TERRIFIER (2016)

Review by LL Soares

I was pleasantly surprised by this effective little horror film. I’m sure it cost almost nothing to make, and the story isn’t all that original (killer clown goes on the rampage). But, man, that clown makeup is creepy as hell! Filmmaker Damien Leone has served up a treat in the character of Art the Clown!

Based on a 2011 short of the same name by director Leone, TERRIFIER takes place over the course of one blood-drenched Halloween night in the big city.

It starts with a creepy interview on TV between a morning talk show host and a poor woman who was a victim of Art’s LAST Halloween rampage (he’s done this before!), who had her face torn off, and who looks suitably disturbing. Then it moves to the main story.

It’s late, and Tara Heyes (Jenna Kanell, also in “THE BYE BYE MAN,” 2017) and her friend Dawn (Catherine Corcoran, “AMITYVILLE: VANISHING POINT,” 2016) are going home after a drunken party. The thing is, Dawn’s too intoxicated to drive, so they argue about who’s going to get behind the wheel. During the argument, Tara sees a weird-looking clown (David Howard Thornton, also in the TV series, “NIGHTWING: ESCALATION,” 2016-2017) staring at them. When she points it out to Dawn, he’s gone.

Eventually, the two of them end up in a pizzeria (Dawn is hungry), and the clown comes in and sits down a few tables from them, just in Tara’s line of vision. He doesn’t speak, but there’s something spooky and threatening about him. Tara’s scared, but Dawn shows she isn’t by going over and taking a selfie with the clown. The clown goes to the bathroom and one point and is chased out of the restaurant when he does something disgusting (what, we don’t see).

When the girls feel sober enough to leave, Dawn sees she has a flat tire and so Tara has to call her sister, Victoria (Samantha Scaffidi, “DEMON HOLE,” 2017), who’s up studying for law school, to come pick them up. While they’re waiting, Tara has to go to the bathroom, and they end up going to a nearby apartment building, where an exterminator (Matt McAllister) is on the front stoop, taking a smoke break. They ask if they can use the bathroom, and he says he could get in trouble, but he finally relents. The exterminator, Mike, leads her to a filthy toilet stall in the back of the building and then he goes about spraying for rats with headphones on (so he can’t hear anything that’s going to happen).

Tara is repulsed by the condition of the toilet, but what’s a girl to do? Afterwards, she wanders around, lost and looking for Mike, and finds herself in a back alley behind the building, where she sees a weird, crazy cat lady (Pooya Moheseni, “GHOST SOURCE ZERO,” 2017) who lives on the grounds. It’s not long afterwards that good old Art the Clown shows up again (he doesn’t speak, so I’m not sure how we know his name), and starts killing everyone he comes into contact with.

He chases poor Tara around the property, and Art goes about proving why the movie is called TERRIFIER. For a movie that is supposed to take place on Halloween, there’s hardly anyone around on the streets (sure, it’s the city, but still), and this eerie stillness adds to the atmosphere (even if it doesn’t make total sense).

There’s not much more to it. Just an evil clown going on a killing spree. A half dozen brutal murders. And of course, there’s the last scene in a morgue, that sets thing up for a sequel. Of course! And frankly, that doesn’t sound like a lot to recommend it, even if there are some nice gore scenes, including one where Arty has someone tied upside down and cuts them in half with a hacksaw.

But there’s something really effective about Art’s black and white clown makeup, and the fact that he doesn’t speak makes him even creepier, as he goes about his (bloody) business. Art’s one of the best-looking killer clowns I’ve seen on film, and for that reason alone I enjoyed this movie better than I should have.

Art the Clown also appeared in Leone’s anthology horror film ALL HALLOW’S EVE (2013), where he was played by Mike Giannelli, and which I need to check out. And there’s a sequel – TERRIFIER 2 – again played by David Howard Thornton –that’s currently in the works (that has Felissa Rose from the classic SLEEPAWAY CAMP, 1983, in the cast, too!).

Director/writer Damien Leone is also a special effects guy and did them for TERRIFIER. Aside from the Art the Clown-related flicks I mentioned, he also directed FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE MUMMY (2015), which I also want to check out, for that title alone!

I really didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did. It’s well-paced, and it works. And I want more Art the Clown. So, I give this one 3 knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives TERRIFIER ~ 3 1/2 KNIVES!

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DOLEMITE IS MY NAME! (2019)

Review by LL Soares

I’m a big fan of the original Rudy Ray Moore classic DOLEMITE (1975), one of the wildest films of the “Blaxploitation” era, so when I heard that Eddie Murphy was going to play Moore in a biopic, I was pretty excited. Murphy hasn’t done anything even slightly edgy in a long time (too many Klumps, and like-minded projects, on his resume), and this promised to be something that got back to his roots as a stand-up comic. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME!, Murphy’s movie currently streaming on Netflix, is a lot slicker than anything Moore ever made, but it captures the anarchy that must have been on the original film’s set.

