Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Corman-verse Blogathon Is Here – Day 1 Recap

 

The Corman-verse Blogathon

Welcome to the Corman-verse, a three-day blogging event, honoring legendary filmmaker Roger Corman! At age 96, Mr. Corman is still going strong, with more than 500 credits to his name, and a list of protégés longer than your arm. Yours Truly and my exceptional co-host, Gill Jacob of Realweegiemidget Reviews, are thrilled to present Day 1 of the Corman-Verse Blogathon, for your reading pleasure. We hope you’ll get a chance to revisit some old favorites, and discover a few new ones.

Attack of the Crab Monsters

If you’re planning to participate but not quite ready, never fear, we’ll post your link on Day Two or Three. Post a comment below, email me at barry_cinematic@yahoo.com, or reach me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, through her blog’s Contact Me page, or on Twitter (@realweegiemidge). 

The Haunted Palace

Without further preamble, here are Day 1’s submissions below, and don’t forget to return Friday and Saturday evening, for recaps of days two and three!

In the Aftermath Poster

Don’t snooze on Scampy’s (from Spirochate Trail) review of In the Aftermath, Angels Never Sleep (aka: On a Planet with No Fish) (1988)

 

The Intruder Poster

Andrew Wickliffe from The Stop Button looks at Roger Corman’s adaptation of Charles Beaumont’s The Intruder (1962)

 

Ski Troop Attack Poster

Booksteve hits the slopes to bring us his take on Ski Troop Attack (1959)

The Fast and the Furious Poster

Brian Schuck from Films Beyond the Time Barrier puts the pedal to the metal for his review of The Fast and the Furious (1954)

The Little Shop of Horrors 

Terence Canote from A Shroud of Thoughts invites us to shop until we drop with The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

 

Alligator Poster

And last but certainly not least, snap to it, and sink your teeth into Gill Jacob’s review of Alligator (1980). 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The Right Stuff

 

The Right Stuff Poster

(1983) Written and directed by Philip Kaufman; Based on the book The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe; Starring: Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Veronica Cartwright, Lance Henriksen, Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum; Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Rating: *****

“I wanted to make a film about – where the main character was something called ‘The Right Stuff.’ It was a quality that was mysterious, that manifested itself in every scene of the film. It was sort of a spirit…” – Philip Kaufman (from 2020 interview at Cinémathèque – Paris)

First of all, a big thanks to Rebecca from Taking Up Room for hosting the Aviation in Film Blogathon, a celebration of flight and flicks. This week, I take a look at one of my unabashed favorites, The Right Stuff. While I don’t have an official top ten list of all-time favorite movies, if I did, this would certainly occupy a spot.

The Mercury 7 Astronauts

Writer/director Philip Kaufman handled the unenviable task of adapting Tom Wolfe’s captivating book (serialized in Rolling Stone magazine), which chronicled the story of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, along with the test pilots who crawled so they could run. Kaufman keeps many threads running throughout his film, and does an admirable job of avoiding them getting tangled. Much more than a stuffy chain of events, The Right Stuff focuses on some of the many unique, colorful individuals who made space flight possible. Levon Helm’s folksy narration bookends the film, evoking images of the Old West, as it relates to the unexplored frontier of space.

Sputnik

Set amidst the backdrop of the Cold War, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were engaged in a battle for supremacy of the skies: the Space Race. Despite America’s supposed technical superiority over Russia (One NASA engineer remarks, “Our Germans are better than their Germans.”), they lag behind the achievements of the Soviets, with Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin. The desperate urgency to catch up is encapsulated by a hilarious and horrifying montage of failed rocket tests. Considering the risks and rewards involved, the freshly minted astronaut program required a new type of person.

