Tuesday, July 14, 2020

You Don’t Nomi Me (2019) RLJE Films

You Don’t Nomi Me (2019) RLJE Films July 21st 2020

Directed By: Jeffrey McHale

Starring: Matthew Baum, Jeffery Conway, Adam Nayman, April Kidwell, Elizabeth Berkley, Paul Verhoeven

           How would you describe Showgirls (1995) to someone who has never seen it before? A neon drenched, hyper-sexual fever dream that only the mid-1990’s would have the gull to produce?  That doesn’t even begin to do justice to this truly baffling stripper-epic. It’s cringe-worthy and hilariously quotable dialogue, bad acting and overall cartoon level of non-reality has earned it a place alongside Troll 2 (1990) and The Room (2003) as among the best so-bad-its-enjoyable films. It seemed like only a matter time until someone made a documentary about this horny cult-classic. You Don’t Nomi Me (2019) answers the burning question, Why and how did this film come to be so beloved despite bombing upon its release. First time director Jeffery McHale takes a bold choice of doing this strictly voice-over using clips, archival interviews, news reports and photos. It’s a great way to frame the documentary and makes for a more interesting overall choice. Nomi manages to not only tells a very on topic and cohesive story about the making of the film but gives you a nice overview of the films of Paul Verhoeven and of course the cult that sprang from the film. The film is also well-balanced in terms of showing all angles: Angles like is this anti-feminist film, exploitation trash, a comedy masterpiece, misunderstood or totally justified in its bad reviews? The film gives us all very interesting and very different insights instead of just a ninety-minute love fest. I really respect not giving into the cult-film worship by allowing the nay-sayers a chance to share their opinions as well. 

     Similar to Andre Gower’s brilliant documentary Wolfman’s Got Nards (2018) Nomi doesn’t shy away from the Showgirls more problematic issues, in this case it’s the underlying racism in the film. Its astutely pointed out that the African American characters are only on screen as pillars to Nomi’s quest and have very little to no agency of their own. There is this interesting debate the documentary tackles which is the gender politics. You can make a case for the film being just a trashy exploitation of women masquerading as a pro-feminist film. And, the case can also be made that it is very pro-feminist. McHale wisely never seems to take a hard stance and, in a way, it seems to suggest all of these opinions are right.  Having the film end on a high note and coming full circle on the fandom really put as big goofy smile on my face but also gave me a new perspective which of course is what a great documentary should do. Is it a coke fueled surrealist masterpiece? Is it just a trashy-big-budget sleaze fest that happened to find a midnight crowd? Maybe its all that and more. Either way I was fascinated with this journey that McHale and the incredible experts took us on. Its impressive that right out of the gate McHale produces a well-structured, thought provoking and wildly at the end feel good documentary.

Throw on some body-glitter, grab a burger, dance like nobodies watching and make this a must-see film.

Blu Ray/ DVD Available July 21st 2020.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Relic (2020) IFC Cult Release

Relic (2020) IFC Films VOD July 10th 2020

Directed By: Natalie Erika James

Starring: Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, Robyn Nevin, Chris Bunton

       It seems like some of my favorite horror films within the last twenty-years have been made in other countries. Its not to say Americans cant make a good fright-fest but, when it comes to making some really stand out nihilistic nightmare fuel, international is the way to go.  Kay (Emily Mortimer) has been alerted that her elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) hasn't been seen or heard from in a few days. Kay along with her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) go to Edna's home to investigate only to find no signs of life. Its worth noting that Edna has a history of erratic behavior.  Kay informs the police that her mother is missing only for her to mysterious turn up a short time later. But something is not quite right with Edna or the house for that matter.

       Its a rare thing when a director (especially a fairly new one) can take some very well worn horror troupes and make them feel fresh and exciting. Such is the case with Natalie Erika James excellent feature debut. From frame one Relic establishes a dark and oppressive tone that only gets bleaker and more distorted as the tale unravels. I noticed that even daylight shots are still dreary and somber with zero warmth or comfort. Cheap jump scares are mercifully not present, rather, the film's more horrific moments feel very much earned.This is thanks to well done sound design, utilizing the dark foreboding house all whilst riding the wave of tension and mysterious mood Natalie has crafted. From the outset we are presented with a mystery that is engaging and, as things go from weird to bizarre I relished finding the breadcrumbs of clues sprinkled throughout. This is a film that requires and rewards the audiences upmost attention. Relic was made on a modest budget yet feels like a bigger production by way of slick and creative camera work. Huge props should go out to the cinematographer Charlie Sarroff and production designer Steven Jones-Evans for giving the film a dark fairy tale quality. And, you cannot help but be marveled by the incredible visual moments that add to the haunting atmosphere. There are moments in the film, especially the finale that are sure to stick with me for awhile. Couple this with wonderful and surgical like editing and a creepy-dread filled score by Brian Reitzell and you really have a special indie horror film. Also I would be remiss in not mentioning the outstanding cast which truly bring this film to life. All three female leads all play off each other nicely and, it never feels like one is trying to outshine the other.