Rudy Ray Moore (Murphy) obviously wanted to be famous. He starts out making music and selling records out of his trunk and at the record store where he works (where Snoop Dogg is the DJ!). When no one’s interested, he rethinks his strategy. An old panhandler comes into the store and starts telling a long, rhyming story, that captures Moore’s attention. I can use this, he thinks. He pays a bunch of winos to tell him their stories, polishes it all up, and uses it to create a stand-up comedy routine. He’s already got a stage, acting as the emcee at a nightclub, introducing bands. His between-the-acts jokes end with a thud up till now, but Moore goes all out with his new persona. He dresses differently and creates the character of Dolemite, using the crazy, profane, rhyming stories as his act. The audience loves it, and he’s suddenly more popular than the bands he introduces! (This rhyming style of storytelling, by the way, is called toasting, and Moore’s pioneering work in popularizing it got him acknowledged as a grandfather of rap).

Moore goes on the road and his act is a big hit among African-American audiences on the so-called “Chitlin Circuit,” of predominantly black communities. Impressed one day when he sees a woman knocking out her would-be abuser, Moore mentors her to become a similar stand-up performer called Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), and she becomes his opening act, touring with him across the country.

The next step on becoming famous involves putting his comedy on “party records,” to be played at parties, but no one will release them, fearing obscenity lawsuits, so he puts them out himself, mostly in paper bags under the counter at record stores. They become so big, that a studio eventually has to sign him.

But stand-up comedy, touring and on record, isn’t enough. Rudy sees some of the early blaxploitation films of the 70s (movies popular at the time like SHAFT, 1971, SUPER FLY, 1972, and BLACK CAESAR, 1973, to name a few) and decides that’s his next move. To be the star of an actual movie! No one will make his movie, so he makes it himself. But he has no idea how to make a movie. So he approaches actor D’Uberville Martin (a hilarious Wesley Snipes), who he sees in a club one day (Martin had roles in many blaxploitation films of the time). He convinces Martin to act in his movie by also making him the director. Martin also gets them a real film crew – made up of university students trying to get their break. Rudy also gets a local theater playwright named Jerry (Keegan-Michael Key) to write the script.

They use an old, but once-fancy, abandoned hotel as a studio, and steal electricity from nearby buildings. On film, Rudy becomes an action star in the mold of John Shaft, except Rudy is overweight and knows nothing about karate (but he fakes it anyway). It doesn’t matter. His boastful, swaggering character Dolemite is now an action star!

The film has a lot of roadblocks, but Rudy gets through them all and gets a complete motion picture made! But no one will release/distribute it! More frustration follows.

So what does he do? He does it himself, of course! He finds out he can rent a movie theater by paying them a certain amount upfront, and then keeping all the ticket sales. He does this, and goes on radio stations and promotes himself (he even gets one of those trucks with a speaker to drive around and promote the movie showing). This is the time when Midnight Movies were big, and Moore already has a built-in audience from his comedy career. Tons of people show up to the movie, and it’s a big hit. Big enough so that studios take notice, and one indie/B movie studio signs him to a contract. That movie, DOLEMITE, even spawns a bunch of sequels!

The story of Rudy Ray Moore is the story of someone who wanted to be famous and did everything he had to do to get there. MY NAME IS DOLEMITE! might remind you of Tim Burton’s ED WOOD, in that it’s about someone outside the Hollywood system who had a vision, and saw it to through to the end. The screenplay is even by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who wrote ED WOOD! They also wrote the biopics THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT (1996) and the Andy Kaufman movie MAN ON THE MOON (1999), both directed by Milos Forman.

Rudy Ray Moore is a larger-than-life character, and his story provides a terrific role for Eddie Murphy, who is great here as Moore. Always upbeat, no matter what is thrown at him, Murphy’s Rudy is a man who refuses to take no for an answer, and who excels in making his own breaks, when everyone else tells him he can’t do it. The fact that his stand-up comedy and films were raucous and dirty just makes this biopic all the more entertaining.

If you’re a fan of Rudy Ray Moore, check this out to see his life portrayed in a big Hollywood film. If you’re an Eddie Murphy fan, see it because it’s his best movie role in decades!

And if you enjoy this, you really should check out the actual films of Rudy Ray Moore, especially his cult classic DOLEMITE and its first sequel, THE HUMAN TORNADO (1976). They may not be as slick, with as great production values, as Murphy’s film, but they are low-budget dynamos of comedy, kung-fu, and chaos!