Chuck Yeager in the X-1

Two parallel stories run throughout the film – It’s as much about test pilot Chuck Yeager (expertly portrayed by actor/playwright Sam Shepard)*/** as it is about the Mercury 7 astronauts. Kaufman’s wife reportedly spotted Shepard in a bar, and insisting that he was perfect for the role. While Shepard was reluctant to play Yeager at first, Kaufman persisted in pursuing him until he eventually settled into the role. In retrospect, Shepard was the ideal choice. Yeager anchors the film, with his “can do” attitude and no-nonsense approach. Yeager’s laid-back, fearless persona belies the nature of his extremely hazardous profession, typified by a high pilot mortality rate (The ominous presence of a minister, played by Royal Dano, looms like a harbinger of death throughout the film). The film begins in 1947, when Yeager breaks the sound barrier in his rocket-powered Bell X-1, nicknamed “Glamorous Glennis,” after his wife (played by Barbara Hershey). While he paved the way for the astronauts, he wasn’t considered a suitable candidate, because he didn’t fit NASA’s profile, which required a college degree. Instead, he carries on as he always had, stretching the capabilities of experimental aircraft. In a climactic scene, pursuing the elusive world altitude record in a souped-up F-104 Starfighter, he briefly reaches the edge of space, before hurtling down in an uncontrolled spin. At once, the scene signifies his determination to push the boundaries, as well as a reminder that for him, space remains just out of reach.   

* Fun Fact #1: The real Chuck Yeager served as a technical consultant, and appeared in the film as a bartender at Pancho’s, a favorite hangout for test pilots at Edward’s Air Force Base. 

* Fun Fact #2: According to Kaufman, Yeager and Shepard didn’t initially hit it off (Yeager reportedly told the director, “This guy ain’t me.”), but eventually became friends during the production. On the other hand, Yeager took an instant shine to Barbara Hershey, who portrayed his wife, Glennis, referring to her by character’s name. 

** Fun Fact #3: Beeman’s Gum is featured prominently in the film, as Yeager reportedly chewed a stick during each flight. Besides being a favorite of pilots, the gum originally contained pepsin, which allegedly calmed the stomach.

 

John Glenn on TV

Before they ever flew into space, the Mercury 7 astronauts already enjoyed their celebrity status, to varying degrees. Scott Glenn portrays Alan Shepard who enjoys a good joke, but is nothing but serious when it comes to his profession. The late, great Fred Ward excels as gruff Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, proving number two is the worst spot. After the fanfare and celebration following Shepard’s flight, Grissom’s ends in near disaster when the hatch on his capsule blows prematurely. Instead of a ticker tape parade or a meeting with the President, he’s treated to an inquiry by doubting NASA officials. Ed Harris’ charismatic interpretation of John Glenn* comes across as an overgrown yet amiable boy scout (part of Kaufman’s direction to Harris – smile more), giving us a hint of the astronaut who would become a politician. Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid) comes across as a cocky goofball, with a tendency to sleep when things are at their most tense. 

* Fun Fact #4: According to co-producer Robert Chartoff, “Ed Harris walked into the office, and we looked at him and couldn’t believe that such a person existed. He was not only a wonderful actor but looked so much like John Glenn. And of course we looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my God, this is the guy we want.’ I said to Phil (Kaufman), ‘Please, don’t let this guy get hit by a car. At least, not until after the picture is made.’” (Excerpt from Wired.com article)

Argument Between the Astronauts

In one key scene, the pressures of being in the public eye reach a boiling point as the astronauts argue with each other about their responsibility as role models, versus how they conduct their private lives. Shepard and Glenn almost come to blows over their difference of opinion, but just as things are about to get out of hand, they find a united cause. NASA wants to send a chimp up in space, and it becomes clear to the astronauts that they’re held in the same regard. It all comes to a head when they confront the arrogant NASA engineers, who view the astronauts as nothing more than an occupant in a remote-controlled vehicle of their design (“a redundant component”). As pilots, the astronauts scrutinize the prototype capsule with skepticism (windowless, with no hatch they can open from the inside, or control in the event of a system failure). It’s a clash between the hands-on, practical approach of the astronauts (“We want a window.”) and the arrogant, book-smart engineers (“This is the way it is.”).

The NASA Recruiters

Amidst the drama, there are so many terrific comic moments. Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum (who largely improvised their lines), appear as two bumbling government recruiters, who court test pilots for the hazardous job. After his launch is delayed for hours, and he’s bolted into his cockpit, Alan Shepard declares that he has to urinate. Unfortunately for Shepard, no one considered this contingency for a supposed 15-minute flight, which sparks a fierce debate between the engineers and astronauts about what peeing in his spacesuit might do to his spacecraft. In an earlier scene, also with Shepard, he’s confronted by a Latino orderly with the ramifications of using a racist impression during a particularly vulnerable moment.

