Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I think for most people interested in genre films Halloween holds a special sort of significance. It's a time when it's socially acceptable to watch junk, trash, crap, and garbage without the usual looks of disdain or derision - it might even get you a compliment or two. There's something about this season that brings out the very best in people, and it's a time that I personally look forward to throughout the whole year. Here's hoping for plenty more content in the year ahead, and I hope you're properly enjoying yourself wherever you are in the world.

From everyone here at Movie Feast, I want to wish you all a very Happy Halloween!

Look out for the Wild Ground Japanese Film Blogathon, starting very soon!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Capsule Review: The Prestige (2006)

The-PrestigeBetween his two Batman films, Christopher Nolan made the somewhat surprising choice to make a movie about duelling magicians in late 19th Century England – and had the bad luck to confusingly open a little after The Illusionist, another period piece about magicians, which left some audience members confused. Both films are worthwhile, but The Prestige was definitely more ambitious with its non-linear plot structure and huge twists. Lead performances are great, with Nolan regulars Michael Caine and Christian Bale doing well, though it’s Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier that I was left particularly impressed with (and having David Bowie pop up as Nikola Tesla was a nice surprise). All that said, the film relies fairly heavily on its final reveals, and if you don’t buy in you might be left feeling cold. I enjoyed it, but it does feel like an impressive technical exercise more than a fully fleshed out film, though that may be the point.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Capsule Review: Sideways (2004)

1280x1024_cliffMaking a great film shouldn’t take flashy camerawork, a huge budget or a script full of twists, sometimes it just takes a collection of great actors being given excellent material and the freedom to bring it to life. Set amongst the wine country of Santa Barbara, Sideways focuses on a weeklong trip by teacher and failed writer Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti, in a role he’s perfectly suited for) along with his soon-to-be-married actor best friend Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church) as they take in the sights, play golf and drink plenty of wine. The attention to detail regarding the wine is as refreshing as it is inspiring, and the two men soon develop rapid – though very different – relationships with the women they meet: Miles with the waitress Maya (Virginia Madsen) whom he’s admired from afar during previous trips and Jack with wine-girl Stephanie (Sandra Oh) whom he immediately starts banging in between lamenting his position as a soon-to-be husband. The dialogue exchanges between Miles and Maya has a depth and sweetness rare in film, and these perfectly realized and measured characters are brought to life with a light comic touch be director Andrew Payne (Election, About Schmidt). A movie that lingers for a long time after watching.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Capsule Review: The Dark Knight (2008)

dark_knight_jokerI was quite pessimistic going into Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to his 2005 superhero reboot Batman Begins. I felt the first film was plodding and was missing much of the darkness and excitement I associated with the character, and the casting of Heath Ledger as The Joker didn’t bode well when compared to other – seemingly definitive – takes on the character. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement, as Nolan abandons the yellow-hued origin of Batman Begins for a blue and gray tinged superhero story that makes all other live-action attempts at the material seem like child’s play in comparison. While much negative has been made of Christian Bale’s growly performance, it’s a small flaw in a film that takes constant risks and somehow manages to consistently pull them off. Marrying a widescreen visual style with an unstoppable supporting cast, The Dark Knight set box office records while getting Heath Ledger a deserved posthumous Oscar.

Capsule Review: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Singing_1Gotta dance! Just because I grew up on a steady diet of kung-fu and horror movies doesn't mean that I can't still absolutely adore this delirious combination of music and jaw-dropping physicality. Staged around the transition from silent films to talkies, Gene Kelly stars as Don Lockwood who nearly finds himself a laughing stock when his current co-star's voice threatens to sink his first talking picture. With the help of his friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) and new gal Kathy Selden, they conspire to turn the film into a musical. much to the chagrin of the squawky Lina Lamot (Jean Hagen). Film fans know the title number - originally from The Hollywood Revue of 1929 - but the film is absolutely packed with unforgettable sequences: "Good Morning" performed by Gene Kelly/Donald O'Connor/Debbie Reynolds, Rita Moreno and Gene Kelly dancing up a storm, and the exhausting “Make 'em Laugh” performance. As deliberately choreographed and paced as any action film, it remains a film of endless charm and excitement.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Interiors (1978)

"At the centre of a sick psyche is a sick spirit."

INTERIORS was Woody Allen's first stab at drama. It is icy, murky, dark, and sick at heart. It unfolds at a glacial pace, quiet and self-absorbed, content to let silence speak louder than words.