MY NAME IS DOLEMITE! is directed by Craig Brewer who also made the films HUSTLE AND FLOW (2005), BLACK SNAKE MOAN (2006), as well as being a co-executive producer and directing several episodes of the TV series EMPIRE. He directs MY NAME IS DOLEMITE! as a pretty straightforward biopic, and doesn’t take any real risks with the formula, but it’s such an entertaining story, you won’t mind.

I give MY NAME IS DOLEMITE! a rating of 3 ½ knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives DOLEMITE IS MY NAME! ~  3 1/2 KNIVES

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DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

Review by LL Soares

An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, which was itself a sequel to his early novel, THE SHININGas well as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s equally iconic film version of THE SHINING (1980)there’s an awful lot about DOCTOR SLEEP that could go wrong. Especially since King is famously unhappy with the Kubrick film, and the director, Mike Flanagan (who also adapted King’s GERALD’S GAME in 2017), consulted with King on this project. Despite that, Flanagan revisits some of the unforgettable imagery from that same Kubrick film.

So does DOCTOR SLEEP work, despite trying to stay true to more than one source material?

I thought it was pretty successful overall.

Director Flanagan, who also directed the films OCULUS (2013), HUSH (2016), and OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016), as well as the Netflix series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, also wrote the screenplay for this one.

In this film, Danny Torrance (played by Danny Lloyd in Kubrick’s film and Roger Dale Floyd in flashbacks as a boy here), is grown up (and now played by Ewan McGregor, of “TRAINSPOTTING,” 1996, and young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the STAR WARS series of films), and pretty much a lost soul. He drinks too much, he gets in fights, he wanders from town to town. He still has the mental powers he had as a kid (including telepathy, and more interesting tricks that are revealed later), except he is trying to run away from them, trying to run away from himself, and finding that he can’t, no matter how much he moves around. He finally stops for awhile in a small town where he befriends Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis, “ONCE WERE WARRIORS,” 1994, and in the upcoming AVATAR sequels), who offers him a second chance to sober up and start fresh.

He’s still haunted by the trauma of his childhood, where, during a winter at the Overlook Hotel in Colorado, his father (played by Jack Nicholson in the original film) went insane and tried to kill him and his mother, Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall originally).  He’s obviously been unable to shake that nightmare and it still has a strong hold on him. He gets visits from the ghosts of the Overlook, including the Old Woman in the Bath (Billie Gibson). He also still gets visits from Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers in Kubrick’s film and played by Carl Lumbly here), his mentor and the man who told him originally that he had “the shining” as a boy. Hallorann is dead, but still lingering, and pops up from time to time to offer advice.

Dan’s been able to stay beneath the radar of other people like himself, but there’s a girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran, who was only in one movie before this, 2017’s I CAN I WILL I DID) who’s a good person like he is, and is much more powerful, who is able to contact Danny (now going by Dan) and communicate with him. This becomes especially important when Abra “witnesses” a murder in an abandoned field (part of some long empty fuel-producing compound). The victim is another kid like her (though not as powerful). The killers are another thing entirely.

They’re called the Knot and they’re led by Rose the Hat (Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, previously in “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION,” 2015, and “THE GREATEST SHOWMAN,” 2017), an Irish lass who wears (you guessed it) a (top) hat. She and her band of murderers are always on the lookout for kids who “shine” because they eat them, literally. Well, their souls. It keeps them near-immortal, and they’re a merciless bunch. The thing is, while Abra is able to “see” them with her mind, Rose eventually can see her as well, and tracks her down, intent on either making her one of the Knot, or feasting on her soul. Most probably the latter.

As I said, Abra reaches out to Dan, and together they conspire to defeat Rose and her minions. But it won’t be easy. She’s a formidable one, as is her second-in-command named Crow Daddy (the excellent Zahn McClarnon, also in “BONE TOMAHAWK,” 2015, and the TV shows FARGO, MIDNIGHT, TEXAS, and WESTWORLD), who’s as vicious as Rose is, and Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind, also in Gaspar Noe’s “ENTER THE VOID,” 2009, and the TV series REVENGE, 2011-2015) , the latest addition to the Knot, who is a “pusher” (can get people to do what she wants by telling them what to do). The rest of the Knot members have named like Barry the Chunk (Robert Longstreet, “SORRY TO BOTHER YOU,” and “AQUAMAN,” both 2018), Grampa Flick (Carel Struycken, The Giant from TWIN PEAKS, 1990-1991, and Lurch in the 90s ADDAMS FAMILY movies), and Silent Sarey (Catherine Parker, “ABSENTIA,” 2011).