Annie Glenn

Kaufman had such a monumental task balancing Yeager’s story, with the ensemble work of the seven astronauts that it’s inevitable some of the Mercury 7, notably Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank), Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen), and Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin) are relegated more to the background (for more on these three, I suggest checking out Wolfe’s book). While Kaufman spends significantly less time on the wives of the astronauts, the actresses’ performances shine through, speaking to the wives’ strength and resolve in the face of uncertainty. Trudy Cooper (Pamela Reed) reaches her wit’s end, following her husband Gordon from base to base, and remaining forever in his shadow. John Glenn’s wife Annie (Mary Jo Deschanel) refuses to appear on national TV with Vice President Lyndon Johnson (Donald Moffat), due to a stutter (much to the indignation of Johnson). Veronica Cartwright (as Betty Grissom) shares one of the film’s most heart-wrenching scenes with Fred Ward, sharing their anguish and bitterness about their unfair treatment by NASA officials.

Chuck Yeager and the NF-104

So what exactly is “The Right Stuff?” It’s that indefinable quality to push the envelope,* and embrace a challenge rather than step away from it. Just because so-called experts said breaking the sound barrier couldn’t be done, didn’t mean that it was an impossible task for Yeager. It’s unwavering resolve under pressure when most individuals would give up – a reliance on wits and fearlessness. A common trait found among Yeager and the astronauts is that they’re all adrenaline junkies, driven to be the best and the fastest (Gordon Cooper asks his wife, “Who’s the best pilot you ever saw,” and subsequently answers his own question. “You’re looking at him.”) In an early scene, the NASA recruiters invite Scott Carpenter to consider joining their dangerous program, which prompts the response, “Count me in.” When John Glenn is informed that his Mercury spacecraft will be launched by the more powerful, albeit unpredictable Atlas rocket, he doesn’t hesitate to step up to the challenge.

* Not so Fun Fact: Unfortunately, during filming, Joseph Svec, a stuntman, was killed filming a parachute drop, when his chute failed to open. 

 

The X-1

The excellent performances are matched by the brilliance of the visuals, thanks to cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s superb camerawork and effects supervised by Gary Gutierrez. The action sequences are kinetic and visceral, punctuated with moments of visual poetry. The sound barrier is imagined as a demon that lives in the sky. A deftly applied mixture of editing, effects and photography place us squarely in the cramped cockpit of the X-1 with Chuck Yeager. Sparks in the Australian outback are juxtaposed with mysterious “fireflies” that surround John Glenn’s capsule, Friendship 7. The most iconic shot of the film is a slow-motion sequence, depicting the Mercury 7 astronauts walking side-by-side in full gear, which has been copied and parodied in countless movies (think Monsters, Inc.).

Gordon Cooper

The Right Stuff achieves the virtually impossible task of de-mythologizing the original astronauts, as it preserves the mythos surrounding them. Although Kaufman juggles so many characters,* the end results appear almost effortless. The film features uniformly exceptional ensemble work by a talented cast of (then) mostly unknowns. Bill Conti’s soaring score equally plays a vital role, lends the right amount of gravitas to the visuals. Despite a runtime of nearly three-and-a-quarter hours, it never seems too slow or too long, but just right (at least to this reviewer). It’s one of the fastest three hours you’ll ever spend. In an age when manned rocket launches have become almost passé, and no longer hold the public’s attention the way they once did, it’s important to remember the bold few who paved the way for everyone who followed. The Right Stuff is so much more than a history lesson, it’s a testament to the human spirit, as well as a grand piece of entertainment. 

* Fun Fact #5: According to Kaufman, there were 134 speaking parts. 

 

Sources: “Punch a Hole in the Sky: An Oral History of TheRight Stuff,” by Alex French and Howie Kahn, Wired.com; Interview with Philip Kaufman at Cinémathèque – Paris, 2020 

 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Starman

Starman Poster

(1983) Directed by John Carpenter; Written by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon; Starring: Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith, Richard Jaeckel and Robert Phalen; Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

Rating: **** 

“You are a strange species, not like any other, and you would be surprised how many there are. Intelligent but savage. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst.” – Starman (Jeff Bridges)

Mother Ship and Alien Craft

Although the name “John Carpenter” has become synonymous with horror, labeling the filmmaker as exclusively a “horror” director would be reductive and inaccurate. Arguably, science fiction has played just as much, if not a greater role in Carpenter’s filmography, starting with his first movie, Dark Star (1974). What few filmgoers and critics are inclined to acknowledge, however, is that Carpenter has a softer, romantic side. His gentler sensibilities are on full display with Starman,* a sci-fi-tinged romantic road movie. In an era known for effects-laden spectaculars, Carpenter purposely went in the opposite direction, commenting, “The effects weren’t going to rule the movie.” There’s spectacle, to be sure (courtesy of the good folks at ILM), but effects are used sparingly, to complement rather than overshadow the story. 

