NetFlix Movie review : THE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY

 

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THE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY – There’s a very interesting opening to this film, and a wonderful texture that belies this film’s formulaic poster and unoriginal title.

This is a sumptuously filmed, and quite sexy film. Well performed, well directed by Steven R. Monroe, with a score that is reminiscent in places of John Carpenter or Daria Argento scored films. But particularly the look of this film compels… it is gorGEous.

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This is a film that is less horror and more a taut thriller and in some ways a muscular but dumb action movie aesthetic, crafted onto the bones of what should be just a formulaic possession film.

I like this film, even though the fourth act is something of a misfire, it is not doing anything exceptionally original, and in many ways it is very trite and yes dumb, (the patient gets to take a trip out of the asylum, gets to go back in with his vestments. Really? The demon voice, and pea soup, spitting, it is all this close to parody. I may be twisted but I found the scene with the scissors and the ear, hilarious. So there are definite tonal issues), however compelling visuals and  a quick moving story keep the film ahead of its flaws, and makes for an entertaining watch. 

So while not in the same league (or hemisphere) as the granddaddy of exorcism films… THE  EXORCIST, it’s head and shoulders above more plodding and dire Excorcism films, such as EXORCISMUS,

Grade: Recommended. B. Not worth a purchase, but worth a look if you catch it on VOD or as a rental. Currently showing on NetFlix.

 

 

Fanfare for a Death Scene (1964) and best Cinematographers!!

Today’s recommended movie FANFARE FOR A DEATH SCENE (1964)

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This is a forgotten little 1964 made for TV movie, that sports the phenomenal camera work of the great Conrad L. Hall. The opening sequence alone is reason enough to view this film.

You can view the film courtesy of Amazon Prime.

Click here for Fanfare For A Death Scene

When it comes to the great camera men of cinema, Conrad Hall, in terms of bravura visual styling and seminal impact, is right up there with the best of cinematographers.

The best of them being Karl Freund (the father of cinematography in many ways, creating much of the visual techniques and language of cinema in ground breaking films such as METROPOLIS and DRACULA) Karl Struss (SUNSHINE) and Freddie Young (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA), James Wong Howe (SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS), Vilmos Zsigmond (two great collaborations with Robert Altman, IMAGES and THE LONG GOODBYE), Geoffrey Unsworth (2001, SUPER MAN), Bradford Young (MOTHER OF GEORGE, AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS, PAWN SACRIFICE, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, SELMA), Guy Green (GREAT EXPECTATIONS), Lisa RInzler (MENACE II SOCIETY), Sergey Urusevskiy (I AM CUBA), John Alton (his wonderful collaborations with Anthony Mann, such as T-MEN, RAW DEAL), and Yoshio Miyajima (particularly with his collaborations with Masaki Kobayashi in films such as HARA KIRI and KWAIDAN).

For more on FANFARE FOR A DEATH SCENE there is a wonderful article on the production by Stephen Bowie here!

Come back next time for more VOD picks and reviews!

Netflix Daredevil Season 2 Television Review

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The first season of Netflix’s DAREDEVIL was with one or two missteps, a masterpiece… and now the long awaited 2nd season has broken onto Netflix. And the verdict after watching all 13 episodes… it’s good overall, great in sporadic parts, and uneven throughout most of it. It feels tired and maudlin in a way the first season never did.

And much of the weakness of the 2nd season is directly related to carrying over the missteps of Season 1. The death of Vondie Curtis Hall’s character of Ben Urich was a mistake, and the sometimes screeching, sanctimonius, annoying nature of the Karen Page charater, also was always poised to upset the ship.

And here those two blips combine to I think after the first 3 strong episodes, bog down the remaining 10 episodes. Every scene with the Karen Page character (doing her Nancy Drew with the Editor), just highlights how much better those scenes would have played with Hall’s Ben Urich character bringing gravitas to those moments.

And while the actress who plays Karen Page, is definitely striking, her character is written and played annoyingly, so giving her more screen time this season is analagous to nails on a chalkboard. Her voiceover to round out the last episode, I’m sure was meant to be this poignant summation of the season, but came off as so much trite, cliched fluff. A failure of writing and delivery.

On top of that example, the writing which was a standout of most of season 1, stumbles here in season 2. I thought episode 5 was a complete trainwreck, boring, navel gazing, let down by both the writing and directing. It tried to mirror the emotional intensity of the 5th episode of Season 1, but lacked a story and writing and performances capable of carrying the episode.

