Reviewing the Reviews

There are a few essential truths of the world wide web (which turned 25 this year. The internet turned 44 this year) one being that most of us use the WWW to find reviews or recommendations of new things, new joys, to consume.

Whether that’s a restaurant review, hotel review, auto repair review, book review, or as in this case movie review; the hunt for reliable reviews and reviewers can be a daunting experience. Separating viable, intelligent opinions on a movie from just caustic rants (whether overly combative or overly defensive of a viewpoint) , separating the signal from the noise can be a daunting experience; weeding out the howling mob, from the reasoned review.

Well my friends, I was doing just that today over at IMDB, a site that is unfortunately very high in the noise department, filled as it is with immature reviewers who want to grade everything either 1 or 10, the best or the worst; not realizing the truth is usually somewhere removed from those two extremes. Well I sifted through quite a few reviewers to come up with the below list of movies that sound interesting and/or stylish enough to try.

Here they go… Enjoy!

Night of Fear (1972 Australian Horror)
Ritual of Death (1990)
Night Visitor (1971)
Burning Bright (2010)
The Pack (2010)
Outcast (2010)
Wound (2010)
Buried (2010)
Amer (2009)
The Dead (2010)
In the Line of Duty 4 (1989)
The Lost Missle (1958)
Dead of Night (1945)
Angst (1983)??
Arcana (1972)
Pensione Paura (1977)
Sennentuntschi (2010)
Devil’s Business (2011)
The Dead Don’t Die (1975)
Robowar (1988)
The Card Player (2004)
Demonwarp (1988)
Ths Abomination (1986)
Manipulator (1971)
Sei Mong Se Jun / Abnormal Beauty (2004)

The Raid 2 (2014)
Under The Skin (2013)

Stranger by the Lake (2013)

TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976)
THE MANIPULATOR (1971- The late, great Mickey Rooney in a horror movie?! I have to see it. :) )
PLEASE MURDER ME (1956)
FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE (1970- Joseph Losey is one of the great unheralded noir and crime directors, so add the names Shaw and McDowell to this film’s description, and consider me intrigued)

Roku Netflix Streaming Movie of the Day!

Roku Netflix Streaming Movie of the Day!

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Alister Grierson’s 2nd and as of this writing last feature film SANCTUM, is a thrilling bit of adventure fiction, as it tells the take of a party of cave explorers in Papa New Guinea, attempting to explore the last great mystery, and how they face death and tragedy at every turn.

Based very loosely on events that writer and real life explorer Alister Grierson endured during one of his explorations (VERY, as in the only thing real is the location, the storm, and that people were trapped. But the characters and situations have been completely fictionalized to make a good thriller), the film very effectively strings together tension and conflict to create an immersive Odyssey of death in beautiful places. Grade: B.

TOP 5 DESERT ISLAND Directors! Part 1 of 3 Under Construction

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

This is an idea that the filmspotting podcast covered in their latest episode, and while they had intriguing choices it spurred me to a slightly different list and slightly different choices.

If you can only, for whatever reason, have the films of five directors to watch, on a desert island, for an uncertain amount of time, or for all time… what five directors do you choose? Fritz Lang? F.W. Murnau? Louis Feuillade? Alfred Hitchcock? David Lean? Orson Welles? Ousmane Sembene? Mary Harron?

They list very interesting choices, not as good as the names I list above (I’m joking), many of which I myself am a cheerleader for (Kurosawa, Howard Hawks), but it occurred to me that diversity, particularly when it came to Hollywood films, was a rare exception rather than a rule. And that concerned me because, if I am trapped on a deserted island with the filmography of only 5 directors, that I wanted the filmography of at least a couple of those directors to represent the ethnic width and breadth of the human condition. The beauty of a range of colors and women and cultures.

I being someone who even today gets bored with the lack of diversity of films, the idea of being stuck with films not representative of the larger world, and the rich tapestry of people in it, gave me pause. For all our berating of terms like political correctness (which when really defined is respect, so when people rail against political correctness what they are really arguing against is giving people respect) we have become a more intolerant and stratified society. And part of that I think has to do with our mass media. Our obsession with vilifying the other.

The (seemingly increasing) lack of diversity in recent films and television, being I think a dangerous sign of a tail wagging the dog society. Of a vocal minority calling for a return to ‘the good old days’ which, when finally viewed, never really were that good.