INTERIORS has often been derided as dull, derivative, and pretentious; yet also praised for the miracle of its composition. That Allen is mired in his influences is obvious. This is his "Bergman" movie. His LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. His Chekovian familial portrait. And Allen, in the awkwardness of his first serious drama, does not adequately surpass these influences. His direction is at times heavy-handed pushing the actors into moments of unnecessary melodrama.That said, there is a hell of a lot going on here that is worthy of attention.

As mentioned above, the cinematography is breathtaking, elevating the material through deft additions of texture and mood. Particularly in the framing and lighting of scenes wherein the rooms are often sparely lit with lots of shadows and gray spaces for the actors to hide in. These stark, arresting images set the stage. Silence factors in as Allen moodily allows for sound to naturally develop. The stillness of the images coupled with the silence and natural ambient noises of creaking wood and distant breaking waves set the tone for the entire film within the first two minutes.

Allen assembles another one of his great casts and, though the cold dysfunctional family plot may be routine, gives them avenues to explore different sides of their abilities. Diane Keaton does her usual great work, pushing her character to a critical depth often unseen in many of her other comic performances. That Keaton's character is depressed and upset is often obvious despite her character's internalization. The tension between her and her husband is well-handled, commenting on its own cliches without pandering into irony. Richard Jordan hits the right notes as her alcoholic husband, though his character is underwritten making the deeper core of their misunderstandings difficult to interpret.

My favorite performance comes from Mary Beth Hurt, whose indecisive, guilt-riddled character is a throbbing ball of violent rage well-caged. When she finally unleashes her vitriol, the film comes briefly alive -- a cathartic release that Allen's been building towards the entire time. Hurt gives a well-controlled performance, building sympathy for a very unsympathetic character.

Unfortunately, the other characters never come quite into the fullness necessary to convey the impact Allen is seeking. Geraldine Page's Oscar-nominated turn as the family matriarch is sadly underwhelming. We recognize her hurt and despair but the key scenes of her mental anguish are discussed without clear demonstration. Her violent, sobbing rages are agonizing to watch but lack a grounding as the script glosses over the crucial moment that conflicts these characters and binds them altogether. Ditto for E.G. Marshall's careworn patriarch. His motivations and justifications are clear but we never get a sense of his true feelings. His stoicism feels a pose but we are not privileged to find out more.

Perhaps that's Allen aim after all. INTERIORS, as its name suggests, is a very closed film. We are on the outside looking in on a family that cannot be open. Those who do reveal themselves are quickly hurt, resealing themselves within. There is no real access and we, as an audience, are often left as adrift as they are. Despite these criticisms, INTERIORS is a film well worth watching.

INTERIORS (Allen, USA, 1978)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bloody Nightmares #26: Matthew (aka Scream Bloody Murder) (1971)


Matthew/Scream Bloody Murder is a real nasty piece of 70s exploitation cinema that is somehow made more effective by its shaky acting and grimy cinematography. While featuring a killer with psychosexual and oedipal issues is hardly original - there are more than a few echoes of Psycho, as well as later films like Maniac and Pieces - the film's complete disinterest in what led to this development actually feels rather refreshing compared to modern horror films which seem fixated on a killer's development. Matthew - the young murderer in this film who sports a hook for a hand after a bizarre tractor accident - opens the film by murdering his father, and while he's shown to be in a state of arrested development (with sex almost literally being used as a weapon against him) how he became this way is never really revealed. Director Marc B. Ray (whose only other notable credit is writing Stepfather III) may mostly be interested in piling on the kills, but the choice to focus most of the running time on Matthew leads to a surprising amount of insight regarding his delusional mind.

Matthew's murderous streak begins very early. In fact, the film memorably begins with the young Matthew sitting in a field while his father works on a tractor nearby. When dad starts making some repairs to the front of the vehicle, Matthew hops on and runs over dear old dad before somehow managing to mangle his own hand after jumping off. As often happens after a disturbing event such as this, Matthew is hauled off to the nuthouse for a decade and given a neat hook for a hand. Silver lining, I suppose.

