Get Out (2017)

Get Out (2017) movie poster

director Jordan Peele
viewed: 03/19/2017 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, is a horror comedy parable about being black in a particularly white part of America. And I say parable because it’s not depicting gritty reality and when it finally moves from creepy to out-and-out outlandish, it holds together tightly.

Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a young photographer dating a pretty white girl, Rose (Allison Williams), making their first visit to meet Rose’s family, Bradley Whitford (dad), Catherine Keener (mom), and Caleb Landry Jones (bro). Prepared to an extent for the fish out of water feeling of being a black guy in an isolated, posh very white place, Chris has no idea what he’s really gotten himself into.

The film is extremely well-tuned, and for the most part, plays out an eeriness of disquiet, of friendly facades and tacit casual racism. Only this weirdness hides a more far out reality that also has metaphorical form. Peele’s commentary on racism and blackness and whiteness in America is timely, interesting, and hardly glib.

Most of the comedy comes in the form of Chris’s friend Rob, played by Lil Rey Howery, a TSA agent, whose role is small, which is good because he could easily have stolen the show with more screentime. His character offers some counterbalance to the horrors in which Chris has found himself immersed.

A very strong debut. An original and worthwhile horror film. My kids also both enjoyed it.

Marihuana (1936)

Marihuana (1936) movie poster

director Dwain Esper
viewed: 03/17/2017

Watch Marihuana and mainline Exploitation from the Godfather of the genre, Dwain Esper. I discovered Esper, myself, about 10 years ago, watching his maniac Maniac (1934), which I do truly believe must be his trash masterpiece. Marihuana is his own production, made after he picked up Louis J. Gasnier’s Tell Your Children and re-branded it the now classic Reefer Madness (1936).

Not a ton is known about Esper, though there is a good article about him on Grindhouse Therapy that I recommend. He and his wife, Hildegarde Stadie, whom wrote and collaborated on his films, came from the carnival background (which a lot of great Exploitation filmmakers would as well in the future), made his films outside of the influence of the film code, traveled around and showed his films alongside burlesques in tents around the U.S.

His stuff is often as outrageous as anything that would come 20-30 years later, though often shrouded in the guise of being Instructional and for the public good, rather than just out and out sleazy and titillating as they were. This was the 1930’s and this stuff makes pre-code films looks awful tame.

Marihuana tells the tale of teenager Burma Roberts (Harley Wood) who goes to one booze and weed party and comes out with a drowned friend, hooked on Mary Jane, and knocked up to boot. The wayward path leads her boyfriend to get shot down by the cops and her to become a needle-abusing drug queen. Not bad for 57 minutes!

Esper’s Marihuana is nowhere as outrageous and shocking as Maniac and while arguably “better” than Reefer Madness, maybe less so in its innate inanity and camp. Because it’s not quite as pure camp as Reefer Madness, though it’s got gratuitous nudity thrown in for good measure. Maybe it’s a little grittier and noirish, too.

I’ll tell you this much: Dwain Esper is the godfather of Exploitation, a true trailblazer of sleaze and trash and deserves far more recognition than he’s gotten.

Torture Garden (1967)

Torture Garden (1967) movie poster

director Freddie Francis
viewed: 03/15/2017

It seems that nobody particularly loves the Amicus anthology horror film, Torture Garden. And I guess I’m not going to be the first one to break with the herd on it. It’s mediocrity at best, pretty stupid at worst, and yet certainly not unworthy of viewing.

Robert Bloch scripts the stories and the wrap-around here, and even with the likes of Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, and Peter Cushing, there isn’t too much vibrance.

Meredith stars in the wrap-around as Dr. Diabolo, who runs a sideshow tent with an extra bit of fortune telling horror stories. Visitors are asked to gaze upon the “shears of fate”, which is kind of weird. The best of these stories includes both Palance and Cushing as Edgar Allan Poe buffs.

