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Friday, October 25, 2019

Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan: The Threequel, Pt. 2

by Zachary T. Owen

Missed part one? Check it out here!

No Telling (1991)

Here's one from film maverick Larry Fessenden, the head of Glass Eye Pix, a horror distribution company who's given us I Sell The Dead, The Roost, and Late Phases, among others. Fessenden's feature debut is a film so individual in approach it truly treads its own path. The plot, as taken from IMDB: “In the name of medical research, a man experiments on animals. His relationship with his wife becomes stressed when she becomes inquisitive about his work.” The horror in No Telling is really about the harm that comes to animals because of the relationship humans have with them. The very first scene Fessenden shot involved an uncooperative calf being lead by a rope. Realizing the cruel hypocrisy of this, he vowed to do better and henceforth used only props to depict any form of animal suffering. The climax of No Telling is perplexing and almost too outlandish for a film otherwise grounded in realism, yet somehow completely in line with the soul of the story (especially when you discover the alternative title the movie had). Fessenden went on to direct more traditional horror fare after this, but No Telling remains his most polarizing film—it's a movie I suspect many viewers won't care for, but one that offers a very specific perspective, which, at its heart, is capable of sparking some very interesting discussions about horror and the world we live in.

Highway to Hell (1991)

A rip-roaring, pedal-to-the-metal odyssey through that ever popular netherworld, Highway to Hell is as much an action and fantasy film as it is a horror film. Here is a movie that would fit right alongside stuff like Army of Darkness. The plot revolves around a man who must rescue his girlfriend from a hell cop (yes, that's right, a hell cop) and face off against the likes of Satan and his demon hordes. Some pretty decent practical effects and a sense of real fun help Highway to Hell overcome some of its shortcomings. The cameos of most of the Stiller family–Ben Stiller, Jerry Stiller, and Amy Stiller – don't hurt, either.

Class of 1999 (1990)

In the future, juvenile kids must be disciplined by terminator-like android teachers in a high school wasteland. Of course, the machines have a military background and go off-the-rails and start slaughtering students instead of merely doling out punishment. The teachers are played with glee by Pam Grier, John P. Ryan, and Patrick Kilpatrick, plus we also get Malcolm McDowell in a supporting role. This is one of those ridiculous action flicks that feels like it came from another universe. It's a spiritual successor to another film, Class of 1984, which also isn't too shabby. Class of 1999 gets some horror bonus points for uncredited screenplay work by splatterpunk novelists John Skipp and Craig Spector.

The Borrower (1989)

This '89 flick (or 1991, depending on where you're looking) is a big departure from John McNaughton's first flick, the famously bleak Henry: Potrait of a Serial Killer. That's probably why nobody talks about it. But you know what? It's a lively horror film that I found incredibly entertaining. The Borrower follows Rae Dawn Chong as a tough cop on the tail of an intergalactic serial killer who can body hop. It's a familiar plot, but it works here. Memorable moments include a cameo by Madchen Amick (Twin Peaks), Tom Towles (Henry) as the alien's initial host body, a scene in which The Borrower morphs into a dog-headed man, a punk band singing the inane lyrics “Oedipus my wrecks! Oedipus my wrecks!” and, most inexplicably, recurring scenes of two parents watching The Garbage Pail Kids movie in their bedroom...with headphones on!

Grandmother's House (1988)

Grandmother's House is the sort of movie that gives me nostalgia even though I only saw it recently– it's exactly the sort of film I could have seen myself liking if I'd rented it from a video store in my youth, the kind of unsung gem you tell your horror buddies about. It's a nicely done exploitation thriller with some beautiful shots, including a pool scene in which the camera is submerged beneath the swimmers and a car chase through a vibrant orange grove. Brinke Stevens shows up in what might be one of her better roles and the whole thing has that sort of off feel that certain low budget 80s movies have. Like anything from the era, some of it is dated, but it's a diverting and accessible effort.