Matthew - for some odd reason - gets released from the mental institution only to find that his mother has re-married, and BOY does this make him angry. After killing his new moustachioed dad with an axe, Matt accidentally strangles his mom to death - a difficult proposition when one of your hands is a metal claw - before hitching a ride out of the city with a newly married couple. When the group decides to relax next to a pond, Matthew starts having a teensy bit of a psychotic breakdown, killing the husband before drowning the wife. You have to respect his ability to diversify in regards to weapons considering he has a perfectly lethal stabbing and clawing device attached to his body.


After hitching another ride, Matt ends up meeting and quickly obsessing over a prostitute named Vera (whom he creepily calls Daisy). It's here where the film gets interesting, as the child-like Matthew comes up with a detailed lie about his affluence in order to try and convince Vera to stop sleeping with dudes for money, and then starts murdering folks in order to make this fantasy come to life. I found this section to actually be rather fascinating as we're presented with someone with absolutely no moral compass, so when he's trying to create his own reality he simply takes the most direct route. He says he lives in a mansion, so he finds one that is most appropriate, slaughters the maid and old woman who live there (as well as her dog) and then stuffs them in a closet. Vera likes to paint? Time to mug some people for money to buy groceries and art supplies.

Vera doesn't respond well to being a kept woman, so soon Matthew is tying her to the bed and force feeding her meals ("Eat, or i'll cut your tongue out of your mouth"). After a few escape attempts - including a notable close call where a suspicious doctor comes upon the corpse of the house-owner - Vera eventually fakes a bit of Stockholm syndrome in order to have Matthew let her take a shower, and once unclothed she quickly discovers how Matthew wilts at the hint of sexuality. Seeing a rapid shift in terms of power, Vera almost escapes before Matthew finally gets to use his claw as a weapon - gouging her throat before running off wildly into a church, surrounded by the ghostly visions of the people he murdered. Plagued by guilt, he stabs himself in the stomach and - in one of the nicer shots in the film - the camera slowly tracks back between the pews before the (almost unreadable) credits roll.


I suppose it's a little unfair to compare Matthew to the other films in the Bloody Nightmares collection as - uniquely - it seems to have had an actual budget, was shot on 35mm and even played theatrically in the early 70s. While the production quality is rough, some of the acting is decent, and while director Marc B. Ray shoots the whole thing like a TV movie, he also manages to throw in a few inspired moments - particularly when Matthew talks his way into the mansion and eventually butchers the (surprisingly ornery) maid. There's some decent tension, and even a touch of humor when Matthew is nearly overpowered by the elderly homeowner. He didn't need to kill the dog, though. C'mon!

Still, this is mostly a humorless affair, and it's a relief once Vera enters the picture and we're finally given someone to root for. Leigh Mitchell plays Vera as confident and independent, and unapologetic about her choice of career which makes her rightfully resistant when Matthew tries to "save" her from it. Mitchell is really the MVP here, as while Fred Holbert is giving his all as Matthew, and really does try to be channeling a level of adolescent naivety, he's just too stiff in the role. Look fast for a young Angus Scrimm as the doctor who doesn't believe Matthew's lies for a moment.


While hardly drenched with gore, and some scenes of violence feel a bit truncated (particularly when Matthew axes his mother's new beau), there's still quite a variety of weapons being used in nasty ways and the film doesn't back down from blood-letting. While we eventually get to see some claw-fu, the film never really does much interesting with Matthew's disfigurement, outside of the possibility that it just adds to his own sexual frustrations. While the editing isn't notable, the IMDB lists the editor Alex Funke as having gone on to win a couple of Oscars for visual effects (including working on The Lord of the Rings and Total Recall), which I can only hope is true.  

I do want to mention the soundtrack - credited to Rockwell (though i'm going to suggest it's not the 80s R&B  performer who did "Somebody's Watching Me") - which mixes percussive HG Lewis-style ambient music with some super cheesy 70s violins and horns. It's used rather sparsely, and sometimes even effectively, but really feels all over the place.


Matthew/Scream Bloody Murder is presented in a pitiful full-frame transfer that looks like it was pulled out of a dumpster. There's plenty of grain and the image is so soft that many details are impossible to make out, not that there's a lot in the background worth seeing. Sound is a bit better, with the dialogue coming out generally clear, though from the consistent sound-sync issues I would guess that a lot of a dialogue was post-synced. As mentioned, there seems to be some minor edits during a few of the murders, though considering that this film has apparently slipped into the public domain, I would be surprised is a more complete version is currently available.

This is part of the Bloody Nightmares collection, so you know what that means. No special features, not even chapter stops. Oh well.