Add to that the whole Daredevil/ Elektra/ Black Sky plotline, was delivered in a bit of a muddled fashion, it all reeks of perhaps needing more rewrites. I who am familiar with these characters, found the season a bit unclear and unsatisfying at times.

Those negatives acknowledged, there was much to like about season 2, I thought the action scenes were excellent, the characters of Stick and the Punisher compelling, the performances of most of the leads stellar.

So overall, glad to have seen the 2nd  season, but I didn’t love it.

And here’s hoping season 3 brings the magical return of Ben Urich’s character, and less screen time for the Karen Page character and the Paper’s Editor (who I found equally uninteresting),

Overall Grade:  B-.

 

 

Currently Reading: S.H.I.E.L.D.: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION OMNIBUS

 

S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete Collection Omnibus

 

S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete Collection Omnibus (Marvel): Marvel is proud to present — in a single complete volume — one of comics’ most-innovative series! With international threats on the rise, Tony Stark and a council of global powers tapped Nick Fury to protect the US from Hydra, A.I.M., Baron Strucker, and the Yellow Claw. The greatest team in comics, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, dove into the world of covert ops, mixing Cold War drama with the mighty Marvel manner. They set the tone, but when Steranko took over, he rewrote the entire rulebook. Steranko turned S.H.I.E.L.D. into one of the most visually innovative comic series ever published and every early story is presented in oversized glory. You’ve been granted Priority A-1 access, so reserve your copy today! Collecting the Nick Fury stories from Strange Tales (1951) #135-168, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1968) #1-15, Fantastic Four (1961) #21, Tales of Suspense (1959) #78, Avengers (1963) #72, Marvel Spotlight (1971) #31 (which reveals an important Nick Fury secret!), and material from Not Brand Echh (1967) #3, 8, and 11. Features work by Lee, Kirby, Steranko, Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neil, Archie Goodwin, Jim Starlin, Howard Chaykin, John Severin, Herb Trimpe, Don Heck, Barry Windsor-Smith, Sal Buscema, Joe Sinnott, and more. 960-page oversize color hardcover. – Released in September 2015, in two versions, one with an Alex Ross cover and one with a Steranko cover.  I like Alex Ross, but his cover for this book is underwhelming, clearly the Steranko cover is the one to get.

And you’ll pay for it, as quantities on the Steranko version are climbing in price. But well worth the seeking out.

 

S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete Collection Omnibus

 

 

Roku Channel of the Day: TUBI TV and Director of The Day: Roman Polanski

One of the best free VOD channels, TUBI TV has a great selection of movies and TV shows and keeps the commercial interruptions to a minimum. Replaces CRACKLE as the best free Roku channel.

Today’s Recommended movies are:

 

Born to Raise Hell The first 10 minutes of this film do not fill me with confidence. The shaky cam direction, the string of cliches, the chaotic editing. But stick with it, because it becomes a fun vehicle for some great Steven Seagal one-liners and butt kicking. And by the end, the chaotic nature of the beginning is actually revealed as something pretty innovative. This movie is not going to win any awards for originality, but it is an enjoyable watch. And has a couple impressive fight scenes. B-.

 

The Tenant Director Roman Polanski remains a famous and infamous figure, breaking onto the directorial stage in 1962 with KNIFE IN THE WATER, he has crafted some of the definitive films of the disturbed, of the latter 20th century. Among them REPULSION , CUL DE SAC, ROSEMARY’S BABY and this film THE TENANT.

While not one of the films of his prolific or golden age period (from 1962 to 1968 where he was doing a film every two years, before being derailed by horror and madness, in the tragic loss of his wife), THE TENANT is one of Polanski’s oddest films, which is saying a lot, dealing as it does with one of the central themes of Polanski’s  golden age films, ie the fragility of sanity and the deterioration of the protagonist, preyed on by forces both within and without.

 

 

While THE TENANT is not a favorite of mine, the third act is too absurd for my tastes, it should be watched to see Polanski’s genius as an actor (his performance here is great, with wonderful bits of physical comedy thrown in), and his unwavering visual style as a director. 

And its very existance is testament to the indomitability of its director, a man whose life has been beset by enough tragedy and hardships to crush (if not end) most people, from escaping a concentration camp at the age of seven to being at the heart of one of the most infamous mass murders in American history, to being beseiged by various courts, Polanski has continued to not just endure, but to create at a high level, cinema that endures and contributes to our definition of art.