A game of cat and mouse proceeds, and innocent people are sucked into the struggle (some fatally), culminating in a final showdown at the now boarded-up Overlook Hotel, and it’s there where the Kubrick imagery explodes, with ghosts of Dan’s father (now played by actor Henry Thomas, using the name Thomas Downing in the credits), that scary old woman in room 237 (now played by Sallye Hooks), and even the creepy twin girls (played in Kubrick’s film by Lisa and Louise Burns, and now played by Sadie and Kk Heim). Those bright red carpets and scary hallways are back in a big way (as is the elevator that bleeds!), as Dan faces his personal demons head-on for once and for all.

The leads here are really good. I like McGregor here a lot, Curran is a terrific kid actor who is the backbone of the movie and has a bright future ahead of her, and Ferguson is really memorable as the villainous Rose. The script and direction are also top-notch.

I didn’t think the marketing push for this one was very good (it could have been more aggressively marketed, I saw very few commercials for it), almost as if the studio didn’t believe in it, which is unfortunate, because it’s a strong film, much better than IT: CHAPTER TWO from earlier this year, also based on King. I thought just about everything about DOCTOR SLEEP worked, and I liked the new characters as much, or more, than the returning ones.

A solid addition to the cinema canon of Stephen King, and if you’re a fan you should check it out. I give DOCTOR SLEEP ~ 3 ½ knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives DOCTOR SLEEP ~ 3 1/2 KNIVES

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DEATH BY INVITATION (1971)

Review by LL Soares

A low-budget tale of revenge, 1971’s DEATH BY INVITATION (the title tells you nothing about the film, by the way), is yet another in a long history of films about witches killed in the past who come back to take their vengeance on the descendants of their murderers. Despite the cheap look of the film, there are some good ingredients here that could have amounted to a much better movie. Sadly, director/writer Ken Friedman just isn’t able to make everything mesh into a satisfying whole.

We begin in a town that could be Salem in the time of the witch trials. A beautiful woman (Shelby Leverington) is being tried as a witch by a group of town elders and is dragged through the town square to the local church, where she will receive her ultimate (and fatal) sentencing.

Jump ahead to present-day 1971, and the witch from the previous scene is now named Lise, and is friends with a family headed by Peter Vroot (Aaron Phillips), who we recognize as one of the villagers who bore witness against Lise in her former life (that man was clearly Peter’s ancestor). The Vroot family is also made up of Peter’s wife Naomi (Sarnell Ogus), sons Roger (Denver John Collins) and Michael (Bruce Brentlinger), and daughters Coral, Sara, and Elly (Rhonda Russell, Sylvia Pressler, and Lesley Knight, respectively). There’s also Jake (Norman Paige), who is Coral’s fiancée.

Somehow, Lise has become close to the Vroots; she appears to be close friends with Naomi, and is treated as one of the family. While she doesn’t live in the house with them, she’s often there. It seems like they’ve known each other for a while, but all of a sudden, Lise decides to start taking her revenge on the descendants of her enemies, beginning with a twenty-something Roger, who sneaks away to go to her apartment with sex on his mind. Instead, Lise tells him a story about an ancient tribe where the women were the hunters and end up cannibalizing the men. As her story ends, she gets Roger to kneel before her, and then he is killed (offscreen). We see blood streaming down his back, but don’t really know what’s happening to him.

When he’s been missing for a couple of days, the police are called in. These include a Detective (Tom Mahoney), who has a cynical attitude and who complains about paperwork, and his “sidekick,” a uniformed Police Officer (Jay Lanno). But they aren’t much help, and don’t seem competent enough to solve the disappearance.

Meanwhile, more members of the family are killed off. The one who comes closest to the truth is Jake, who hits on Lise a few times until she finally takes him back to her place. There, she tells him a story about an ancient tribe of cannibal women (the same story she told Roger). But Jake isn’t as easy prey as poor Roger.

Despite the low-budget shenanigans, there are a few things to recommend the film. Shelby Leverington is a striking lead as Lise, and it’s amazing she didn’t become a bigger star, at least in horror films. While she did have a long career, she mostly played one-shot characters in lots of TV shows, like KOJACK (1977), LOU GRANT (1982), MATLOCK (in 1988), and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1992), and a few feature films. She also had a recurring role in HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN (1984-1988). But she has so much potential here, it’s clear that, with the right opportunities, she could have had a more successful career. Her Lise almost seems like a precursor to Samantha Robinson as THE LOVE WITCH (2016). Aaron Phillips (as Peter Vroot) looked familiar to me, but it turns out this was his only movie role. Norman Parker (billed here as Norman Paige) is good as Jake, and also had roles in DARK SHADOWS (1969-1970), and the movies THE CLAIRVOYANT (1982), and BULWORTH (1998), as well as recurring roles on shows like THE EDGE OF NIGHT (1982-1983), AS THE WORLD TURNS (in 1986), and the sitcom FAMILY TIES (1985-1987). For several cast members this movie is their only credit (or one of very few).