* Fun Fact #1: Although he didn’t receive official screenwriting credit, Dean Riesner was responsible for the rewrite of Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon’s script. As a token of his appreciation, Carpenter mentioned Riesner in the “Thanks” portion of the credits, resulting in a fine from the Writers Guild. 

Starman and Jenny

In the opening scene, we see Voyager II drifting through interplanetary space, accompanied by the strains of “Satisfaction,” from the Rolling Stones. */** Only seven years out from Earth, the probe is detected by an alien intelligence. Cut to an unidentified craft, entering our planet’s atmosphere – an Air Force fighter*** intercepts the UFO, causing it to crash land in a remote, forested area. The spacecraft’s solitary occupant, a being made of energy, wanders into the living room of recent widow, Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). It takes on human form, based on a lock of hair and a picture in a photo album.**** The alien’s choice proves to be a fortuitous one, as he bears an uncanny resemblance to Jenny’s dead husband, Scott. She points a gun at the intruder, but thankfully for the Starman, a moment of indecision stays her hand from blowing him away (which also would have made this a much shorter movie). Instead, she becomes his hostage of sorts, as they hit the road on a quest to reunite the alien visitor with his people. Complications ensue, as they’re relentlessly pursued by the feds, who want to study him. 

* Fun Fact #2: According to the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory website, at the time of this movie, Voyager I and II were just past the orbit of Saturn. Both spacecraft were equipped with a golden record, which included greetings in multiple languages, and various sounds and images from Earth. 

** Fun Fact #3: While the film would have us believe that “Satisfaction” was included on Voyager’s record, the actual disc features “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry. 

*** Fun Fact #4: I’ve always found this part amusing – instead of using generic stock footage of an Air Force jet, the filmmakers employed footage of the prototype F-20 Tigershark. I can only surmise this was a not-so-subtle attempt by Northrop Corporation to pimp its fighter to the U.S. Air Force (and prospective overseas governments). Despite being a reportedly capable aircraft, no one purchased it, and the F-20 was relegated to a footnote in aviation history.

**** Fun Fact #5: Three legendary effects wizards handled Starman’s tricky transformation scene from baby to adult: Rick Baker (baby Starman), Stan Winston (intermediate, stretching form), and Dick Smith (final transformation).

Starman Flips Hunter the Bird

Starman works so well, largely on account of Jeff Bridges’ childlike (but not childish) performance in the title role. As the audience, we watch through his eyes as he experiences everything for the first time. Even something as mundane as dessert takes on wondrous and perplexing properties. Bridges described his character as “…a person impersonating a human being,” which perfectly explains the Starman’s eccentric behavior. He’s the de facto poster child for anyone who considers themselves to be socially awkward or a little outside the norm. His combination of jerky movements and misunderstanding of the cues and complexities of human interactions, lead to some terrific comic moments (as when he learns the difference between gesturing with a thumb, versus a middle finger). During his travails on the road, he also learns about humanity’s propensity for love and violence, in less than equal measures.

Jenny in Restroom

So much has been said about Bridges’ endearingly idiosyncratic (and Oscar-nominated) performance that it’s easy to overlook Karen Allen’s nuanced portrayal of a woman absorbed with grief. While her role isn’t nearly as flashy as Bridges’, she’s much more than a foil for his fish-out-of-water antics. Throughout the film, Jenny undergoes a progression, from fear and surprise, to compassion. When she ultimately allows herself to let go of her husband, she can begin to accept the being that has assumed his appearance. The only false note in her character, as written, is the abrupt shift in their relationship from emotional to physical during the span of a few days. I concede that Jenny’s judgment is likely clouded by unresolved grief for her deceased husband, coupled with a terminal case of Stockholm Syndrome. Nevertheless, I can’t help but imagine how terribly uncomfortable it would be, bumping uglies in a drafty (and probably leaky) boxcar, filled with hay, but who am I to trample on two individuals ensconced in the throes of lust?