Blood Diner (1987)

Now here's a flick packed to the gills with gags and gross-outs. Jackie Kong's Blood Diner is a late 80s oddity, originally intended to as a sequel to Blood Feast, which itself had a true sequel in the early 2000s. Even if you haven't seen Herschell Gordon Lewis' schlock masterpiece, Blood Diner is worth your time, especially if you're a fan of trashy, completely gonzo cinema. The plot centers on two brothers doing the bidding of their dead uncle's talking brain—a very condescending brain who wants to resurrect the goddess Sheetar via cannibal feast. Along the way are several ridiculous detours, including a subplot about one of the brothers entering the wrestling ring to take on a menacing figure called Jimmy Hitler. Outrageous gore gags, projectile vomit, a talking dummy, and sheer lunacy abound. Oh, and the trailer is a ton of fun too, more of a short film than a standard advertisement. Ms. Kong definitely knocked it out of the park.

The Neon Maniacs (1986)

Good to see a little more love for The Neon Maniacs, as of late. This creature feature is about strange, mutant-like creatures who live beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and only come out at night to stalk their prey. We're first introduced to them in a scene in which a character finds trading cards of them near the bridge (really weird, right?). The creature designs are great, and as others before me have noted, the monsters kind of seem like evil Village People (you've got a cop maniac, a biker maniac, a military maniac, etc.) My favorite monster is a cute little biped cyclops monster. The heroes in Neon Maniacs are actually likable characters, particularly a horror geek teen girl. Neon Maniacs can never quite pin down a tone; early on we see a woman get decapitated while giving a blowjob, but other moments feel innocent enough to come straight from a kids movie. We never learn where the monsters really come from and who they really are, but I enjoy the mystery. It ends rather abruptly due to budgetary problems, though just as easily the whole thing could have ended after a high school siege during a battle of the bands. Check this one out, it's a blast!

The Pit (1981)

Here's an odd one, folks. It concerns a little boy who discovers a pit full of ghoulish little trolls with creepy glowing eyes. Before long, he begins feeding them his bullies, along with anybody else he can find. Oh...and he owns a teddy bear which talks to him and is a regular peeping tom. It's unclear whether the plush perv is truly alive or simply some embodiment of a part of himself, but it certainly makes things more interesting. The Pit is one of those movies that could only exist in the 80s.

Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980)

Encounters of the Spooky Kind is totally nuts in the best way. It's a hybrid martial arts and horror film and has some of the craziest set-pieces I've seen in a movie in ages. The stunts are incredible and some of the demonic forces are quite unnerving. Much of the film is highly comedic, including an ending that is uproariously funny in a somewhat inappropriate way. I'm not sure how to sell this one, so I'll let Axelle Carolyn do it for me in the video above. As a side note, Trailers From Hell is worth checking out. Lots of genre people giving commentary for their favorite movies during the trailers. *I must caution viewers about this one, as there is a chicken decapitation in Encounters of the Spooky Kind which is graphic. I think the context of time period and culture are important to keep in mind here, but wouldn't begrudge anybody for wanting to pass on the movie for this reason, though if you can cover your eyes and wait it out, the rest of the movie is so good I think it is nearly perfect.

The Blood of Jesus (1941)

Many consider The Blood of Jesus to be the first Black horror film, making it a historically important entry in the horror canon. Spencer William's film is mild yet haunting in its own right. It has an enchanting and ethereal quality that doesn't feel like the other genre movies from the same period. The plot concerns one woman's journey through purgatory, at the crossroads of heaven and hell, where the devil himself tries to tempt her with vanity and lure her away from paradise. The Blood Of Jesus has a mostly amateur cast which helps it feel even more surreal, along with curiously beautiful and fleeting scenes of both heaven's gates and a man climbing a ladder to heaven. The Blood of Jesus is something that transcends easy categorization. It's part drama, fantasy, Christian folk tale, and horror. More than anything, though, it's art. Watch the whole movie above.