While derivative of a number of better horror films, Matthew has enough moments of inspired nastiness to be worthwhile to fans of grimy 70s horror. I can't imagine the sense of changing a great title like Scream Bloody Murder to something as innocuous as Matthew (maybe they were trying to capitalize on the post-Exorcist demon-child boom), but a bland title doesn't take away from the near constant stream of murders which lead up to the film's much more interesting second half, and at less than 90 minutes it manages not to wear out its welcome. Decent trash for those who like that sort of thing. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Capsule Review: Psycho (1960)

psycho-1-1024A film so crucial to the modern development of horror that it’s almost impossible to overstress its impact, Psycho’s shocking scenes may now be dulled by decades of imitation and parody, but for those who only know the key elements – the shower scene, Norman Bates, the shrieking Bernard Herrmann score, and the iconic Bates motel itself – there is still plenty left to enjoy. Hitchcock chose to film on the cheap, channelling William Castle with his memorably comic trailer and the gimmick of locking theater doors after the film stared, but his perfectionist style is still on display with a multitude of lovingly crafted scenes of terror. I recently took in a showing on the big screen and my wife – who had never seen the whole film, and isn’t a fan of the genre – still jumped several times during the screening. Sure, the psychiatrist scene at the end is completely superfluous and goes on forever, and not all of the performances are as great as Anthony Perkins legendary lead nutcase, but these are small complaints. Every giallo and slasher owe a big nod to Psycho. Bafflingly remade by Gus Van Sant in 1998.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Capsule Review: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Hitchcock's favorite of his own films, and one with a unique tone and look thanks to being shot on location in Santa Rosa, California. Teresa Wright plays the young Charlotte 'Charlie' Newton who has grown tired of her familiar small town surroundings and wishes for excitement, which soon appears in the form of her namesake Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton). At first Uncle Charlie creates quite a stir, but after a visit from some FBI agents (posing as magazine photographers) Charlie begins to suspect that her Uncle might actually be the 'Merry Widow Murderer'. Filled with a growing tension, as well as plenty of black humor, Shadow of a Doubt plays with one of my favorite themes - the seething underbelly behind idyllic suburbia - and features two terrific lead performances, particularly Joseph Cotton who manages to hit the right note of quite menace. Remade as a TV movie in 1991, and an obvious influence on films like The Stepfather and Orson Welles (inferior) The Stranger.

Capsule Review: The Wolf Man (1941)

For many, Lon Chaney Jr. will be forever be associated with his role as the unfortunate Larry Talbot, who finds himself cursed with lycanthropy after being bitten by an attacking wolf (who, just moments before, was Bela Lugosi). Chaney Jr. went on to play the role numerous times, and he correctly manages to balance good humor with pathos in the character. He's ably supported by Claude Rains as his father, who manages to make a role that could easily be a cliche into something more substantive. A great performance. Some might find the make-up work (by genre giant Jack Pierce) to be rather dated, but compare it to almost any of the Wolman pictures that followed and you'll see what an accomplishment it truly was. Recently re-made (with an unfortunately troubled production) with the already rather wolf-like Benicio Del Toro in the Talbot role.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Holy Rollers (2010)

The 30th Atlantic Film Festival


Some (very late) thoughts from my screening of Kevin Asch's HOLY ROLLERS at the 30th Atlantic Film Festival:

Based on a true story, HOLY ROLLERS follows Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg), a Hasidic man who, in the 90s, got himself involved in an enormous drug trafficking ring. Interesting premise, no? It is, indeed, an interesting premise. Sadly, the "interesting" ends at the premise; what follows is one of the most conventional crime stories you've ever seen. Perhaps that's the problem with most real-life stories; they just aren't as colourful as films. But this just treads on thematic (and narrative) so well tread that it's already been, er, tread flat.

Which isn't to say that those involved aren't good at what they do. Jesse Eisenberg continues to be better than most of his contemporaries. Ari Graynor, as the "femme fatale" character, is suitably femmey (though should could be more fataley). Justin Bartha as Yosef Zimmerman, Sam's gateway into the world of international drug muleing (probably not a word), plays the role of self-destructive loser with a great deal of skill. Everyone's on top of their game, here. They just don't have much to work with.