For more on Roman Polanski go see an excellent NY Times peice on him Here.

 

And when done sampling his work via VOD and Roku I recommend the following DVDs and Blurays:
Repulsion (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Macbeth [Blu-ray]

Rosemary’s Baby (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Chinatown [Blu-ray]

Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir (2011) [ Blu-Ray, Reg.A/B/C Import – Australia ]

Roman Polanski: A Retrospective

Movie to be on the Lookout for : THINGS OF THE AIMLESS WANDERER

THINGS OF THE AIMLESS WANDERER

 

 

“To be absolutely mesmerized by a film, I mean totally transfixed, is a rare happening in cinema, but should be the norm, right? Rwandan director Kivu Ruhorahoza’s Things Of The Aimless Wanderer is just such a film. Spectacular and ambitious in all its working parts, it catapults cutting-edge African cinema onto the world stage with the intensity of a new religion. “

Ben Umstead TWITCH

The second feature film by Director Kivu Ruhorahoz, sounds much more in my wheelhouse than the synopsis of his first film. While his first film, GREY MATTER, is a bit of a psuedo-documentary  dealing with the raw wounds of the recent  Rwandian genocide through a movie in a movie structure,  it  is understandably bleak; and as such, by its very nature… an ordeal.

And I, personally can not watch a movie about  a real life ordeal,  without it being an ordeal.  And while I understand it is a completely valid form of cinema, and a necessary one, it is just not a form of cinema that I gravitate toward. I want more out of my cinema, than the bleak.

By all reports THINGS OF THE AIMLESS WANDERER  has that wider perspective. A rashomon tinged treatise that looks with an elegaic and surreal eye, on sins of colonialism past and present.

So if being shown at a theater near you, give it a look.

 

 

 

 

THE CINEMA OF STATUES : The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder


“He was a personable looking man. First your eye said he’s not young anymore, he’s not a boy anymore. Then your eye said : he’s not old. There was something of youth hovering over and about him, and yet refusing to land in any one particular place… In short the impression was agelessness. Not young, not old, not callous, not mature – but ageless. Thirty Six looking fifty six, or fifty six looking thirty six, but which it was you could not say.”

FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE by Cornell Woolrich

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Have you ever watched a film, and mere moments into it been so captured by its construction, its strangeness, and its audacity that it earns a spot in your pantheon, your metaphoric showcase of worthy things? I’m guessing the answer for some of us is yes. I say some, because the strange, by its very nature, will not be the cup of tea of everyone.

MARTHA based on a Cornell Woolrich story “FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE” was my first introduction to the world of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and what an introduction. I’ve been a huge devotee and fan of all things Cornell Woolrich since discovering his pulp fiction a few years ago. I own and have read a ton of Woolrich stories and novels. When I heard about this movie based (illegally it seems) on one of his stories, I had to try it.

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And MARTHA finally seen, I was blown away by the strange, nearly alien craft and audacity of that film, and that led me by fits and starts to today’s review of Fassbinder’s WORLD ON A WIRE.

I’ve watched movies all my life, I consider myself well informed when it comes to cinema. I’ve seen all the great genres, and most of the great directors. I can speak to you about German Expressionism, Film Noir, French New Wave, Italian Neo-realism, the Pan-African and Post-Colonialism movements. I can talk to you about blockbusters and straight to VOD masterpieces. And when you have seen as many films as I have, to get me through a movie these days… you have to either a/tell the familiar in a captivating way, or b/create something vibrant and unfamiliar.

Most movies and all Blockbusters are the former, they are variations on types of movies and a thematic structure that we have seen time and time again, since the dawn of cinema; what makes them successful is the ability to do the ‘rescuing the girl from the train track’ in a fresh and innovative way.

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Much rarer is the latter, films and filmmakers that fundamentally challenge and expand are definitions of the scope and pathways of cinema.

I’ve seen two of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films all the way through, and both of them have struck me that way. Now admittedly they are from phase 1 of the three loosely defined phases of his career. Phase 2 being his Melodramatic phase, Phase 3 being that melodrama morphed into his identity films, dealing with themes of national, sexual, and familial identities in collusion and in conflict. (for more on this and for an overview on the films of Fassbinder please see the excellent Film.com article by Daniel Walber here!)

Phase 1 is arguably his most experimental and innovative films, here you’ll find the genre infused stuff, tinged with film-noir, horror and scifi trappings, the genres that I enjoy. Pro-active genres. I find myself generally not the audience for his phase 2 or 3 films, I’m not a fan of melodrama or just statement films. But with most of these later films not yet tried, I’m open to being pleasantly surprised.