The Man With Nine Lives (1940)

And here we have the incomparable Boris Karloff doing what he does best, acting his ass off. In this case his performance helps sell a movie that might have otherwise floundered. The Man With Nine Lives is part of the whole poverty row thing, which for the uninitiated basically means a movie made on a shoestring budget in an assembly line fashion. Usually they're very straight forward flicks with no frills and a short running time. This one does a lot with a little. It's essentially a tale of early cryogenics, in which Karloff plays a mad scientist attempting to cure cancer by freezing his patients. Of course, the viewer suspects he is going to get a little too wild about his experiments and start throwing morality to the wind. Indeed, that's what happens and Karloff gives us some gripping drama. This is a modest yet thrilling little piece of cinema, and short enough that you may be tempted to cram it into the line-up of one of those all day horror marathons.

Zachary T. Owen is an arsonist and an author. His books can be found here

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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan: The Threequel Pt. 1

by Zachary T. Owen 

Well, here we are in Halloween season again—a revered  time for all us horror nuts. After opting out last year, I've returned with another round of frightful flicks. This is my largest and most ambitious list  to date. As I've said before: each person has their own personal taste, so your mileage may vary. Horror can be an upsetting genre, so sensitive viewers may want to use discretion with a few of these entries, but I've included enough variety that I truly believe there is something for every type of horror/cult fan. If you aren't sure about part one, stick around for part two! As always, my original introduction is worth repeating:

Most horror and cult fans have seen just about everything—we tend to exhaust our favorite genre. But there is always something out there we might have missed. The following is a list of movies I believe to be underseen, forgotten, or if nothing else, underrated. If you’ve seen them all, congratulations, you are a raving lunatic who deserves a gold medal. Not all of these are what you’d call masterpieces, but each is unique in its own way. Some of them will appeal to the open-minded movie watcher, while others can only be enjoyed by devoted lovers of schlock and cult cinema. So, this October, when you’re aching for something different, something neglected, or just want a few yuks, consider this list. Without further ado—Horror and Cult Movies for the Seasoned Fan.

Shirkers (2018)

Sandi Tan's captivating Netflix documentary is truly something to behold. Shirkers chronicles the making of Tan and company's pet project of the same name, under the guidance of alleged film guru George Cardona. During their teenage years, Singapore wasn't exactly a haven for pop culture, but hints of punk rock and horror flicks still seeped into the environment by way of underground fanzines, which offered Tan and her friends a glimpse into a world they wanted to be a part of—the film world. George seemed to be their only doorway into that universe, but of course things go awry when he attempts to sabotage the film and eventually goes AWOL. Shirkers is a haunting meditation on trying to achieve closure and reconcile the beautiful image we have of people we care about with their often ugly inner selves.

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (2017)

This Spanish animated feature pumps some life back into the post-apocalyptic genre in a big way. Don't let the plethora of cute animal characters fool you, Birdboy is a bleak examination of grief and fear. It tells its story in a fractured sort of way, vignettes of characters piecing together a larger narrative arc. The titular character, Birdboy, is a target of the authorities, who view him as menace. Sick with disease,  he struggles to control his shadow self while attempting to heal his homeland. But like most of the characters in the film, there isn't a lot of hope for him. Still, the film ends with a glimmer of possibility in the face of unrelenting despair.

Cat Sick Blues (2016)

Loner Ted is distraught that his cat, Patrick, is dead and keeps him in a freezer. At night he puts on a cat mask, cat claws, and a cat penis, and slinks around murdering women with the belief that the blood of nine victims will bring Patrick back. Along the way he meets a youtuber whose famous cat has just been killed, and befriends her. Based on that description you might think Cat Sick Blues sounds like a fun, quirky horror flick. You'd be wrong. What we have here is a gross and uncomfortable exploitation film that I would caution more sensitive viewers to stay away from. Cat Sick Blues is really something else, one of those movies that the word “unique” was hand tailored for. It's upsetting but well made. It's grim, yet it's funny. It's delivered with deadpan earnestness and has a rockin' soundtrack. And when it was over, I felt my emotions had been toyed with. Perhaps by a phantom cat.

