of my tidy, tasteful, comfortable and functional office from back in April of 2008. Sadly, you can't see the desk, but soon, you'll see some sadder pictures of what happened here... and hear what I intend to do about it...