Mark Shermin and George Fox

The third major player in this little drama is the film’s moral compass, Mark Shermin, played by Charles Martin Smith with cigar-chomping bravado. Just because he’s hired as consultant by the feds, he’s not about to play by their rules. Unlike many of his cohorts, he seems to be the only one capable of independent thought or compassion. He’s promptly rebuked when he bristles at the plan to capture Starman for experimentation (“We invited him here!”).* In one emasculating act, haughty government official George Fox (Richard Jaeckel) yanks the cigar from his mouth. It only makes Fox’s eventual comeuppance sweeter, in a later scene, when Shermin defiantly blows smoke in his face. 

* Fun Fact #6: Carpenter, who was a pilot in his own right, enjoys a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo in the cockpit of one of the helicopters pursuing Jenny and Starman.  

Starman and Jenny Pursued by Feds

Starman reminds us that John Carpenter’s filmography isn’t always gloom and doom. Instead, we’re treated to a refreshingly hopeful story that still manages to carry his signature post-Vietnam cynicism about shadowy government entities and general disdain for authority figures. Change is possible, but it has to come from individuals. Starman also proves his versatility as a filmmaker, who can alternately horrify us and pull at our heartstrings.

 

Sources for this article: Commentary by John Carpenter and Jeff Bridges; “What are the Contents of the Golden Record?” JPL/NASA website 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

April Quick Picks and Pans

The Last Wave Poster

The Last Wave (1977) Peter Weir’s enigmatic follow-up to Picnic at Hanging Rock is almost a spiritual sequel to its cryptic predecessor, raising many questions but providing few answers. David Burton (Richard Chamberlin), a Sydney lawyer, defends a group of aboriginal men accused of murder. While the group’s nominal leader, Chris Lee (David Gulpilil), is Burton’s link to the truth, he only offers answers in riddles that ultimately lead to cataclysmic dream visions. Weir’s deliberately paced film doesn’t spoon-feed explanations. Instead, it requires our patience, as we’re left to make sense of it all. Mesmerizing.    

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

The Juniper Tree Poster

The Juniper Tree (1990) Writer/director Nietzchka Keene’s bleak, lyrical film (based on a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm), set sometime in Iceland’s early history, exploits the Nordic country’s stark landscape with stunning black and white cinematography. Björk stars as Margit, the younger sister of Katla (Bryndis Petra Bragadóttir). Katla marries Jóhann (Valdimar Örn Flygenring), a still-grieving widower, much to the indignation of his petulant son, and things only get worse from there. The Juniper Tree entrances and beguiles, depicting a world where witchcraft and nature entwine. 

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Kanopy

Stacy Poster

Stacy (aka: Stacy: Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies) (2001) A worldwide pandemic affecting 15- to 17-year-old girls transforms them into mindless, flesh-eating zombies (the movie’s title references the slang term for the animated corpses). Director Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s low-budget horror/comedy (based on a novel by Kenji Ôtsuki) is scattershot in its approach, but manages to provide some commentary about isolation and human connection in modern society. Despite the cheap shot-on-video production values, the gory practical effects are surprisingly good. There are also some fun references to other zombie films, notably the paramilitary organization RRK (Romero Repeat Kill) Corps, and designer chainsaws called “Bruce Campbell’s Right Hand.” 

Rating: ***. Available on DVD

Winterbeast Poster

Winterbeast (1992) A Massachusetts park ranger (Mike Magri) investigates the disappearance of several people in his jurisdiction. Signs point to a Native American curse and a deranged resort owner. All sorts of demons, who seem to be from a different flick altogether, unleash their vengeance. Writer/director Christopher Thies’ indescribable mess, cobbled together from different footage over a span of several years, features amateurish performances, sub-par stop-motion animation, and bad rubber makeup effects. Yet despite all its deficits, it’s never boring (always a plus in my book), and the rough edges only make it more endearing. If you’re looking for a selection for bad movie night, look no further. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray (included in Home Grown Horrors Volume I), DVD (as a double feature with Nudist Colony of the Dead) and Shudder 

 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

A Few Brief Blog Announcements

David Cronenberg - The Dead Zone

Whew! What a year. What? It’s only April? How can that be? It’s been quite an eventful time, so far, and its only bound to get busier as the months progress. Between work, personal obligations, and all the recent blog activity, it’s all been a bit much, and I need to take a breather. To that end, my wife and I are heading to the magical country of Iceland for some much-needed R&R (and my birthday celebration). Before I head off into the wild blue yonder, however, I had a few announcements.