Motivational Growth (2013)

I went back and forth on whether to include Motivational Growth. The problem? I love the premise of this film and the aesthetic but the tone is all over the place. Growth can't commit to one vision. It could have been a great schlock film about evil talking mold that rules the life of a depressed man looking for purpose. What we got instead is a film that wants to do those things but also waxes philosophical in a desperate attempt to legitimize itself. For a movie with a central character that is mold, it's incredibly pretentious. There are some great scenes that are immediately followed up with scenes saying, “Did that really happen? Is any of this real? Is it a fever dream? Is the main character actually dead?” Whenever that happened, I found it all very tired and trite. But there is a saving grace to the film: Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, The Frighteners). Combs goes all-in with his performance as the malevolent mold. He delivers every line with incredible vigor. He is venomous, charming, and occasionally frightening. This is one of the best performances of his career. So, with that combined with a pretty good premise, I was able, against my better judgment, to enjoy Motivational Growth in fits and starts.

Blackwoods (2001)

Yes, that Blackwoods. The one directed by Uwe Boll. I can hear the groans already. I know a few of you are wincing as you read this. But hear me out. This movie is really funny. It has some very poorly edited sequences and a ridiculous plot twist that reminds you of every twist ending you've ever seen that didn't work, except, it kind of does work? Okay, maybe not that well, but upon inspecting Blackwoods closely you'll notice that Boll does cover his tracks. The twist is still really, really stupid, but on a technical level, it functions. That is more than I can say for so many other twisty genre films. And you know what? Any movie with a supporting role from Clint Howard can't be that bad. And trust me, this is one of his better bit parts.

The Convent (2001)

Mike Mendez has made a slew of entertaining B horror movies, including Don't Kill It (with Dolph Lundgren), Gravedancers, and Big Ass Spider. The Convent fits in nicely with those entries and offers up an entertaining slice of fast-moving pulp. The plot is simple and makes no bones about complexity: college students break into a cursed convent and become possessed by evil spirits. The demons have a neat neon/blacklight look and The Convent never takes itself too seriously, offering laughs and visual gags. The real highlight, however, is a turn by Adrienne Barbeau as a badass biker ready to blow away the evil with guns blazing.

Little Otik (2000)

I was first introduced to the work of Jan Svankmajer as a teenager. I had a growing interest in Alice in Wonderland (I was a weird teenager, I know) and found a copy of of Jan's adaptation, Alice, at a local video store. Needless to say, I took it home and watched and was blown away by how unusual it was. Jan was one of the foremost stop motion animators in the world, hailing from the Czech Republic. Little Otik is one of the most bizarre films in his oeuvre. It's essentially the tale of a couple who cannot have children. The husband brings home a stump that resembles a baby and after a pretend pregnancy, the wife gives birth to the stump and imagines he is alive. The husband is disturbed to come home one day to find the stump actually suckling his wife's breast. From there it just gets weirder. The stump must consume flesh to continue growing and so the two must find victims to feed it. But it keeps getting bigger and bigger. Little Otik is one of those startlingly original films that you just need to see. Most deliciously creepy is the fact that the only stop motion in the film is  Little Otik himself, making the character all the more odd and malignant set against a world of live action and normalcy.

Office Killer (1997)

Cindy Sherman's pitch black horror opus is one of those films that seems like  it was virtually ignored in its day. I've seen it floating around on a few other lists out there and I'm throwing my vote in, too. Office Killer is like Office Space re-imagined as a horror movie. I'm absolutely certain I'm not the first to say that, but if it helps sell the film, it bears repeating. Carol Kane (The Princess Bride, The Addams Family Values) plays a disgruntled office worker (they're always disgruntled, aren't they?) who accidentally kills a co-worker in her hellish, corporate shit hole office and then takes it upon herself to keep on killing. Imagine Milton if he was a woman and bloodthirsty. Molly Ringwald really shines in a role against type for her. I found myself enjoying the general tone and editing of the film, including a very stylish opening credits sequence. There are some naysayers out there, but I recommend going into this one without expectations. If you're anything like me, you'll have a good time with it.