I just recently started re-watching Rod Serling’s Night Gallery episodes, which ran from 1969-1970, and this film felt of its ilk. This is neither praise nor criticism, though I always preferred The Twilight Zone to its later cousin. Other Amicus anthologies have proven better, particularly Asylum (1972).

The Handmaiden (2016)

The Handmaiden (2016) movie poster

director Park Chan-wook
viewed: 03/13/2017

Elegant and beautifully staged, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is an erotic drama featuring many switchbacks and twist and turns. Adapted from a novel by Welsh author Sarah Waters, Park moves the setting of the film to Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th Century.

The story itself involves an aristocratic collector of erotic books, a couple of clever thieves playing a long con, and a lonely, isolated young woman, betrothed to the book collector, the widower of her aunt.

The style Park employs here seems intently focused on Western versus Asian, Japanese versus Korean, and the house at which most of the story takes place is a vivid depiction of these characteristics. Part of the house is in the Victorian style, while another part of the house is uniquely Japanese. This plays out in interiors as well, and I think also the way that Park shoots the scenes.

Beyond the story, the plot, this seems to be a key focal point of the film. I don’t know if I’m knowledgeable enough about Japanese and Korean culture to fully extrapolate the details, but the characters are Koreans pretending to be Japanese, or trying to become Japanese. Aspirations are also toward very Western traditions and styles and even modern (for the time) psychiatric treatment.

For one viewing, that is about all I can pull from it, but it was quite interesting. I don’t think I liked it quite as much as others, though I thought it was quite good.  I’ve been a fan since Oldboy (2003) and this was a vast improvement over Stoker (2013). Quite an interesting film.

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) movie poster

director Susan Seidelman
viewed: 03/11/2017

For all the Eighties nostalgia over John Hughes movies and others, Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan seems somewhat overlooked. Though it’s far from perfect, it’s also quite enjoyable. And though it’s most notable for starring the young and still underpolished Madonna, it has quite a few other things going for it as well.

I’d watched Seidelman’s Smithereens (1982) only a week before, and it was interesting to see that film’s narcissistic wannabe Wren (Susan Berman) sort of matured and developed into Madonna’s titular Susan. Because Susan is cool and aloof, self-centered, uncaring of the people she encounters. Even her lover rocker guy, Jim (Robert Joy), has to track her down by posting to the classified ads in the paper (which is also how Roberta (Roseanna Arquette) gets mixed up in things too.)

It’s true that plotting-wise, with knock-on-the-head amnesia and stolen Egyptian earrings, is TV sitcom level stuff. But Seidelman manages to elevate this, maybe through her characters and castings, to a cut above the run-of-the-mill.

Like Smithereens as well, 1980’s New York City plays a key role. Here it’s not quite so gritty and tough, or maybe it’s grittiness and toughness are seen more through the prism of the New Jersey housewife Roberta, slumming her way to fun and freedom in the bohemian midtown and SoHo of pre-Giuliani Manhattan.

Apparently the film could have become many things, considering the various casting ideas. It’s probably quite good that Seidelman won out and got Arquette and Madonna, though the rising popularity of the latter among teens had this movie reconfigured for PG rather than the R it was initially intended to be. Numerous notable interesting actors appear throughout the film in a variety of roles: John Turturro, Laurie Metcalf, Steven Wright, to name but a few.

Whatever happened to Susan Seidelman? Maybe it was the poor commercial success of her follow-up Making Mr. Right that hamstrung her career? (Pure speculation sans research on my part there – she’s continued to make films, just not any big hits). Because between Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan, there was definitely something brewing in her work.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 03/10/2017

Poe-Corman-Price.

The Tomb of Ligeia is Roger Corman possibly sparing less expense than normal. The result is a very aesthetically pleasing film, nicely shot by cinematographer Arthur Grant, and using the English locations of Castle Acre Priory as well as Stonehenge and others to maximum advantage. Even the studio-based scenes are good-looking.