     If I had to lobby a criticism it would be I never felt like the mother Kay (played to perfection by Emily Mortimer) has the kind of story arch it maybe could have had. I think had we established somehow that Kay had a very troubled relationship with her Edna, the ending would have had a bigger impact. Also I wish they could have explored the theme of the different generations of women and how Kay and Edna's relationship was starting to mirror Kay and Sam. I think this was an interesting opportunity that felt like it comes off a bit flat.  Both Natalie and co-writer Christine White seem use to a short film format which is great as the film is paced wonderfully and dense but feels lean on character development. Honestly, most times I recommend some filmmakers cut back but in Relic I feel like it needed maybe ten minutes or so of character study. This side, I still regard Relic as an exciting breath of fresh air that is much needed in an oft stale market place of remakes and spin-offs.  Natalie Erika Jame's indie horror film really packs a punch and, for a first feature length film cements herself as a interesting and bold new voice in the genre.I cannot wait to see what else she has in the works.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Streaming Reviews: Scare Package (2019)

Streaming Reviews: Scare Package (2019)

Platform: Shudder

Directed By: Courtney Andujar, Hilary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Emily Hagins, Aaron B Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan, Baron Vaughn

Starring: Jeremy King, Noah Segan, Baron Vaughn, Toni Trucks, Chase Williamson, Joe Bob Briggs

    Scare Package reminds me a lot of the member berries from the series South Park. Member Halloween? I member. Member the Freddy car from Nightmare on Elm Street? I member. Member Joe Bob Briggs? I member. You get the picture. Scare Package is a collection of different horror stories all framed around a horror film obsessed video store clerk and his new employee. Sometimes less is more. Just because you can blend in every '80's horror into a self-aware smoothie doesn't mean you should. The major factor of enjoying Scare Package comes down to two questions: Do you like meta jokes? And I mean LOTS and LOTS of them. Do you like movie references, and not subtle ones but like name checking horror movies and also the troupes used?  If you do, you will most likely love this movie. If, you like me, feel like the Meta-horror genre is over-done. Not to mention a lazy writing device that isnt nearly as clever as the writers thinks it is, you my friend are in for a long hard ride. The movie even lampshades the over-used Meta-troupes fairly early in the film, which I STRESS isnt the same as being clever about it. I repeat acknowledging the shitty Meta jokes isnt the same as subverting them or doing anything different with them.  I truly think that in small doses I could have let this slide but it just hammers the point in just about every minute of the run-time.

    So, I had been warned by other reviews that this film lends more on the comedy side of horror, which for me personally isn't a deal breaker. In fact, its tricky but horror and comedy can be a perfect marriage. For example, 2010's Tucker and Dale Vs Evil is a brilliant film because it subverts and deconstructs the slasher genre without relying on name-checking movies, overt references and of course fourth-wall jokes. And, its a laugh-riot with stellar performances. That film works as well as it does because it can do this kind of self-reference genre troupes but it still feels very much its own movie. Scare Package never feels like it stands on its own feet and has anything super original to say.