One odd note is that Jake is supposedly engaged to marry Coral Vroot, and yet, they barely interact together. In fact, they’re rarely in the same room together. There are family scenes where Jake is there, but Coral isn’t present! This includes a group scene outside, and scenes where the family is gathered around the dinner table. Why would the Vroots’ future son-in-law be constantly there, while the Vroots’ actual daughter, Coral, is rarely seen? It’s almost like they completely forgot about Coral in various scenes, even though she’s the sole reason why Jake is constantly at the family’s house. In one scene where Coral and Jake actually do talk, she goes to bed early, leaving Jake alone with Lise (not a smart move).

A major flaw about the film is that they clearly didn’t have the expertise of someone who knew how to do gore effects, so instead of actually showing how people die, it’s implied and we see flowing blood. It could have been nice to actually KNOW how each person is murdered, but we have to guess, which can make things confusing, since it’s not always clear cut. One body found in a plastic bag seems to have unlimited blood (we assume the person was killed days ago, but when they’re found, they’re still bleeding!).

Filmmaker Ken Friedman only has three credits as a director: this film, MADE IN THE U.S.A. (1987), and one episode of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, when the host was Malcolm McDowell (and the musical guest was Captain Beefheart!!). Friedman did go on to write other screenplays, though, including ones for WHITE LINE FEVER (1975), 11th VICTIM (1979), and the Mickey Rourke crime flick, JOHNNY HANDSOME (1989).

DEATH BY INVITATION could have been a good ‘un, but it’s just too inept. In the hands of a better director (and with a decent gore effects person), it could have been much more memorable. But as it is, it’s mostly forgotten.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

ARTHOUSE DOUBLE FEATURE: PARASITE and THE LIGHTHOUSE (both 2019)

ARTHOUSE DOUBLE FEATURE: PARASITE AND THE LIGHTHOUSE (BOTH 2019)

Reviews by LL Soares

I recently had the chance to see two art films that have been making the rounds of international film festivals, to much acclaim. PARASITE is the new one by Bong Joon Ho, who also gave us THE HOST (2006), SNOWPIERCER (2013) and OKJA (2017); while THE LIGHTHOUSE is the new one by Robert Eggers, whose first feature film was THE WITCH (2015).

PARASITE

PARASITE won the top prize (the coveted Palme d’Or) at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, so there were big expectations for this one before it came to U.S. theaters.

The story revolves around two families, the Kims and the Parks. The Kims are poor and live in the slums of South Korea, in a basement apartment that is too small for them. They consist of son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi), daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park), the rather lazy father Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song) and mother Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang). All of the family members are looking for easy ways to make money, and aren’t above scamming people to do so.

One day Ki-woo’s friend Min (Seo-joon Park) comes over to tell him that he’s going abroad and needs someone to take over his job of tutoring the daughter of a wealthy family. Ki-woo is nervous about this, since he doesn’t have a college degree, but he’s smart, and Min says he will recommend him, which should make him a shoe-in.

After Ki-jung makes him some fake but real-looking credentials using Photoshop, Ki-woo goes to the home of the Parks, made up of successful businessman father Dong-ik (Sun-kyun Lee), pretty but ditzy mother Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo), high school-age daughter Da-hye (Ji-so Jung) and young son Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung). He’s impressed with their wealth and is enough of a smooth operator to win over mother Yeon-kyo, who demands to sit in on the first tutor session. Everyone is suitably pleased with the results, and Ki-woo is in! Before he leaves, he finds out that the Parks’ young son, Da-song, is in need of a therapeutic art tutor (he is allegedly very smart but emotionally troubled), and Ki-woo says he knows of the perfect teacher – an art student who spent some time in America. His recommendation is, of course, his sister, Ki-jung, who pretends to be a friend of a friend (and not his sister). She arrives at the home the following day and is immediately hired as the art tutor for Da-song.

Once the siblings are set up, they try to find a way to get their parents in on the situation. Ki-jung uses some misplaced panties to get the Parks’ chauffer fired, which leads to the hiring of “highly recommended” Ki-taek. The hardest placement is for the Kim matriarch, Chung-sook, since the Parks already have a housekeeper, who seems to rule the place with an iron hand. But after a long scheme to make Mrs. Park think that her housekeeper is ill with a contagious disease, they get rid of her, too, and Mama Kim is more than eager to take her place.