But Phase 1, his cinema of statues and stylization, static but wonderfully composed frames, filled with actors who are at times more statues than men, and when they are animated it is often in very jerky, stilted ways. His women, leading ladies, are variations on a theme, big eyed, statuesque but often emaciated to the point of boniness, strawberry blonds, odd beauty bordering on the antithesis of beauty, mannequins and masks, and a wonderful use of angles and reflections.

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In pieces the movies should not work, stilted, unnatural performances, what is generally considered signs of amateurish or bad acting. However in WORLD ON A WIRE (WELT AM DRAHT, 1973), that ugliness and unease, the uncomfortable pauses, the shots held too long, the awkward pacing, inappropriate and at times overbearing use of music, things we typically identify with bad films and bad filmmakers, in these two films of Fassbinder all these flaws are stylistic choices and become instead function, negating themselves and becoming calling cards of a fundamentally different definition of cinema.

WORLD ON A WIRE, which virtually nobody talks about, is this outrageous and ambitious and way long mini-series of a movie, equal parts science fiction, mystery, and avant-garde film, that has this incredibly intriguing and prophetic premise about a world in which they create not just an artificial intelligence, but an artificial world peopled with artificial intelligences.

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The intelligences are programed to be perfect representations of people, and have a based in time and motion relation to each other, and capable of sex and love and procreation. So an AI universe that is self propagating, and more predictive, as the world is designed to be on a 20 year curve, so the shopping habits and economic changes and housing changes and conflicts that occur in the artificial world today, will be predictive of what happens in our world in 20 years.

It’s a brilliant, mind blowing concept, that you’ll find in better science fiction stories, but not in movies; particularly not in movies of the period, the early 1970s. On top of which the AI universe is viewable and interact-able by means of downloading someone into one of the AI inhabitants of the AI world. What??? That is mind blowingly brilliant and audacious premise for a film, even today in 2016 in an age of avatars, much less for a film made nearly 50 years ago.

And all of that, is not even what the movie is mostly about: it’s a film-noir movie. With a scientist trying to get to the bottom of his coworker’s disappearance. And then there is all the Fassbinder weirdness going on this movie, that just adds yet another level to the movie.

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The doll like women who never seem to blink, random moments of strangeness, [a party scene, where people seem not to move, and the few who do, do the same movements over and over again. A scientist called into his bosses office for serious conversation which they have while not looking at each other and spinning in circles in their chair. a night club with mostly nude attractive Black Men and women dancing while the clothed patrons walk past feeling them up… it is just craziness that comes out of nowhere, but all of it leaves you gobsmaked and off-kilter and not knowing what is coming next.} And it’s not comedy, Fassbinder isn’t just taking the piss or going for laughs here, he is telling a straight story, but he is using a crooked path, fueled by dream logic, he wants the delivery not to be what you are expecting and in WORLD ON A WIRE he succeeds.

Fassbinder, very much the spiritual predecessor to later avant garde filmmakers such as David Lynch and Lars Von Trier, was a young maverick director who died way before his time at the age of 37, however in less than a score of years (before his untimely departure) he would make 44 films, 39 of those being feature films. It is a staggering body of work to have produced by the age of 37. How many of us will ever make one film, much less 44 of them. And to make such across the board unique films, love them or hate them, is a great testament to someone who obviously ate, drank and slept cinema.

600full-rainer-werner-fassbinder Image courtesy of film.com

I can see people not liking or dismissing Fassbinder’s 3+ hour Sci-Fi epic as just flawed. And it is flawed, like I said previously, Fassbinder likes the mistakes, the mistakes of time, mistakes of gender, mistakes of intention, mistakes of moment, and out of all these mistakes with WORLD ON A WIRE he makes, at least for me, something composed of the old, that feels endlessly new.

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Grade: B+. It is definitely not for everybody, but if you like directors who are creative with cinematography (not just 360 degree shots but 540 degree shots), adventuresome in storytelling, and loyal to their actors (Fassbinder works with the same actors repeatedly, including actors of color, such as El Hedi ben Salem, rarely done for the period, and still too little done today) then this is a film for you. Recommended.

The Fassbinder Collection Two – MARTHA

World on a Wire (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Speak to Me of Death: The Selected Short Fiction of Cornell Woolrich, Volume 1 (Collected Short Fiction of Cornell Woolrich)