   The segments within the framing device are really something. They all take fairly big swings, some range from "Oh, that was at-least interesting" to, "Um. What?" Again, I hate to be a buzz kill but all of the stories, even the more solid entries could have used a polish writing wise. Some have fun and even interesting concepts that just miss the mark. Lets take MISTER for example. I loved the idea of fusing toxic manhood and the supposed "alpha status" with werewolves but, again the themes are never taken far enough to be interesting or memorable. The chocolate bar gag was pretty clever, I will give them that. Probably my favorite segment was So Much to Do written directed and starring Baron Vaughn. This is a seg-way into what I think whats about the film, because  I dont get enjoyment from crapping on a film, especially one clearly made by horror fans. As I said the film is probably more comedy than it is horror, and, I admit there are some pretty funny jokes and gags throughout. Damned if i didnt get at least some chuckles here and there. Now onto what I think this film really has going for it, the effects. Wow. The filmmakers truly celebrate the art of practical movie magic and that love is strong. Goopy gloopy messy and gallons of blood, this is a gore hounds wet dream. And, despite the flaws, each segment has a high energy feel and I dont get the sense that the filmmakers are simply phoning it in. Truly these filmmakers took their love of video renting, 80's horror and over-the-top comedy and stitched together an anthology. But, again it comes down to the film feels wildly unfocused feels the need to bash us over the head with its influences. At just shy of an hour and fifty minutes the film over stays its welcome. The final wrap around segment just goes on for an absurd amount of film which starts to get indulgent and boring.  Look, I'm all for fun even outrageous cinema but you need a skill set to pull it off. Its not to suggest the film is devoid of talent, far from it, it just tries way too hard and comes off annoying.

   Scare Package begs the question is Meta horror over done? For every New Nightmare, Scream and Cabin in the Woods that uses skilled writing to take apart the horror genre, filmmaking troupes and cliches and re assemble them into something exciting Scare Package does not. Again, my problem isn't with the heart and passion or the effects but with how much the film falls back on the same joke over and over. Its like References: The Movie. Some people love this movie and hey, more power to you. I was that '90's kid that always had an fistful of video tapes from my local mom and pop and I like to think I am extremely knowledgeable when it comes to films in general especially horror.  I have seen literally thousands of them from all over the globe. I dont say this as a brag but to say I am certainly this films target audience but it failed to connect with me. Even the nostalgia for mom and pop rentals and Joe Bob (his cameo is epic btw) wasnt enough to make this an enjoyable movie.This is currently streaming on Shudder if you still want to check it out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Pennyworth Season One Blu Ray Review Warner Archives

Pennyworth Season One Warner Archives June 23rd 2020

Created By: Bruno Heller

Starring: Jack Bannon, Dorothy Atkinson, Ben Aldridge,  Emma Paetz

With big screen hits like Joker (2019), Wonder Woman (2017)  and television shows like Batwoman and Doom Patrol, DCEU is finally catching fire after a string of disappointments. The origin of Alfred Pennyworth the Wayne's faithful butler is detailed in this new pre-Batman show. Pennyworth is a former British SAS soldier who, looking to branch out forms his own security company. The former solider soon finds himself the target of an extremist group called The Raven Society, whose goal is to over throw the government. Pennyworth show runner Bruno Heller developed Gotham for Fox. If you`ve been living under a rock Gotham the series which ran a respectable five seasons, tells the story of a young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and of course the future roughs-gallery of Batman villains. The show was a hit but some die-hard fan's didnt like how the show would slide into sometimes over-the-top. I actually liked how the show blended gritty Nolan Batman with a dash of the Adam West era. Heller is now heading up another Batman origin story, this time set before Bruce Wayne is even born. Pennyworth certainly feels more grounded than Gotham and my first impression is it plays things things way more seriously. Thankfully Heller injects some much needed humor into the mix. The show is set in the '60's and the costume design and production design is really well done. Heller creates a world that you can instantly engage with. Despite some rough patches Pennyworth is a very entertaining show with plenty of nice twists and turns.The show has already been picked up for a second season due out in late October of this year.

Episode List: 

The Landlords Daughter
Martha Kane
Lady Penelope
Shirley Bassey
Cilla Black
Julie Christie
Sandie Shaw 
Alma Cogan
Marianne Faithful 

Warner's does a great job at with this transfer. Details are sharp and you can see the hard work that went into the '60's era backdrop. The color scheme is not overly bright but extremely moody and well done and the 1080p helps highlight this. Sound is also good and this track really shows off its amazing soundtrack and sound design.  The season has no extras.

Gotham had a nice mix of camp and grit yet Pennyworth tries to lean more to the latter. This is probably a good choice, even though I enjoy Gotham un-ironically. If you are a Bat fan or even someone new to the comics, Pennyworth is a interesting new spin on the lore. Worth checking out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Inferno of Torture (1969) Arrow Video Review

Inferno of Torture (1969) Arrow Video July 7th 2020

Directed By: Teruo Ishii

Starring: Teruo Yoshida, Masumi Tachibana, Asao Koike

  There really is truth in advertising, as, by looking at the cover for Arrow's release of Inferno Of Torture (1969), you know exactly what you are in for. In the backdrop of a geisha house, two master tattoo artist battle for who can create the ultimate masterpiece literally on the backs of girls. Inferno right out of the gate is a almost cartoon level of blood and gore. So, if goes without saying but, if women being raped and tortured is triggering, you will most certainly want to skip this film altogether. Now, with that out of the way lets begin.