At this point, the Kims are all esconsed in the Park home, trusted and well-paid, and everything seems to be going nicely. The Parks even go away for a camping trip, and the Kims have a drunken party of their own in the luxurious house that they are convinced should be theirs instead.

It is at this party, where the Kims celebrate the success of their plan to take over all of the servant roles for the Parks, that something unexpected happens. A twist I won’t reveal here, but which changes things in a drastic way. On top of that, the Parks come home early from their trip, and the Kims have to clean up the house in a hurry.

From this point on, PARASITE is full of plot twists and turns that take this somewhat upbeat story of haves and have nots and bring it to a much darker place. There will be cover-ups and even violent murder before the tale is done. This is the kind of movie where the less said about the surprises the better. Let’s just say that PARASITE ends on a satisfying note (even if one final plot point seems a bit far-fetched), and you know that you’re in the hands of a master filmmaker throughout. Another solid film from director Bong Joon Ho; one of his best. The cast is terrific, and the story does a good job of fleshing out the characters. The plot surprises just make it all the more involving. I give it four knives.

THE LIGHTHOUSE

A moody, brooding follow-up to THE WITCH, Robert Eggers’ second feature, THE LIGHTHOUSE, revolves around just two characters, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). These two gents arrive on an island, as the movie opens, taking the places of the last two keepers of the titular lighthouse. Isolated from civilization, with only sea gulls to keep them company, the movie is a study in loneliness, boredom, and ultimately, madness. The fact that it is filmed in black and white just emphasizes the otherworldly feel of some scenes.

Wake is an old man who loves to talk and who can become abusive when the mood strikes him. Immediately, he makes it clear that only he is allowed in the room at the top of the lighthouse (only he can gaze upon the light!), while Winslow, the younger man, attends to menial chores down below.

During their stay and beyond (a violent storm delays their rescue), they go from normal behavior to eccentric and bizarre. This is a tale of tedious work, ugly meals, burps and farts, and the loud, drunken singing of sea shanties. There are also some secrets, such as when Winslow finds a carved scrimshaw mermaid hidden in his mattress, and what strange behavior is Wake up to in that light chamber, where Winslow sometimes catches glimpses of him, working in the nude and talking him someone (or himself)? When troublesome gulls get in Winslow’s way while bringing coal up to the house in a wheelbarrow, Wake warns him never to kill a sea bird. It brings bad luck. So, of course we know what’s coming.

A scene where Winslow finds a real live mermaid (Valerlia Karaman) on the rocks begins to blur the lines between dreams and reality, and things just get fuzzier from there.

I liked the performances, and could appreciate the dialogue (which was meticulously crafted to sound like the way people spoke at the time). These are two fine actors given a chance to shine, but it didn’t all work for me. No doubt to show us the tedium of their time there, the movie moves at a slow pace, which at times made me as bored as the characters. I know that’s probably the point, but it didn’t help to endear me to the film.

By the time we reach the ending, which is both surreal and and a touch absurd, I had mixed feelings about THE LIGHTHOUSE. I could appreciate the performances and the dark imagery, but I couldn’t escape the fact that I found most of the film’s running time to be a bit too boring for my taste.

Which doesn’t mean that I don’t recommend THE LIGHTHOUSE, which has also been doing well at film festivals. I didn’t hate it surely, but I didn’t fully enjoy it, either, and by the time the end credits scrolled, I felt a bit disappointed with the whole endeavor. Eggers’ first film, THE WITCH, shared some of the same pros and cons. It was also slow paced, with a visually stunning ending. But I never felt the heavy sense of boredom in THE WITCH that I felt sometimes while watching THE LIGHTHOUSE. And for that reason, I cannot recommend it completely.

That said, I give it three knives. There’s a lot of talent at work here, and it’s evident. Some of the imagery will stick with you. It’s just not a film I particularly loved.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives PARASITE ~~ 4 knives

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and THE LIGHTHOUSE ~ 3 knives

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TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL (2017)

Streaming Review by LL Soares

Streaming over on Amazon Prime, you can check out the 10-part miniseries TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL (2017), a Japanese show that got very little promotion when Amazon acquired it. There were actually two versions of this story—the miniseries available on Prime, where the episodes run from 30 – 50 minutes each (it varies) —and a two-hour and 22 minute theatrical version which played at festivals. I have no idea how coherent the theatrical version is—that’s a lot of story to cut down into 2 ½ hours! I suspect, though, that many people will find the 6+ hour miniseries to be something of a challenge. I was able to get through it, but that’s because I liked the pure crazed anarchy of it. Other viewers may not agree it’s worth seeing to until the end.