Face of Evil (1996)

Most people know Mary Lambert for Pet Semetary, but she has been quietly continuing directorial work through the years. Face of Evil is a made-for-TV thriller starring Tracey Gold, Perry King, and pre-Saw Shawnee Smith. Gold plays a con artist who rips off her husband-to-be, flies out of town, and then kills a woman and assumes her identity. Her new roommate, played by Smith, eventually becomes suspicious. But not before Gold tries to seduce her father. This is all pretty typical stuff, but Face of Evil is very competently made and full of solid acting for a movie of its budget. Things stay fairly exciting and aside from a somewhat anticlimactic final act, it's an engaging film.  Face of Evil is the sort of movie you would have put on in the background during the cable days, but before long find yourself sitting in the recliner having put your chores on hold so you can finish watching it.

The Boneyard (1991)

The Boneyard is a wild witch's brew of intense flavors. At times it's actually sort of creepy, but then something outrageously absurd will pop up, such as a gigantic zombie poodle. This one's got Phyllis Diller (!) playing the hilariously named Miss Poopinplatz–that alone is worth the price of admission, but there is just so much to love about The Boneyard. Shades of Return of the Living Dead don't hurt it a bit and, maybe most memorably, the leading lady isn't a typically traditionally beautiful Hollywood heroine, but a larger woman. I racked my brain to come up with any other horror movie which does the same and came up with zilch. I'm sure that will change in the future, but remember, The Boneyard did it first. A trailblazer? Maybe.

The Haunted (1991)

Another TV outing, The Haunted is one of those infamously not-on-DVD titles that really deserves some kind of special edition treatment. Sure, it kind of apes movies like The Amityville Horror, even claiming to be based on a true story, but it's no cheap knock-off. This is a seriously well made effort which has some really nice atmosphere and a few quality scares. I wasn't sure how exactly to bring this up, but it's also one of the few horror movies I've ever seen where a man is assaulted by a woman (to those who may be sensitive regarding such a scene, don't fret, the TV nature of The Haunted means it's not a very graphic). I couldn't find a trailer, but you can watch the whole damn thing above.

Zachary T. Owen is an arsonist and an author. His books can be found here
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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Review: DOLEMITE IS MY NAME finds Eddie Murphy back on top

Hearing that Eddie Murphy and Netflix are teaming up might give you pause. Given the last 20 years of Murphy's career arc, you wouldn't be blamed if images of Pluto Nash are what first come to mind. It's been a brutal couple of decades for a man that was once one of the hottest stars in Hollywood; a cavalcade of fat suits, prosthetics, and bottom of the barrel scripts had basically turned his career into something resembling Adam Sandler's, minus the occasional foray into more thoughtful material. Even his huge Oscar play in 2006 for Dreamgirls was derailed when he appeared in Norbit that same year. But a funny thing about expectations: they can sometimes delightfully be upended.

Enter Dolemite.

It's no surprise that Rudy Ray Moore aka Dolemite might be a bit of an icon for Murphy. It's hard to imagine he didn't have a copy of "Eat Out More Often" on his shelf right next to his Red Foxx and Richard Pryor albums. The idea that he would eventually play him on screen is, at it turns out, a natural fit. For director Craig Brewer (who himself has struggled for a hit post-Hustle and Flow), Murphy ends up finding perhaps the role of a lifetime. He doesn't sound like Moore, he doesn't really look like Moore, but on gravitas and charm alone he somehow becomes him in a sharply sweet film that plays a whole lot like a Blaxploitation version of The Disaster Artist.