   This is Arrow's fifth film released by writer, director Teruo Ishii. Ishii is a director that can somehow straddle the line between in your face and weirdly beautiful even subtle at times. Inferno is a visually stunning film, something that those not familiar with Ishii might be surprised by. Since the film is all about the art of tattooing there is of course a lot of great body-art on display. And, of course a lot of nudity if your into that. The plot isnt what i`d call amazing but it was engaging enough throughout its nicely paced ninety-four minute run-time. I liked the emotional through line that helped raise the stakes and make it a more compelling narrative. The ending is very satisfying, with a finale that gore hounds are likely to not forget. And, because this is a ero-guro its chocked full of steamy erotic sex, nudity, blood and guts with some nice set-pieces. Overall, its not my favorite of Ishii's work (that would probably be Malformed Men) but, the film has a decent plot, the pacing is well done and of course its beautifully shot with some very well done action sequences. If you are new to the films of Ishii I dont know if this would be the best to start with but, its still a good film and I'm glad to see Arrow has re-released this.

Picture wise Arrow has done a fine job at cleaning this film up. The new scan is clear but not overly washed out and it maintains the mood and color scheme that Ishii intended. As I stated above this is a great looking film and this release truly does it justice. The sound is also great with no background noise or hiss and dialogue comes through crystal clear.

The release may be short on features for this release but, they are great none-the-less. A nearly thirty-minute featurette entitled: Teruo Ishii: Erotic Grotesque Nonsense and Japan's Cult Counterculture. This is basically a shortened version of Jasper Sharp's Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies and his lecture on ero-guro movement and its key creators like Teruo Ishii and Edogawa Ranpo. This is a very eye opening interview/lecture with Sharp who helps put this sub-genre into film and a historical context. I know a little about this genre/style of film but, I still learned a lot and this is perfect for new comers to this type of Japaneses film. This is such a great addition. The second feature is a running commentary track by  Tom Mes. Mes gives a entertaining and enlightening track which, like the Sharp featurette really helps put the film into a greater context and frankly made me like the film more on my second viewing.  Rounding out the features is an original trailer.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Romance on the High Seas (1948) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

Romance on the High Seas (1948) June 16th 2020 Warner Archives

Directed By: Michael Curtiz

Starring: Jack Carson, Don DeFore, Doris Day, Janis Paige

     Let's get one thing out of the way. I love classic movies but I have never been big on musicals. For whatever reason they never seem to do it for me. Honestly, the only musical I enjoy is probably Rocky Horror or Phantom of the Paradise.  So why would I choose a musical from post WWII?! Well, I am a big fan of Curtiz and Jack Carson. Also, there is something to be said about getting out of ones comfort zones cinema wise. Michael (Don DeFore) and Elvira (Janis Page) both distrust each other from the very start of their marriage. Elvira suspects her husband of cheating as he constantly breaks off engagements. And, Michael also thinks Elvira is fooling around. High-sea hi-jinks ensue when night club singer Georgia (Doris Day) assumes Elvira's identity in a scheme to trap her husband in infidelity on a cruise. While on the cruise, Michael hires private eye Peter (Jack Carson) to spy on Elvira who is actually Georgia.

     As you can tell from the plot description the film you need to suspend some disbelief-however I kind of love these over-the-top and frankly ridiculous plots. As always, Curtiz brings a polish to this production and this kind of big splashy production seems to be right in his wheelhouse. This truly was a big mega-budget film with rich production design, lavish costumes and sets not to mention grand musical numbers by the legendary Busby Berkley. The cast is great as well and Romance is filled with wonderful character actors like Jack Carson, Don DeFore and of course Janis Page and Doris Day making her feature film debut. Day of course known for her singing dazzles with her voice as well as ease and charm in front of the camera. This film also features a favorite actor of mine S.Z Sakall a German actor who normally played funny-supporting roles. Film fans will recall him in Casablanca (1942) and Christmas in Connecticut (1945). Fo not liking musicals I will say this movie didnt convert me to be a lover of the genre but, I will say it was a decent enough film. Now, I know that sounds like a back handed compliment but I did enough aspects of it. Sure, its silly the plot is kind of hard to believe (which is par for the course with a lot of older movies) but its a bit of fun mindless fun. A breezy and fairly predictable movie which is probably most famous for being Day's first film.