Hollywood has from its inception been a propaganda machine, where a few people’s fiction altered often negatively many people’s facts. And before discussing Desert Island directors, another discussion has to be had first… about the values of film. Not the value of film, but the values portrayed or reiterated or held dear, in perhaps too many films. We have to talk about exclusion and stereotyping in films beginnings, and in film’s present.

While willing to give a slight pass to pre-1960 films given their historic placement, I have less interest or sympathy for segregated and nearly Apartheid rich, post-1960 into 21st century, Hollywood films. Or worse the 21st century version of Step and Fetchit, black actors used to deliver White Messages. Be it MONSTERS BALL or TRAINING DAY it’s the eye-bulging, debasing, cartoonish extremes, that Black actors are saddled to wear, that hearkens to what is worst in cinema.

If the choice is between only debased caricatures… of people of color, ala Frank Darabont or David Ayer or practically no characters of color ala Woody Allen, I’ll take the latter evil. But ideally the filmmakers I want to support and revisit, are those who can represent characters of color with the same broad diversity we grant to the human race, the Michael Manns, the Carl Franklins, the Tony Scotts, the Gordon Parks.

This idea of us as hero and villain, Sexual and chaste, brilliant and imbecilic, honorable and flawed, important and funny, savior and victim. In the 21st century that diversity of roles is generally relegated to White actors. In the 21st century the number of Hollywood movies that portray characters of color with any of those positive aspects listed… are few and far between.

Even supposed mass market films like XMEN FIRST CLASS and SIN CITY reek of this ingrained stereotyping and caricature as truth, when it comes to the non-pale characters. And I could deal if this mentality and programming and white wish fulfillment was the occasional film, however in the last two decades it has become practically every film and tv show. The White hero has a woman of color pining for him, his backup girl typically. And the male actor of color, seldom a protagonist, and even less seldom does he get the girl, he is now relegated to comedy relief or side-kick; Rochester for the 21st century. Far have we drifted from the sexually virile Black stars of the 70s.

This creates a cinema of exclusion and to some extent, social engineering. Our facts are shaped by our fictions, arguably more than anything else, and a cinema of marginalization, legitimization and feminism of the male of color, bodes not well.

We are not DW Griffith we are not Cecil B. DeMills making entertainment for a virulently segregated, Jim Crow America. We have made some progress since then, and for filmmakers not to acknowledge that progress or that shifting audience, is to take a stance against that progress, and against that diverse viewing base.

We are not in the early days of the 20th century, we are in the early days of the 21st and while it is a filmmakers choice whether to be exclusionary or boring or homogeneous to a fault, you do so at the risk of failing to become a better filmmaker. You do so at the risk of making scared, redundant, and repetitive early 20th century films, here in the 21st century.

Well I’ve gone on about the pitfalls of cinema, here 15 years into the 21st century, now let’s discuss the strengths of film. The people I think are portraying an America and a world far more intune to the one I walk through, where heroes can be both Black and White.

In the Hollywood system the names are few, but welcome, and waiting… waiting for viewers, reviewers, actors, writer, producers, studios, and directors to recognize there is an inequity, a growing one, at the heart of our fictions, that much be addressed to make our cinema and ourselves… better.

Those filmmakers are (among others):

The late great Gordon Parks
The late great Tony Scott
The very much with us and Great Michael Mann
The very much with us and Great and underutilized Carl Franklin
Sergio Leonne
Ossie Davis

Very, very different directors, but what they were all able to do, sometimes for a single movie, sometimes for multiple movies, is something so rarely done in Hollywood today that it’s like there is an unofficial Hayes code prohibiting it…

…prohibiting having a movie with a character of color or Black character as both heroic protagonist and a male with a functioning libido, who doesn’t have to die or be sacrificed for the majority. :)

Outside of the great explosion of films in the 70s extending a bit into the 80s, and the subsequent eradication of locally controlled/independent theaters, The Heroic, virile Black hero has become a scare commodity on Theatrical screens.

Which is why when it gets done well… these days, such as in Peter Berg’s poorly named and badly marketed HANCOCK… the film becomes a wild success. Because there is a large population starved for empowering images of themselves. 2013 with its BUTLER and FRUITYVALE STATION and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, showcases Hollywood’s debasement attitude when it comes to theatrical releases. “Multiple characters of color? You better be a comedy, or telling us about getting your ass whupped.” :) .