Directed by controversial Japanese director Sion Sono, who also gave us SUICIDE CLUB (2001, probably his most famous film), STRANGE CIRCUS (2005), LOVE EXPOSURE (2008), COLD FISH (2010), and WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2013), TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL begins in a sushi restaurant where Manami (Ami Tomite, also in Sono’s TAG, 2015, and Yoshihiro Nishimura’s MEATBALL MACHINE KODOKU, 2017) is celebrating her 22nd birthday. Suddenly, a woman arrives who pulls out a machine gun and kills most of the people in the restaurant, until she is murdered by another group of killers. Everyone is after Manami, because when she turns 22, her secret powers will manifest.

It’s a long story. There are two groups of vampires. The Dracula Clan, the oldest group, once dominated but have since been forced underground, hidden from the society of humans. The new clan, the Corvin (or Neo-Vampire) Clan, control much of the above-ground world, unbeknownst to the human populace. In a last-ditch effort to return the Dracula Clan to prominence, the planets aligned on September 9, 1999. Children born at nine seconds past 9:09 on this day were considered sacred, and were secretly stolen and given blood of Dracula to suckle on, then they were returned to the hospitals. Three children were born at this time in Japan, but we assume others were born in other countries. When these children turn 22, they will have the power to resurrect the Dracula Clan and restore the clan to its former glory.

However, most of the children suckled on Dracula blood do not live to their 22nd birthday. Most go mad and kill themselves. Manami is the only one who survives, and she immediately becomes a chess piece in the struggle between the Dracula and the Corvin Clans. On the Dracula side, we have the relentless warrior named K (Kaho, of FOREBODING, 2017, and JOURNEY OF THE SKY GODDESS, 2019), who leads a gang of female assassins. She works for the “Master” – Dracula’s descendant in Romania. On the Corvin side, we’ve got the ambitious gangster Yamada (Shinnosuke Mitsushima, of BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, 2017) who wants to be the lord of the vampires, his lover Elizabeth Bathory (Megumi Kagurazaka, of Sono’s WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?, 2013, and Takashi Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS, 2010), and Elizabeth’s mother, an ancient vampire who looks like a shriveled up doll with a big head, until she’s given vampire blood to drink and turns into a youthful woman with pigtails!

Both sides want Manami, and fight to get her. This includes not only vampiric attacks, but lots of automatic guns and samurai swords. Vampires are killed more likely in a hail of bullets than with a wooden stake. At one point, Yamada opens the Hotel Requiem to some of the human population, inviting numerous young and attractive people who do not have any immediate family members (and won’t be missed). Yamada has sinister plans for them, involving the revelation that the world has come to an end (via nuclear destruction) while they’ve all been partying, and demanding that they feed the Corvin Clan with their blood. He also wants Manami and her sacred blood for himself. K does whatever she can to keep Manami away from him.

It’s a long, convoluted storyline with lots of blood, bullets, and overall violence. Sion Sono is known as an iconoclastic director in Japan, and his films aren’t for everyone. If you like the first episode, you’ll probably want to give it a chance. If not, you might want to invest the time elsewhere. But I really enjoyed it, from the insane storyline right down to the theme song by Japanese pop band, Tricot. An unexpectedly poignant storyline unfolds late in the series, involving the hotel’s chef named Cody, a vampire who sneaks out of the hotel to the outside world after his shift is done, and his friendship with a little girl who is the only human born in the hotel.

Fans of crazy, ultraviolent Japanese movies might have a good time with this one. If nothing else, TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL is unlike anything else on TV.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

JOKER (2019)

Movie Review by LL Soares

My main thought when leaving the theater after seeing the new Todd Phillips movie JOKER was a mischievous one, which is only fitting, considering the subject matter. I found it really funny to think that this movie was destined to become a huge box office hit, despite the fact that it is incredibly bleak. This is the exact opposite of the optimistic, we-can-do-it tone of the Marvel superhero flicks.

Which is why I liked it so much.

It would have been hard to screw this one up. The Joker is one of the most iconic bad guys (if not THE most iconic) in the history of comics. He’s the personification of pure raging insanity. Joaquin Phoenix, on the other hand, is an amazing actor who has a tendency to lean into the darkness. Together, this is a winning combination. Throw in Todd Phillips’ script (co-written with Scott Silver), and all I can say is “Wow.” This isn’t like any other comic book movie. It even makes Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy look upbeat in comparison.

The last great Joker we got was Heath Ledger in Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), but that movie had its flaws. The biggest flaw was that there wasn’t enough of the Joker. He had to share screen time with not only Christian Bale’s Batman, but Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent, too, who went on to become Two-Face. This is nothing against Batman or Two-Face (another great villain who finally got some serious treatment in the movies), but the movie only really rocked when Ledger was onscreen. There was also a plotline about Asian gangsters that should have ended up on the cutting room floor.