Just to catch (probably white) people up, Moore is basically considered the Godfather of Hip Hop. The singer and dancer was a struggling record store employee, just looking to finally find his big break in Los Angeles through music or stand-up comedy. At one point he starts to hear stories from local vagrants of a man called Dolemite and his unbelievable sexual conquests. Inspired, Moore created a new on-stage persona based on these stories, adorning himself in full pimp regalia and a rat-a-tat-tat style rhyming delivery that left audiences enraptured and made him a word of mouth success, with youth just having to own his crude act in brown bags. It was all marketing, but it was a stroke of brilliance, and it unintentionally influenced a generation of comedians and rappers. It even eventually culminated in a movie, which is where surely most viewers will immediately recognize the name, even if they've never seen the film in question.

Dolemite Is My Name smartly bifurcates this story over its two hour running time, spending the first hour with Moore's initial struggles, the creation of his act, and his rise as a cult performer. When it enters its second half, Brewer (and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski) deftly spends the remaining running time on the eponymous film that made Moore a household name. While the build-up to get there is a lovely story of self-made determination, its in this second half where Dolemite Is My Name really starts to get into the swing of things.

Murphy's warm and ingratiating performance as the seemingly hapless, yet extremely shrewd Moore is some of the best work of his career, and certainly the best of this latter period. Though he gets terrific support from Da'Vine Joy Randolph as his close confidant and creative collaborator Lady Reed, and (another comeback surprise) Wesley Snipes as D'Urville Martin, the Hollywood bit-player turned blaxspoitation star of whom Moore is so enamored, he offer him directorial reigns of the film. Where Murphy's Moore is an affable figure, Snipes' Martin is haughty and off-putting, and he drives a unique kind of energy into the film, creating a fun two-some in that excellent sequence of events.

There's nothing new here, structurally. Dolemite Is My Name doesn't reinvent the biopic wheel. But that it tells this triumphant story in such a lush and vibrant way, and that it acts as a vehicle for Murphy's continually bottomless charisma, makes it easy to recommend. It also acts as a pitch-perfect love letter to the Blaxploitation genre and underscores the passion that went to the making of those films.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Review: JOKER is deeply stupid and creatively bankrupt

The idea of marrying Batman to the work of Martin Scorsese is not a new one, with writers like Gerry Conway and Doug Moench parlaying some of that gritty influence into their work with the character and his bevy of rogues. But this union comes especially screaming out at the reader with Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One, with the visuals and tone of Taxi Driver permeating page turn after turn. On its face, Todd Phillips' Joker utilizing that same palette and approach for an examination of the property's most iconic villain makes a good deal of sense.

Transporting viewers into a 1980's version of Gotham that appropriately looks like post-70's New York, with "super rats" infesting the sewers and late night talk show hosts as a communal bonding exercise, Joker is the first film to successfully evoke the aesthetic value of that classic short run of comics. With a slight yellowing of the picture, to top-notch art direction, Joker is a beautiful example of craft and one can tell that no expense was spared in not only evoking a particular period, but also securing on-location shooting through New York City itself (being able to work with the MTA to secure a shooting permit might be worthy of an Oscar alone).

But craft does not maketh a film, and while Joker has style to spare, substance is another matter entirely. 

Joker answers the question that really no one was asking, "what is this character's origin?" Truthfully, the best approach surely remains Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's take which proposed a multiple choice option, perfectly echoed by Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight ("do you know how I got these scars?"). The fact is, once the unknowable monster is known and we begin to really understand why he does what he does, so much of his power is taken away. It's a faulty premise from its outset, but even taken as its own standalone project, which it presumably is, Joker struggles to justify its own existence through troubling and confused storytelling.

Joaquin Phoenix steps into the role this time out, where the titular Joker starts off as a troubled schlub named Arthur Fleck. A hapless sort of fellow, Arthur has a troubled past and is scraping by, living with his mother, making ends meet as a hired clown. He's the kind of guy who is consistently kicked when he's down, either by street toughs, or local subway yuppies. His boss treats him like garbage, never taking his side on any matter, and he carries a general air of unease that leaves his coworkers uncomfortable. Does that sound at all familiar? You wouldn't be amiss if you felt like you were reading a profile of one of these lone gunman shooters that have plagued this country since Columbine. Phillips and company tick off all the notable boxes that have filled news profiles over the last 20 years in shaping this version of the Joker. And as you can expect, one night it becomes all too much and he snaps, taking the lives of a few of his attackers and it begins his descent into darkness.