 

Peter Lorre Surprised

Last week, I quietly reached a major blog milestone, with more than 1 million pageviews (I know, I know, that probably includes some spammy websites linking to it, but don’t steal my thunder)! When I started Cinematic Catharsis, I never expected to have 1,000 page views, so to say this ongoing labor of love has exceeded my expectations is a gross understatement. I’ve met some astonishingly talented movie bloggers along the way, and it’s been an honor to call some my friends. Of course, I couldn’t have done it without you, dear reader. Whether you’re a first-timer, or a regular visitor to this site, no words can adequately express my gratitude. Thank you all for visiting, and continuing to read my scribblings.

The Big Sleep

I’m also pleased to announce that I will have another article featured in The DarkPages, for their upcoming Big 100th edition, regarding the lessons I’ve learned from one of my all-time favorite noirs, The Big Sleep. There’s also another blog post coming (Hint: It’s based on a challenge by my blogathon co-host), although it probably won’t surface until sometime in mid-April.

The Corman-verse Blogathon

And speaking of looking ahead, The Corman-verse Blogathon, hosted by Yours Truly and Gill Jacob from Realweegiemidget Reviews is next month (May 26th-28th), but there’s still plenty of time to stake your claim. Here’s a list of participants, so far:

 

Brian Schuck, Films from Beyond the Time Barrier - The Fast and the Furious (1955)

Scampy, The Spirochaete Trail - The Aftermath (1988)

Gabriela, Pale Writer - House of Usher (1960) & Premature Burial (1962) 

Terence Towles Canote, A Shroud of Thoughts - Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Andrew Wickliffe, The Stop Button - The Intruder (1962)

Booksteve, Booksteve's Library - Ski Troop Attack (1960)

Tristan Lofting - The Trip (1967)

J-Dub, Dubsism - A Bucket of Blood (1959)

Amber, @tangoineden (Instagram) -  Gunslinger (1956)

Steve Q. - The Great Texas Dynamite Chase (1976)

Debbie Vega, Moon in Gemini - Tower of London (1962)

Lê, Critica Retro - TBD

Tom, Motion Picture Gems - Munchies (1987)

Stone Gasman - Targets (1968)

Rebecca Deniston, Taking Up Room - The Wasp Woman (1959)

Lady Eve, Lady Eve's Reel Life - The Gunfighter (1950)

Kayla, Whimsically Classic - The Raven (1963) 

Kerry Fristoe, Brattle Theatre Film Notes - The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967)

Gill Jacob, Realweegiemidget Reviews - Alligator (1980)

Barry P., Cinematic Catharsis - Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

One small request: Since I might inadvertently miss your request in the coming week, please be sure to copy my excellent co-host, Gill, by commenting on her post, or through her blog’s Contact Me page (Be sure to include your preferred name, along with your blog’s title)

 

As always, stay tuned…


Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Body Horror Month Quick Picks and Pans

Taxidermia Poster

Taxidermia (2006) Director/co-writer György Pálfi’s fascinatingly grotesque film consists of a trio of interwoven stories (based on short stories by Lajos Parti Nagy), covering three generations (1942, 1960s, and presumably the 1980s) of a Hungarian family. In the first segment, a sexually frustrated soldier indulges in his perverse fantasies. The second concerns a fictional Eastern Bloc eating contest, while the third involves a skinny taxidermist (Marc Bischoff) and his beyond-morbidly obese father (Gábor Máté). Pálfi juxtaposes some truly stomach-turning imagery with visual poetry, adding up to an unforgettable viewing experience. It’s a mixture decidedly not for everyone, but if you’re that certain someone who appreciates the repugnant with the sublime, this might just be precisely what you’re looking for. 

Rating: ****. Available on DVD

Titane Poster 

Titane (2021) This audacious, unsettling movie by filmmaker Julia Ducournau makes her one to watch. Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), an exotic dancer with a titanium plate in her skull, has intercourse with a car (No, really!). She subsequently becomes pregnant, but there’s much, much more to the story, full of twists and turns that I wouldn’t dare spoil here. I’m not going to venture an explanation about what it all means, and I can’t exactly say I enjoyed it, but I can’t help but admire Titane’s unflinching commitment to its absurd premise, melding flesh and metal.   

