BLOOD FEAST *½/**** Image A Sound B Extras B+ starring William Kerwin, Mal Arnold, Connie Mason, Scott H. Hall written by A. Louise Downe directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
SCUM OF THE EARTH (1963) **/**** Image B- Sound B- Extras C starring William Kerwin, Allison Louise Downe (as Vickie Miles), Sandra Sinclair, Mal Arnold written and directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis (as Lewis H. Gordon)
by Bryant Frazer One among very few genuinely terrible films that are also justly famous, Blood Feast is the oft-cited progenitor of a certain strain of American cinema: the slasher film--or, more specifically, the splatter movie. Conceived by the briefly prolific, ultra-low-budget director Herschell Gordon Lewis (who will be forever known as the Godfather of Gore)--along with producer David F. Friedman--as an alternative to the commercially competitive genre of cheap-and-easy nudie flicks, the splatter movie was at the time even more disreputable than the soft porn film, ramping up the T&A with a new women-in-peril component. Gory murder scenes combined fake human blood and real animal entrails to sickening effect. Blood Feast is venerated by gorehounds and has a "so bad it's good" reputation among horror buffs, but what's really breathtaking about it is its shameless demonstration that, in the grand cinematic scheme, artistic merit, cultural influence, and commercial success have precious little to do with each other.
½*/**** starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage written and directed by Martin McDonagh
by Walter Chaw There are three young women in Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (hereafter Three Billboards)--four if you include Abbie Cornish as Woody Harrelson's twenty-years-his-junior wife--and two of them (or three) are absolute fucking idiots and the third was raped while dying and then set on fire with gasoline. As a man who has been told often lately that it's not his place to talk about these things, I'll leave it at that. I didn't think it was funny when the 19-year-old girl (Samantha Weaving) dating the abusive shit-fuck ex-husband (John Hawkes) of our anti-heroine, Mildred (Frances McDormand), is used as an object of derision/tension-breaker, and I didn't think it was funny when secretary Pamela (Kerry Condon) is treated identically before getting punched in the face as her exit from the film. (I'm not mentioning the girl Mildred kicks in the crotch because the trailer spoiled it.) I also have a hard time with a scene where Cornish's Anne berates Mildred for something she knows very well didn't happen (or should know, anyway), which just goes on and on in the McDonagh fashion. Maybe it's that there's this cast of actors here whom I've loved, almost without exception, in everything I've seen them in and now they're suddenly all terrible in exactly the same way. It doesn't take talent to make a bad movie, but it takes a lot of talent to make a movie that's bad like this. Or maybe a lot of arrogance. McDonagh, to his credit, has been doing it since the beginning--a real auteur.
Opening this Thanksgiving weekend in select cities is Joe Wright's Winston Churchill drama Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman and a Costco tub of latex. And don't miss Greta Gerwig's solo directorial debut Lady Bird, which has been quietly expanding into more theatres. Our own Walter Chaw covered both films at this year's Telluride.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles ****/**** Image C+ Sound A Extras B+ starring Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean written and directed by John Hughes
by Bill Chambers It took thirty years and multiple viewings before I finally realized that John Hughes's Planes, Trains & Automobiles is about many things, but mostly it's about a trunk. A behemoth fit for a starlet taking a cruise to Skull Island, the trunk is the property of travelling salesman Del Griffith (John Candy), who peddles shower-curtain rings for American Light & Fixture.1 Indeed, it's his avatar. Stuffy ad exec Neal Page (Steve Martin) trips over it while racing special-guest-star Kevin Bacon for a New York City cab at rush hour. It's fate. Del will obliviously steal the taxi Neal does manage to flag down, but it's not until they wind up sitting across from each other in LaGuardia that Neal puts a face to the trunk, reinforcing his bias against the moustachioed stranger--a sort of benign Ignatius J. Reilly who, between his girth and his luggage and, arguably, his indifference to Neal's boundaries, is the textbook definition of a man-spreader. The trunk disappears for long stretches, though it has a habit of bobbing back up into the frame the second you've forgotten about it completely. It's uncanny that way.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton **/**** directed by Chris Smith
by Alice Stoehr A few decades ago, Jim Carrey was a rising star of stand-up comedy ready to leave the Toronto suburbs. In mid-'90s Hollywood, he became a household name. Now he's wistful and solidly middle-aged. "Every time you open your mouth you learn something about yourself," he says. "Especially when you play characters." This introspection forms the spine of Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, a documentary about his performance as Andy Kaufman in the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon. The present-day Carrey wears a leather jacket, with a salt-and-pepper beard on his famously rubbery face. Shot head-on or from a three-quarter view, he recounts turmoil on the film's set: "Most people felt that the movie was happening behind the camera." A trove of long-suppressed behind-the-scenes footage woven around the interview shows Carrey disappearing into his role, much to director Miloš Forman's chagrin. He insists his co-stars address him as "Andy;" parades around as Kaufman's loathsome alter ego, Tony Clifton; and repeatedly antagonizes wrestler Jerry Lawler, who plays himself in the movie. Kaufman's real-life family drops by the set and can hardly believe the resemblance.