Or was he always headed there all along? 

You see, while there's certainly a compelling story to be told about systemic breakdown and the plight of those who are left behind thanks to bureaucratic decision making and budgetary cutbacks to essential social services, Joker basically just skims off the top of this idea to instead basically create another Travis Bickle but with little of the depth, and certainly none of the clear intention of a master filmmaker like Scorsese. Literally, all Phillips does here is take the plot of Taxi Driver and then graft it onto The King of Comedy and mix in a little bit of V for Vendetta style iconography to produce an experience that basically feels like little more than an exercise in brand flexibility. 

Is it exciting that we have a comic book adapted film that doesn't have a CGI-overloaded climax? Definitely. Is the idea of breaking from the tired Easter Egg filled attempts of franchise building that has been the hallmark of the superhero picture this last decade an enticing one? For sure. But instead, what Phillips does here is trade on real world pain, which is altogether a far grosser ambition (they even give Arthur what appears to be Pseudobulbar affect to explain his uncontrollable laughter, the implications of which are rather hideous to contemplate). Again, were he interested in actually trying to say something of value here, he might be onto something...but basically all Joker boils down to is "the system really puts us all down, man!". This is particularly apparent through the film's use of social upheaval. You see, the rise of the Joker ends up keying into a sense of civil unrest, which leads to his becoming a iconographic figure. Again, this might lead somewhere interesting too, imagine one of these films aiming to excavate cults of personalities and branding and what sparks off within the zeitgeist. But a film this lunkheaded? He's, of course, lauded by an adoring crowd of equally aggrieved young men.

While there are other "characters" in Joker, really the only performance of note is Phoenix's, which early notices praised as Best Actor-worthy. To be frank, he mostly seems to be going through the motions here, beyond some nice physicality - watching him contort his body is actively painful. But once he's firmly in the Joker mindset, he finally seems to have locked into something and the first real moments of tension take center stage. This is the Joker as a force of nature, but even at that point, he's still just an asshole in clown makeup taking vengeance out on literally everyone who has wronged him. 

There's also a Thomas Wayne thread here that is both an attempt to clumsily echo a Donald Trump-like figure, though only in the skimpiest of ways, while also trying to tie in the deeper Batman mythos, just in case you forgot what the hell you're watching. I sure wish I could have, as Joker is basically an idiot's version of a thinking man's film. A faint echo of far superior cinema, and a work that has troubling implications to the point of feeling shockingly irresponsible. It's one of 2019's worst.

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Friday, August 30, 2019

QUICKTAKE: Love, Antosha

The Buzz: Love, Antosha is the sign-off actor Anton Yelchin used as a child and continued to use as an adult when writing loving letters to his mother. Yelchin died in a tragic accident in 2016 at the young age of 27, at a time when he seemed primed to explore new creative heights as an actor and director. Yelchin was well known for his roles, but there was also a lot about Yelchin the world didn't know, including the fact that he was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis as a child. With the disease resulting in an average lifespan of 37 years, Yelchin lived his life with a voracious appetite for new work and experiences, wringing the depth and meaning out of everything around him. Through a series of interviews with his family, his friends, and colleagues, including the cast of Star Trek, Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, Willem Dafoe, and more, the film chronologically explores the chapters of Yelchin's life. Filled in with home video footage, notes from his journal, and scenes from early works, this brisk documentary does a solid job in weaving pieces of Yelchin's life together to form a touching tribute. 

What's Great About This Movie: The most striking thing about Love, Antosha is the love story it tells between a mother and son. Yelchin was born to professional Russian ice skaters who fled from their country to afford their son a better life. Devastated by his diagnosis of CF at a young age (which they withheld from him until he was 17), Yelchin's parents provided unwavering support and commitment in helping him chase his artistic pursuits. For his part, it's clear that Yelchin loved his parents in an earnest, sweet, and doting way that was so rarely openly displayed in men of his age. Yelchin's death left his parents in a state of permanent mourning -  his mother still wears his denim jacket around the house, leaving everything intact in the pockets. And to this day they visit his grave daily. But in spite of that, the film manages to feel more like a celebration than a goodbye. 