It’s hard to compare Ledger with Phoenix’s performance in JOKER, because they’re so different. Ledger’s Joker is out of his mind, yet scarily so. He seems to be totally in control even though he’s completely bonkers. He’s scary, icy, and lethal, with insane flavoring added.

Phoenix’s Joker, or rather Arthur Fleck, the man who becomes “the Clown Prince of Crime,” is a put-upon victim. He gets beat up by kids while dancing in the street, waving a sign for a store. He gets beat up by Wall Street frat boys on the subway. Fleck is incredibly awkward in social situations and doesn’t take charge at all (that comes later). He lives with his disabled mom (Frances Conroy) who has a kind of unrequited love with Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), who she used to work for when she was younger. Wayne, of course, is a local billionaire, who’s thinking about running for Mayor of Gotham City, even though he hates most of its populace and considers them “clowns.” Fleck works for a company called HAHA, which is kind of a talent agency that hires out clowns, but even that is a job he can’t hold onto for very long.

He has a form of Tourette’s where he laughs uncontrollably at inappropriate times – it’s so bad he even has a card he hands out to people to help them understand. This uncontrollable urge is perhaps the most defining thing about Fleck’s character.

He’s alone and victimized, living mostly inside his own head. His thoughts often involve his neighbor down the hall, Sophie (Zazie Beetz), who he has a crush on. After a disastrous performance as a stand-up comic, Fleck ironically ends up on the Murray Franklin Show, a Johnny Carson-like talk show that Arthur and his mother watch every night in their depressing apartment. Franklin is played by Robert De Niro, and if you’re a Martin Scorsese fan, he’ll remind you of Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis) in Scorsese’s film, THE KING OF COMEDY (1982), who was stalked by De Niro’s character in that film, Rupert Pupkin. Arthur might also remind you of another Scorsese/De Niro character at times, Travis Bickle from TAXI DRIVER (1976).

One day, on that subway car with the Wall Streeters, he just cracks. It’s a twisted take on the Bernard Goetz incident that happened in Manhattan in the 70s (his tormentors/victims here, though, are rich not poor), and it’s all downhill from there. But the thing is, for the character of the Joker, it’s all uphill, because Fleck is going to stop being a doormat and start being something very different. Even if he is batshit crazy.

Along for the ride are Glenn Fleshler (from the Showtime series, BILLIONS) and Leigh Gill as Arthur’s co-workers at HAHA. Shea Wigham (BOARDWALK EMPIRE) and Bill Camp play two detectives who keep trying to have a word with Arthur. And there’s even a scene with Alfred Pennyworth (Douglas Hodge) and young Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson).

But the spotlight is focused intently on Phoenix, who delivers one helluva performance here. The movie’s ability to succeed (or fail) rests on him, and I thought he rose to the occasion. He also famously lost 50 pounds for the role, and has several scenes where he is shirtless, and you can see his protruding spine and rib cage. It’s pretty disturbing and the exact opposite of what we’re used to seeing in ultra-buff superhero movies. Phoenix is just amazing here.

Director Todd Phillips, known mostly for comedies like OLD SCHOOL (2003) and THE HANGOVER (2009), does a great job giving us something unique in the formulaic world of comic book movies. I really like bleak movies, and I’m partial to comic book flicks. So I enjoyed this one a lot.

Even the look of Gotham City here is depressing. There’s been a garbage strike going on for what seems like weeks (just like New York City in 1977) and garbage bags are everywhere. So are rats. The city is falling apart at the seams, and no one seems civil anymore. It’s not just a cold, hard city, it’s a malevolent one. And it chews up and spits out schlubs like Arthur Fleck on a daily basis without batting an eye.

Hatred grows inside Fleck like a cancer. And when it finishes eating him up, the worm will turn.

But the weird part is – he touches something in the disenfranchised populace of Gotham. And his insanity starts to seem —contagious.

Since it won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, JOKER has had something of a target on its back. As soon as the movie came to U.S. theaters, many critics were ready and waiting to start a big backlash in reaction to the film’s sudden success, especially due to its violence and moral ambiguity. There’s been an overreaction in the media and police at some theaters. But all this chaos seems perfectly in sync with the character of the Joker, and that only helps to promote the movie JOKER all the more.

I don’t remember seeing so many articles about a movie in newspapers after the fact — even if most of the articles have a negative viewpoint. Though several of these critics are saying that JOKER isn’t a very good or effective movie, the very fact that they are talking about it so much makes their arguments seem a bit hollow. Why all the attention if it’s such a minor movie?

I don’t care. I give it four knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives JOKER ~ 4 knives!

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