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Hulu

Sssssss Poster

Sssssss (1973) Strother Martin plays, Carl Stoner a herpetologist shunned by the scientific community because of his unorthodox theories. He hires David Blake (Dirk Benedict, of Battlestar Galactica and A Team fame), a naïve young college student as his assistant. Soon, he becomes Stoner’s unwitting pawn in an experiment to transform man into a king cobra. Complications ensue when the mad doctor’s comely daughter Kristina (Heather Menzies-Urich) falls for David. None of the proceedings in this batty flick make a lick of sense (It’s never explained why Stoner keeps the cobra’s mortal enemy, a mongoose, on the premises, except perhaps to justify the climactic battle), but it’s strangely entertaining, thanks to a committed cast and some cool makeup effects. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Manster Poster

The Manster (aka: The Split) (1959) Some men could be accused of being led around by their “other” head (amiright?), but I’d wager no one’s expecting to take that literally. Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley), an American journalist working in Japan, meets mad scientist Dr. Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura), and soon becomes a test subject. After the doctor injects him with an experimental serum, Larry suddenly sprouts another noggin, and his baser instincts take hold. He forgets his wife Linda (Jane Hylton), starting an affair with the scientist’s lascivious assistant, Tara (Terri Zimmern). By the end of The Manster, the only thing that Dr. Suzuki’s experiment proves is that two heads are certainly not better than one. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself scratching your own coconut over the dubious science and the wacky climax. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Antiviral Poster

Antiviral (2012) Filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg’s commentary on the cannibalistic nature of celebrity worship brings up some intriguing concepts, and the labyrinthine plot wouldn’t be out of place in a film noir. It’s too bad that it suffers from a wooden lead (Caleb Landry Jones) who mumbles most of his lines and a cast of unrelatable characters. I suppose the art design (where white walls predominate) was intended to convey an austere, clinical look, but without the benefit of contrasts from set to set, the overall impact is numbing. The net effect is an intellectually stimulating, yet emotionally uninvolving experience. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Exte - Hair Extensions Poster

Exte: Hair Extensions (2007) Director/co-writer Sion Sono dips his foot in the body horror sub-genre, with this fractured fable about human foibles and stolen follicles. A mysterious shipping container yields a bizarre and gruesome discovery when officials find it filled with hair and bodies. A lonely dock guard with a hair fetish (Ren Osugi) takes one of the corpses (which might or might not be alive) home, to harvest its continually sprouting locks. Meanwhile, Yuki (Megumi Satô), a young hair stylist, contends with her irresponsible older sister while she balances her job responsibilities. There are some nice moments, featuring creepy imagery, but Sono’s film is all over the board, tonally (from wacky comedy to a drama about child abuse). I wish Sono had picked a lane and stuck with it, but Exte might be worth a look, for curiosity’s sake. 

Rating: **½. Available on DVD

Tusk Poster

 Tusk (2014) An obnoxious podcaster (Justin Long) travels to Canada to cover an internet meme celebrity, only to find a much bigger story, involving an eccentric retired sea captain (Michael Parks) who’s obsessed with walruses. Little does he suspect (Isn’t that always the case) that he’ll soon become a victim of the warped millionaire’s latest experiment. The story at the movie’s core would make a nice half-hour segment in a horror anthology. Unfortunately, Writer/director Kevin Smith fills the other two thirds of the movie with mostly unfunny gags (imagine every Canadian stereotype thrown into the mix) and scenes that go nowhere (mostly involving an uncredited Johnny Depp as a French-Canadian detective). While I can’t recommend this movie in good conscience, it might be worth checking out, if only for the absurdly horrifying scenes of the walrus-human creation (featuring some excellent makeup effects supervised by Robert Kurtzman of KNB Effects). 