*/**** starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams screenplay by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon directed by Zack Snyder
by Walter Chaw Marrying the worst parts of Zack Snyder with the worst parts of Joss Whedon (who stepped in to complete the film after Snyder had a family tragedy), DC's superhero team-up dirge Justice League shambles into unnatural half-life with a message of apocalyptic doomsaying presented now without puke filters, so that it looks like a movie my mom watches on her television with the motion-smoothing turned on. The same trick has been attempted with a script burdened by Whedon's patented hipster-ese, which went stale about halfway through "Buffy"'s run, let's face it. The Flash's non sequiturs (Whedon's suggesting he's autistic (which isn't funny)), Aquaman's hearty, get-a-haircut bro-clamations ("I dig it!" and "Whoa!" and so on)--all of it is so poorly timed that it's possible to become clinical about what happens when a punchline is grafted onto a piece at the eleventh hour, and it doesn't help that no one in this cast is known for being even remotely funny or glib. Jason Momoa is a lot of things; Noël Coward ain't one of them. When Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) shakes her head bemusedly (I think) and says warmly (I guess), "Children. I work with children," you get that sick, embarrassed feeling that happens when you're watching a person you want to like succumb to flop sweat and overrehearsal.
Fireworks ****/**** Image A Sound A- Extras B- starring Beat Takeshi, Kayoko Kishimoto, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima written and directed by Takeshi Kitano
by Walter Chaw Nishi loves her very much, but when she tries to link arms with him for a photograph, he pulls away. He's not comfortable with his emotions. He's from both a culture and a profession that frowns on that sort of thing. When his co-workers talk about him, they do so in hushed tones and warn one another not to get too familiar, even in their gossip. He's lost a daughter and his wife is very ill. They make allowances for him one day and it results in the crippling of his partner. Nishi avenges him, but another young cop dies in the process. Nishi, dispassionate, empties his gun into the bad guy's skull. But his partner is still abandoned by his wife and child for not being the man he used to be. None of this is how it's supposed to work. Men are taught to be a specific way and promised rewards for their stoicism and brutality. I'm 44 years old. It's taken most of my adult life to begin to unravel the ways that expectation and breeding have made it hard for me to tell my wife, whom I love in a devastating way, "I love you." I was afraid to have kids because I didn't know if I could tell them I loved them. I have two. I tell them every day. I make myself. Takeshi Kitano's Hana-bi deals with the consequences of masculinity--perhaps the most trenchant exploration of the theme not written or directed by Walter Hill. The film understands that some men can only express themselves through motion, which isn't enough in the best of times and is laughably insufficient in the worst of them. Of all the '90s masterpieces of world cinema, Hana-bi is my favourite.
**½/**** starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Anthony Hopkins written by Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher L. Yost directed by Taika Waititi
by Walter Chaw I've reached a limit with facility, I think--a point at which things that are professionally-executed and entirely meaningless just slide off into a kind of instant nothingness. I'm talking about machine-tooled product, a brand like Kleenex or Kellogg's, where the only time there's any awareness of consumption is when the experience of it is unexpected in some way. There's a reason people see the Virgin Mary in potato chips sometimes. Variation in extruded products is so exceedingly rare that it's akin to holy visitation: some accidental proof of the supernatural; a glitch in the Matrix. Marvel films are akin now to your daily lunch. You can remember the stray meal. Mostly, it's something you do knowing you've had one yesterday and are likely to have one tomorrow. If you're like most of us, you could probably eat better.
***½/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras A- starring Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara written and directed by David Lowery
by Alex Jackson All forms of an afterlife are kitsch. You can't even conceptualize Heaven, Hell, reincarnation, or spiritualism without turning it into a greeting card or a joke. Kitsch is built into the concept. There was a point in my life where I felt that while it was kitsch, kitsch was all we had. The only other option was to confront the vast nothingness and indifference of the universe and acknowledge how little time and space we take up in the grand scheme. Maybe our belief in a life after death is the equivalent of Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff and not falling because he doesn't look down.