Vincent Price plays Verden Fell, a man hung up on his dead wife Ligeia so much that he really believes she could still be alive. When he falls for Rowena (a lovely and game Elizabeth Shepherd) who is also Ligeia as well, obsession, hypnotism, madness, and necrophilia are teased out.

For all that going for it, it’s not as compelling as some other Poe-Corman-Price pictures.

I was also struck by how many times that poor cat was obviously tossed at someone.

Seance (2000)

Seance (2000) movie poster

director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
viewed: 03/08/2017

Made for Japanese television, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Seance is derived from the same source novel that became the 1962 British film Séance on a Wet Afternoon.

A husband and wife Koji Yakusho and Jun Fubuki are living their lives, totally normally. That is if the husband is a sound engineer and the wife is a psychic with real powers who occasionally works as a waitress. Totally normal.

When a child victim of a kidnapping escapes and stows away in a case for sound recording, the couple find themselves with a problem. First the girl seems dead. Then the girl is alive. What to do? Call the police? That would be insanity! Right? Totally normal.

One thing leads to another, but there are lots of questions, for me at least. Like wouldn’t the case have felt heavier with a little girl inside? Why wouldn’t a normal person take a little girl to the police or hospital? Though later a plan emerges to sort of address the latter question, it troubles the story. Apparently in the British film, the kidnapping was planned by the couple, they didn’t accidentally do it. Which seems to make more sense.

All said, it’s a decent enough film. Well-framed and shot if full of weird plot holes.

Nukie (1987)

Nukie (1987) movie poster

directors Sias Odendaal, Michael Pakleppa
viewed: 03/07/2017

A couple years ago, I called Mac and Me (1988) “Probably the greatest, most terrible E.T.  knock-off ever made”. I believe I stand corrected.

Nukie at the very least is its equal.

Glibly, you might consider it almost Mac and Me through the prism of The Gods Must Be Crazy. Because like that ludicrous film, Nukie is an Apartheid-era South African film about not just one but two extraterrestrials, Nukie and Miko, landed to Earth, Miko in the U.S., Nukie in S.A.

You might have to pinch yourself to ask if you are dreaming. Or wonder if you are having an acid flashback while watching it. It’s so insanely bad, it’s brutal, absurd, and intensely hilarious.

Much as Mac and MeNukie deserves placement on the list of Worst Films Ever Made. Really and truly. I’ve given some credence to Wikipedia’s list, but more and more it’s a little too easy for most of the films from the last three decades. But as I often note, no list is a perfect lift.

Other than that, I can only fail to do it justice. Nukie is a marvel, one that must be seen.

Bloodsuckers from Outer Space (1984)

Bloodsuckers from Outer Space (1984) movie poster

director  Glen Coburn
viewed: 03/06/2017

Perhaps Glen Coburn should have heeded the famous saying: “dying is easy; comedy is hard.”

But he didn’t. And maybe for the best.

Bloodsuckers from Outer Space is low-budget regional horror-comedy that winds up being more charming that it seemingly has a right to be. Though the comedy angle is the film’s weakest point, there is something still appealing is its gleeful attempts.

Well, maybe not all of them.

And that theme song! Now, that is quality.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) movie poster

director Robert Aldrich
viewed: 03/05/2017

“Psycho-biddy! Psycho-biddy! Psycho-biddy!”
– sing to the tune of the Ramones’ “Psychotherapy”

Psycho-biddy? Grande Dame Guignol? Hagsploitation? Hag horror?

As a kid, I had all these movies mixed up in my head. “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, I’m trying to find out What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” Probably didn’t help that both starred Bette Davis and were directed by Robert Aldrich (though I would have been unaware of the latter fact, it probably is a tell in stylistics). I always liked Bette Davis. I always had issues with Joan Crawford.

Bette Davis is ON FIRE throughout the film. And Victor Buono! So good.

I had totally forgotten the opening part of the film, showing the grand dames as children. Baby Jane is like Rhoda from The Bad Seed (1956) with the shrill and saccharine amped up to 11.

Great stuff.