It isn't that HOLY ROLLERS is a bad film--it does many things right--it's just that it never tries to be anything more than OK. That means that when you're deciding which movie you'd like to spend 90 minutes to two hours of your life watching, HOLY ROLLERS probably shouldn't be near the top of the list.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Capsule Review: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

47666_103231_1A rare example of a sequel surpassing the already weighty original horror classic, Bride of Frankenstein continues right where the original Frankenstein ends (confusingly, as the original’s re-edited ending contradicts this beginning slightly). Boris Karloff , credited only as ? in the first film, here gets top billing (as Karloff) and within minutes he’s wrecking havoc on innocent villagers. Given more creative control over the film, director James Whale invests it with some dark humor while still providing the proper amount of sympathy and pathos for the monster. A highlight – delightfully lampooned in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein – involves the creature’s fast friendship with a blind man who (rapidly) teaches him to speak. Ernest Thesiger does some fun mad scientist work as Doctor Pretorius, and Colin Clive continues to do terrific work as Henry Frankenstein. The titular Bride doesn’t show until the final five minutes, but her look (and shriek) immediately entered pop culture history.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Capsule Review: Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein is a film that benefits greatly from its influence and a handful of classic, unsurpassed elements which have made it into a classic despite a miniscule runtime (70 minutes) and a not particularly satisfying ending. The most important element, and the one that has aged best, is the tortured performance by Boris Karloff, who makes his patchwork monster into a sympathetic creature. Colin Clive does great work as Henry Frankenstein, but the rest of the supporting cast - aside from the enjoyable Edward Van Sloan - are a bit creaky and don't have much interesting to do. James Whale's direction shows occasional signs of life, and the wonderful windmill set with its twisting walls and shadows is still chilling, but Frankenstein works because of its uniqueness - and its introducing of a great character (and actor) to the world. Followed by a superior sequel and countless tributes.

Thirty-something Days of Night: Tales From The Crypt (1972)

Whether it be the brilliant short prose collections from Stephen King or Clive Barker or the horror comics of the seventies and eighties, I have always been a fan of antholigies. There is something about collections of horror tales that brings back memories of sharing ghost stories at sleepovers while the weather outside plays tricks on your mind.

Over the next couple of reviews, I'll be re-visiting some of my favorite horror portmanteau films, but you'll have to bear with me since I am on assignment here at Fort Bragg, NC and the equipment available for use leaves a lot to be desired.

First up will be the 1972 Amicus Productions classic, Tales From The Crypt.

The film consists of five tales all based from stories drawn from EC Comics mainstays, Tales From The Crypt and The Vault of Horror. The segments are linked by short seagueways held together by the menacing presence of Sir Ralph Richardson as the titular Crypt Keeper.

The first tale, And All Through The House, features Joan Collins as a disgruntled socialite that succeeds in murdering her husband only to draw the attention of a serial killer masquerading as Santa Claus.

Next, we have the blood chilling Reflections of Death which features Ian Hendry as a two-timing husband that discovers all too soon that infidelity has a heavy price.

The third story, Poetic Justice, showcases Hammer and Amicus regular, Peter Cushing as Arthur Grimsdyke; a kindly old man tormented by snobby neighbors that want to take possession of his property. This story is probably the one for which the film is best known due to the publicity stills of Peter Cushing made up as an avenging revenant.

The fourth story, Wish You Were Here is merely another rehashing of W.W Jacob's classic morality tale, The Monkey's Paw, while the final tale, Blind Alleys, is pretty much a by the book revenge tale but with a slight twist.

Tales From the Crypt remains one of my favorite films. Sure, the acting is about what you'd expect, but it isn't a half bad start. And All Through The House is far too cliched to be an effective chiller and it doesn't help that you are actually on the side of the serial killer in this little affair.

Reflections of Death and Poetic Justice are by far the quality entries of this collection. Reflections is surreal in its delvery but it ultimately waits too long to deliver the final blow while Justice is a nice, tight narrative that ends with a sinister and satisfying conclusion.

I personally feel that Tales is a tad unfairly maligned. The horror portmanteau films which followed were certainly much better, but they probably wouldn't have seen the light of day if it had not been for the commercial success of this particular movie.

If anything, Tales will certainly seem dated to the average horror veteran but it should also make you feel that cold shard of nostalgia in your heart that you experienced when you saw your first late, late show.

I believe that Tales has been re-released on DVD for quite some time, but I have noticed that it always seems to find its way into Cinemax's heavy rotation around this time of year.

Check it out if... if you dare!!!!!