***/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras A starring Sarah Kendall, Frederick Flynn, Carol Kottenbrook, Alan McRae screenplay by J.S. Cardone & Bill Ewing directed by J.S. Cardone
by Sydney Wegner As co-writer/director J.S. Cardone insists, The Slayer is not quite a slasher. More than titillate or thrill, it seeks to unsettle, to dig at the viewer with emotion rather than throwaway jump scares. The set-pieces have the imaginative gore of any good slasher, but a sadness permeates the film so deeply that all the dorky banter and melodramatic murders in the world can't disguise it. The slow pace and heavy emphasis on the psychological trauma of its lead doomed The Slayer to be drowned out by the deluge of early-'80s slashers, and most viewers who might have been drawn to the carnage implied by the lurid title and poster were likely left unsatisfied. The Slayer opens with a nightmare: Wandering wide-eyed through a house, the protagonist, Kay, is strangled by long, inhuman hands encrusted in slime and blood. The opening promises the violence and sex (she's of course wearing a classic skimpy nightgown) of the typical slasher variety, but pay closer attention to the close-ups of a chiming grandfather clock and the beautiful orchestral score--those signal the kind of movie you're in for. When Kay startles awake from this dream, sweaty and terrified, her husband stands above her. He starts talking to her about something innocuous, but the camera, peering up from a jarringly low angle, makes him seem ominous and oppressive. This, too, is a tell. Kay will spend the movie trying to convince the other characters that what she dreams is real, and they will brush her off, and then they'll die. They aren't a comfort to her anymore, because she is far gone to a place where everything is at the wrong angle.
*½/ **** Image B+ Sound B Extras B starring James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, Ronny Cox screenplay by Dennis Shryack & Michael Butler and Lane Slate directed by Elliot Silverstein
by Bryant Frazer America's love of the open road collided with its suspicion of out-of-state license plates in The Car, a risible 1977 thriller about a muscle car on a killing spree. The Car was conceived as a cash-in--an easy riff on Jaws with the working title Wheels(!)--but it earned a reputation for genre silliness that made it a staple of late-night TV line-ups in the 1980s. Shot mostly in the Utah desert, The Car follows sheriff's deputy Wade Parent (James Brolin) as he investigates a series of mysterious hit-and-run killings involving bicyclists, a hitchhiker, and a mean-looking, black Lincoln Continental. It's a low-octane concept even for genre knock-offs, and despite the traditional framing of organized law enforcement as the heroes of the piece, there's not a lot of detective work required. The Car shows up; the Car runs someone over; the Car drives away, blasting its horn triumphantly. It's not until it takes a special interest in Wade and his schoolteacher girlfriend, Lauren (Kathleen Lloyd), that the deputies concoct a plan to lure it out of town and into a trap, using Wade as bait.
H.P. Lovecraft's Re-Animator ****/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras A starring Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Jeffrey Combs screenplay by Dennis Paoli, William J. Norris and Stuart Gordon, based on H.P. Lovecraft's "Herbert West--Re-Animator" directed by Stuart Gordon
by Bryant Frazer An extremely loose adaptation of a generally unloved short story by H.P. Lovecraft ("Herbert West–Reanimator"), Re-Animator is a genre miracle: a low-budget horror movie with a smart script, strong performances, genuinely nightmarish gore effects, and a wicked sense of humour that avoids smugness or condescension. Director Stuart Gordon, who co-wrote the screenplay with gothic fiction specialist Dennis Paoli (from a teleplay by William J. Norris), moderates the ghoulish overtones of Lovecraft's Frankenstein parody by first establishing an ordinary young-doctors-in-love scenario. In this version Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), an idealistic young M.D.-in-training at Miskatonic University, is covertly romancing Meg Halsey (Barbara Crampton), the daughter of the med-school dean (Robert Sampson), when the arrival of transfer student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) starts to put a strain on their relationship. Strapped for cash, Dan takes West in as a roommate over Meg's objections, and he proves to be a problem tenant for a few reasons. Most obviously, he is a prideful twerp who begins his studies at Miskatonic by picking a fight with one of the teachers, the towering, imperious Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), whose work West regards as derivative. ("So derivative," he opines in the deliciously bitchy scene that introduces the characters to each other, "that in Europe, it's considered plagiarized.") But West is also a budding sociopath with a monomaniacal focus on developing the green-glowing serum he believes brings the dead back to life, and he's looking to procure fresh bodies on which to experiment. The trouble really starts when goodness is corrupted--when the generally level-headed Dan decides to help him with his research.