Warner's rolls out a stunning looking film. The colors truly pop in this new print of this post-War Technicolor bit of fluff. All artifacts and scratches have been scrubbed clean and it really helps showcase the lavish and grand scope of this film which was typical of the era. Sound is also great with a nice crisp clean sounding track. Features include a vintage Sing-A-Long which is 10 minutes in length. A vintage Warner Hare Splitter cartoon and trailer rounds of the features.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Why Dont You Just Die! (2018) Arrow Video Blu Ray Review

Why Dont You Just Die! (2018) Arrow Video April 21st 2020

Directed By: Kirill Sokolov

Starring: Vitaliy Khaev,Aleksandr Kuznetsov,Elena Shevchenko,

* Some Spoilers for this review. Sorry but its unavoidable.**

   Director Kirill Sokolov first film debut exploded onto the scene with a bang with 2018's Why Dont You Just Die! which finds a home in the US from Arrow Video. Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev) is a nasty corrupt cop who is the victim of a home invasion/attack by a young thug named Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov). Money, betrayal and a victim that just wont die in this bitterly dark Russian comedy. The film opens with a lot of tension and mystery then quickly explodes into a cartoon level of hyper-violence and an orgy of blood. This first ten-fifteen minutes will be a good marker if you like this film or not. Sokolov for better or worse wears his influences firmly on his gore soaked sleeves. Clearly this is the directors love letters to Quentin Tarantino and oddly enough the spaghetti Western genre (lots of western music cues, and even a traditional stand-off/show down.) The first act and mostly second is a nearly break neck paced hyper-stylized which can get a little much if I'm being honest. It certainly stinks of a overly ambitious first feature film by a young film student. I think its possible to be clever and interesting why also reigning things in just abit. Its the same issue I had with 2017's The Babysitter, which was overly obnoxious about its slick "cool" style over story.  But, where the film succeeds over Babysitter is it does manage to tell a good (albeit somewhat predictable) story. The use of a non-linear structure kept me engaged throughout the first and second act.

    However, I think where the film starts to show its cracks is in its final act. The last fifteen minutes starts to feel somewhat one-note -that note being Matvey just not dying (hence the title) and I kept waiting for an interesting twist at the end which never happened. Its this lose of momentum that sadly muddles an otherwise great film. Even the fairly consistent tone changes to something more serious and it almost feels like a different film, which is a bit jarring. While I thought the characters were fleshed out it was disappointing that the mother Tasha played wonderfully by Elena Shevchenko is so flatly written. Now, I understand that sometimes Mother characters, especially ones that dont factor into the thrust of the story might be challenging but she's pretty much only a punching bag for Andrey, which is frankly hard to watch. I kept waiting for her to get a cool or interesting arch but instead she gets a rather mean-spirited and bleak send off. It feels like Sokolov rushes towards a very predictable ending that anyone could see a mile away. Why manages to be entertaining for the first two acts but seems to run out of steam. Still, you cannot deny how incredible of a first feature film this is. If Sokolov can find his own voice while still paying homage, and also reigning himself in, I think he could be the next big thing within the genre. I want to stress that, even though I thought it has its flaws this is still a damn entertaining film and I am very excited to see what the filmmaker has in the works.

   Arrow always delivers when it comes to a nice clean transfer and Why Dont You Just Die! is certainly no exception. The image is incredibly crystal clear and sharp and, serves to highlight the detailed production design. Die has a weird color palate of greens and yellows and this transfer really showcases that evocative style. The sound is also great with a nice 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through just fine and highlights the various music/music cues and rich sound design. Arrow gives this movie a great disc. Features include an insightful new interview with Kim Newman which explores the history of single location's in cinema. Newman is always very interesting and this is a nice feature. There are some nice behind the scenes features including storyboards (BD-ROM content) and some nice footage of rehearsal. I'm a sucker for seeing how films are made so this was a treat to watch. Rounding out the features is a collection of short films which, again is a great addition and shows the very beginning of Sokolov's career. Overall this is a great collection of extras and I hope that we see more films from Sokolov that are released through Arrow Video.