Hence 2013s abundance of films of victimization, while they should be valid stories that have their place, if you counter them with just as many films of triumph, or winning, or adventure, or thrilling action and heroism. However the Heroic Tale is a rare one, and that is the failing of the system we have to change. Without the heroic myth to contrast it, tales of victimization are just an assault, a tool, a club… to beat a population into shape.

— to be continued —

Netflix Winners and Losers : DAVID O’ REILLY vs ROSALIND LEIGH in our Movie Throwdown!


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In this installment of MOVIE THROWDOWN let us start with a film from Netflix that falls solidly in the worth missing category:

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THE POSSESSION OF DAVID O’ REILLY- The audacity and body horror aspects of this film paints it as a decidedly different haunting/possession film, AMITYVILLE HORROR by way of Cronenberg-lite, but that’s not enough to offset the weaknesses of this film, Namely contrived overzealous performances, and a script that ignores the basic rationale of the protagonists not either committing or kicking out anyone behaving so mental.

It comes off as a manic exercise in filmic irrationality, that quickly wears out its welcome along with any modicum of sense. Grade: An intriguing premise that begins well, but quickly devolves into a hysterical mess. Avoid. D. The debut feature film of Andrew Cull it hints at definite promise, if he could reign in the excesses of script, acting and directing.

Of a similar type to THE POSSESSION OF DAVID O’ REILLY, even down to the nomenclature heavy title, but far better is…

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THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH- Directed by Rodrino Guidino, this is also a debut feature film, but you could not tell that by viewing it. The film has the assured look and deft touch of a master filmmaker. Impressive, grand opening sequence; beautiful use of visuals and sound. “Despair is an affliction of the godless.”.

Wonderful set design on the titular character’s cabinet of curiosities, filled as it is with religious iconography. If you are going to set a film in primarily one location, as this film does, it behooves you to have or create a location that will keep your audience captivated, and this film manages to pull that mandate off and then some.

Fluid and engaging camera work, such that it’s difficult not to stay rooted to the screen for fear of missing any of the striking imagery. The camera moves like a preternatural thing, and marries with the sound-work and set design, both of which are stunning, to create an engrossing experience.

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If a fan of HOUSE OF THE DEVIL you will adore this film and its uncoiling pacing. The unseen neighbor… very creepy. In fact this film is filled with wonderful voices, bringing to mind that this and PONTYPOOL use sound, specifically spoken word, so effectively they nearly create a whole new sub-genre of horror film.

I found THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH ultimately a very, no pun intended, haunting and sad and lovely film, which is an odd thing to say of a horror film, but this is no ordinary horror film. I highly recommend it. Grade: A-.

This is one you can sample via Netflix, and then if you are as impressed with it as I am, buy the DVD (currently a bluray does not exist) to watch this film in the highest quality possible and to be able to listen to the director’s commentary to have him walk you through what was on his mind as he composed these shots, composed this sumptuous study in bravura film-making.

So this installment’s loser is THE POSSESSION OF DAVID O’ REILLY and the winner is THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH. Both films are currently available for viewing on Netflix, and the winner available for purchase here:Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh

Tell em HT sent ya! And come back for more Movie throw-downs next time!

Podcast of the Day : A Black Fantastic Four?!? FLAME-ON!

PODCAST OF THE DAY : House To Astonish 120 – Nice discussion of comic and movie news. A Black actor playing one of the Fantastic Four in the upcoming movie? FLAME-ON! :).

Possibly not the choice that would have come to me, but the actor, script, and director will determine if its a great, inspired idea, or a mediocre one. I give them the benefit of the doubt. Idris Elba in Thor was a great decision, as was Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury, so this could be a great idea too.

Listen HERE!

Netflix Movie of the Day : Andrew Goth’s GALLOWWALKERS!

Andrew Goth’s GALLOWWALKERS is an odd but effective mating of Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and Alejandro Jordorowsky’s EL TOPO with a bit of Raimi and Fulci tossed in, but for all its influences, there is a lyric mania to this film that is all its own.

GALLOWWALKERS is a decidedly new and lurid and grand guinol take on one of the oldest of film genres. Plus it is just a beautifully shot film, with some of the best end-credits I’ve seen; a film that deserves to be owned, and will only grow more favored with repeat viewings. Grade: B+.