*/**** starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons screenplay by Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini and Søren Sveistrup, based on the novel by Jo Nesbø directed by Tomas Alfredson
by Walter Chaw Tomas Alfredson's The Snowman, an adaptation of the seventh in Jo Nesbø's literary crime series, treats its narrative as gestural performance art: a suggestion of a suggestion of genre. When it's fascinating, it operates with a certain dream logic, where one thing leads to another thing senselessly, nightmarishly, the dreamer buoyed along powerless to affect his own fate within the larger, obscure narrative. Harrison Ford famously complained that Blade Runner is a movie about a detective who doesn't do any detecting. The Snowman is a movie about a detective who can't do any detecting because there isn't any connective tissue. No matter what the teasing notes left by its serial killer claim, there are no clues. It's very much like Andrew Fleming's own abortive attempt at a franchise, Nancy Drew, which is also alien in its behaviour, acting like a movie would act if it were made by a sea cucumber. Consider a scene in The Snowman that pushes the story to its conclusion: there's a revelation, a key piece of evidence or something, and a location, and the heroine, Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson), stands up at her desk. A male colleague, who was sitting in a cubicle across from Katrine, suddenly teleports to the balcony above her as she leaves. He asks if she's all right. The better question would be if there was so little footage shot that every bit of it was used, continuity be damned. The great Thelma Schoonmaker was brought in at the eleventh hour, presumably at the behest of executive producer Martin Scorsese (once slated to direct the film), in a presumed attempt to save the project. Schoonmaker, for everything she's great at, was never that great at continuity under the best of circumstances. Something Scorsese played around with in Shutter Island. Something that occasionally turns The Snowman into a Gertrude Stein piece.
****/**** starring Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Kimberly Prince, Bria Vinaite, Caleb Landry Jones written by Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch directed by Sean Baker
by Walter Chaw Sean Baker's The Florida Project follows the day-to-day of a group of five- or six-year-olds as they run wild through the broken-down streets, hot-sheet motels, and abandoned buildings that serve as the ramshackle spokes radiating out from Disney World in Orlando. Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is the ringleader, impossibly exuberant and sly in exactly and only the way a six-year-old in full operational mode can be. She is a force of nature, and Prince's performance is entirely unaffected. It's a miracle. Moonee's best friends are Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), and they roam far afield, standing on picnic tables, exploring empty housing units, experimenting with lighters, and scamming ice-cream cones from marks more exhausted by their pitch ("I have asthma and my doctor said that I...") than convinced by it. I was free like this when I was 5. I grew up in downtown Golden, Colorado, which has as its main identifying feature a wooden sign stretching across its "main" street ("Washington") that says "Howdy Folks!" I used to catch flies and shine shoes in the barbershop on the corner. The barber was the mayor, Frank. I spent the pennies I earned at the 5 and 10 across the street. The Florida Project is about that.
**½/**** starring Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan screenplay by David Marconi, based on the novel The Chinaman by Stephen Leather directed by Martin Campbell
by Walter Chaw Martin Campbell's The Foreigner, based on Stephen Leather's novel The Chinaman, showcases the great, the incomparable, Jackie Chan as a grief-stricken man with a Special Forces past, galvanized into action when an IRA bomb kills his only, and last, daughter in a chichi London retail block. Having failed in his attempts to bribe London officials for names, Chan's Quan, restaurateur/owner of The Happy Peacock, focuses his attentions on former IRA/Sinn Fein leader Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan). Quan terrorizes the terrorists, stakes them out at Hennessy's farmhouse/fortress, and generally makes life miserable for everyone until he finds the people responsible for his daughter's death. It's a role that Liam Neeson would have played had there not been a recent hue and cry over yellowface and whitewashing, and so Chan, in the twilight of his action career, is forced into somewhat thankless service in a film that wants to be more like The Fourth Protocol than like Police Story. The Foreigner isn't a great film, but it's an interesting one for all its mediocrity.
***½/**** starring Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Emma Thompson written and directed by Noah Baumbach
by Angelo Muredda Late in Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), one-time piano protégé turned arrested adult Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler) bemoans the fact that his father's casual abuse over the years never culminated in that one unforgivable thing he or his sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) could point to as a deal-breaker, beyond which no love or mercy could be extended. Instead, he says, Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Huffman)--a decently gifted sculptor and by most accounts better college professor whose work is now worth less than the attic it's stored in--hit them with "tiny things every day. Drip, drip, drip." With Kicking and Screaming and The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach carved out an impressive niche for himself as a chronicler of how parents' micro-aggressions, that steady drip of petty criticisms and unnecessarily cutting observations, leave a mark on their hyper-literate upper-middle-class American children. But he's never found so clear a voice to get across both the anguish and the humour of that condition as he has in his newest, a fussily-constructed but involving and at times impossibly sad family drama about the existential terror of being just smart enough and talented enough to know you're nothing special.