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Kanopy

Contracted Poster

Contracted (2013) Writer/director Eric England’s cautionary tale starts with an intriguing premise, but falters after it leaves the starting gate. After being manipulated into an ill-advised one-night stand, a young woman discovers a strange disease spreading rapidly throughout her body. She soon finds herself falling apart, while she gradually alienates herself from everyone. Unfortunately, Contracted is hampered by unconvincing performances and situations. Even when she undergoes some very conspicuous (and icky) changes, no one seems overly concerned. Even her doctor, completely at a loss about her illness, doesn’t seem particularly alarmed (I’m not an MD, but I’d probably contact the CDC or refer her to a hospital). Instead, everyone thinks she’s being annoying, hooked on drugs, or making things up. There was a great opportunity for social commentary, but it’s a hard pill to swallow when it’s so clumsily executed. 

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

 

Friday, March 25, 2022

Announcing the Corman-verse Blogathon

The Corman-verse Blogathon

When you think of the term “living legend,” Roger Corman should be on everyone’s short list. Hollywood outsider, who re-shaped Hollywood into his image, famous for making movies fast and cheap, creating significant work and schlock in equal portions (But we’re not judging. Someone else’s trash could be your treasure). He’s mentored and influenced some of the biggest names in the business, including James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Gale Anne Hurd, Joe Dante, Jack Nicholson, Beverly Garland, and many, many more… Gill Jacob, my superb blogathon co-host from Realweegiemidget Reviews, is joining me to celebrate the man, his movies, and his countless mentees. Now, we’re inviting you to join us.

Bucket of Blood

What’s the Corman-verse? IMDB lists more than 500 producing credits (and counting) alone!  Not one to simply rest on his laurels, he’s still going strong at the age of 95 (96 on April 5th!). Chances are, whether you know it or not, you’ve probably seen something that involved Mr. Corman. Don’t know where to start? Check out his IMDB and Wikipedia pages.

The Raven

What does that mean for you, dear blogger (or podcaster)? Thanks to Mr. Corman’s numerous credits, you have virtually endless possibilities (Surprise us!). Anything he’s produced, directed, written are good candidates for the blogathon, but we’re also opening this up to include any actors or filmmakers who have been strongly influenced by Corman – if you can link them to Corman, it’s fair game!

Rock 'n Roll High School

Here are just a few topic suggestions: 

·       Corman’s “Poe Cycle” of movies (The House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, etc…)

·       Social consciousness in Corman movies

·       Dick Miller’s many appearances in Corman films

·       Joe Dante’s early work

·       Corman’s numerous disciples

·       The ill-fated, unreleased movie, The Fantastic Four (1994)

And just because it’s called a “blogathon,” don’t let that deter you. We will cheerfully accept submissions from your podcast, YouTube channel, Facebook/Instagram post, sea shanties, beat poetry, whatever. Still puzzled about a topic? Feel free to reach out and bounce your idea off us. No reasonable offer will be refused.

The Fantastic Four

What: The Corman-verse Blogathon

Who: Hosted by Yours Truly (Barry P.) and Gill Jacob

Where: Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews

When: May 26-28, 2022

How: Please read the rules below, and send me your post request(s) (reviews, podcasts, etc…) via email (barry_cinematic@yahoo.com), Twitter (@barry_cinematic), or by commenting below. You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, or through her blog’s Contact Me page (Be sure to include your preferred name, along with your blog’s title).

The Intruder
And now, the rules…

 

  1. If Roger Corman produced, directed, wrote, or appeared the film, you’re welcome to review it. Book reviews are also acceptable. You may also submit reviews of movies from filmmakers that were mentored by Corman.
  2. Due to the vast number of potential subjects for this blogathon, ABSOLUTELY NO DUPLICATE TITLES WILL BE ACCEPTED (unless it’s part of a career profile or series of films).
  3. We won’t accept posts that are uncomplimentary or disrespectful to him.
  4. Review/post choices may be requested as a comment on this page or you may contact me through the methods listed above.
  5. Add your Twitter username so we can promote your post.
  6. A full list of blogs and review choices will be posted on a separate page and updated regularly.
  7. Only original, never-before-published posts will be accepted.
  8. Limit TWO blog posts per participant, please.
  9. Send a link of your post(s) to me or Gill on one of the days of the blogathon. Note: We will be publishing all links on both blogs. 
  10. Please also note: Gill and I have already claimed the following titles below:

Barry at Cinematic Catharsis – Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

 

Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews – Alligator (1980)

One more thing...

If you plan to participate, or just want to show your support, please grab one of the following banners to display on your blog:





                                                                    

We can’t wait to see your submissions. Put on your thinking caps, be creative, and above all, have fun!