What's Not-So-Great About this Movie: I wouldn't consider it a criticism, but perhaps a missed opportunity: for a film so open about Yelchin's life and death, family and friends, I found myself wondering about the filmmaker's relationship to the project and what spring-boarded it. Once I found the answers, I wished it had been included: the story of telling the story. It turns out director Garret Price didn't know Yelchin, but decided to take on the project at the behest of his parents, who were searching for a way to get this documentary made. Yelchin's parents are essentially the reason this documentary exists. According to Price, Anton's father confided after the project was complete: "Every time I see it, I get to spend an hour and a half with my son." 

Final VerdictLove, Antosha does a lot with very little time, which is nothing if not fitting. It's a compelling and thoughtful look at Yelchin's life and it's well-worth a viewing, whether you were familiar with the actor or not. Yelchin lived his life fighting for the opportunity to do and be more than the shattering prognosis he'd lived with since he was a teenager, and even though his life was cut even shorter than he'd possibly feared, he managed to pack more experiences into 27 years than many actors could achieve in a lifetime. 

Love, Antosha is now playing at Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema in Atlanta and select cities around the country. 
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Friday, August 16, 2019

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 164: Reviewing THE NIGHTINGALE, LUCE, and WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?

We're back! After the longest hiatus yet and Kyle and Hannah have a few reviews of films hitting the Atlanta market this weekend. Which should you spend your hard earned dollars on? Well, we're kind of split, but we do know which movie you *shouldn't* see. Take a listen to the latest episode of the GeekRex podcast to find out...

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Atlanta Film Critics name their Top 10 Quentin Tarantino Films

Atlanta Film Critics Circle Announces a Special Top 10
On the eve of the release of director Quentin Tarantino’s new epic Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood, the critics group picks their favorite Tarantino films

July 25, 2019 -- The Atlanta Film Critics Circle has announced its choices for the top 10 favorite films directed by multiple-Academy Award winner Quentin Tarantino ahead of the release of the hotly-anticipated opus Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell and dozens of other actors featured in cameo roles.
Although Tarantino has only directed eight features prior to “Once Upon a Time,” vote organizer and AFCC co-founder Michael Clark came up with a way to make it a traditional industry “Top 10” list. “Although Tarantino considers his “Kill Bill Vol.1 and Vol. 2” to be a single film, its two halves came out in different years with radically different tones,” Clark said. He added “by considering ‘Vol. 1’ and ‘Vol. 2’ separately and adding the Tarantino directed ‘The Man from Hollywood’ segment of the anthology film ‘Four Rooms’ into the mix we were able to make this a true Top 10.”
“It’s no wonder a critics group would want to celebrate Quentin Tarantino’s unique output in this way. He is the American cinema’s premiere archivist of low- and highbrow pop culture” says AFCC co-founder Felicia Feaster. “His always inventive films drop references to spaghetti westerns, yakuza films, grindhouse fare and the French New Wave and so much more in his delirious ambles through film history.”
1. Pulp Fiction

2. Inglourious Basterds

3. Reservoir Dogs

4. Jackie Brown

5. Kill Bill, Volume 2

6. Kill Bill, Volume 1

7. Django Unchained

8. The Hateful Eight

9. Death Proof

10. The Man From Hollywood (from Four Rooms)

Co-founded in 2017 by longtime Atlanta film critics Felicia Feaster and Michael Clark, the Atlanta Film Critics Circle is comprised of a dynamic mix of Atlanta-based critics working in newspaper, magazine and online journalism. The AFCC’s mission is to establish a national presence for an Atlanta based film critics group and to foster a vibrant film culture in Atlanta, already home to an exploding film production presence.
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