A Monster with a Thousand Heads (2015)

A Monster with a Thousand Heads (2015) movie poster

director Rodrigo Plá
viewed: 12/27/2016

The premise of A Monster with a Thousand Heads is sort of promising.  It’s a thriller in which a wife and mother (Jana Raluy) is driven to extremes to get healthcare for her gravely ill husband. Like a lot of people (in a lot of places), the challenge is the insurance, not wanting to pay for certain treatments, not really caring about the patient or customer.  And frustrations are huge.

Raluy takes a handgun to negotiate. First with her insurance rep and then with the CEO, his attorney, and a board member.

To its credit, it’s a tight little film at 75 minutes.  But to its discredit, the escalation seems too quick.  Access to the executives too easy.  And the ultimate deus ex machina too facile.

Director Rodrigo Plá shoots the film interestingly, often through windows or through odd vantages which made me wonder about the intent of the choices.  Interesting camerawork and good performances can’t ultimately elevate it above its shortcomings.

The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)

The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) movie poster

director Jack Cardiff
viewed: 12/26/2016

I can’t recall exactly what had me add Jack Cardiff’s The Girl on a Motorcycle to my queue.  It had to be more than Marianne Faithfull in a skin-tight leather bodysuit with nothing on underneath.  It had to be more than Cardiff himself, legendary cameraman turned director.

1968 was a radical heyday of feature filmmaking, especially in Europe, spilling into the mainstream.  The Girl on a Motorcycle seems a bit of a mainstream attempt at something more of the time, of the moment, rebellion, experimentation.  It bears flashes of that.  Social commentary. A story, told entirely by men, attempting an interior perspective of female psyche in time and place.

Faithfull is gorgeous, in a very blond ideal.  And she fills out her leather motorbike suit well, and caps it off his a dashing helmet.  And her lover, Alain Delon, is maybe male gorgeousness embodied, too. It’s to him she races on her motorcycle, away from her tepid husband of two months.

What actually niggled me more than anything were all the obvious studio shots of Faithfull riding the motorcycle.  The film is filled with exteriors as she moves from Alsace to Switzerland, but all the close-ups belie a lot of it. And for some reason, that just grated on me. Maybe it’s a bit irrational, but the go-to studio rear projection thing somehow just felt all wrong here. And tacky.

So, yeah. I don’t know.  I liked the ending.

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Heaven Can Wait (1943) movie poster

director Ernst Lubitsch
viewed: 12/25/2016

Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait is not the touchstone for the 1970’s Warren Beatty movie.  File that under number one misconception that really doesn’t have much to do with anything.

Henry Van Cleave (Don Ameche) is paying Satan a visit, having just died after a long life.  He’s sure that he’s due for damnation and gives forth with his life-story, seen through a lens of his romances.  His greatest “crime” if you will is stealing Gene Tierney from his cousin and then being a cad to her, and then atoning for it.  Of course, by the end, the devil sends him the other direction.

Heaven Can Wait is a totally likable film, but it didn’t quite sweep me off my feet.  Ameche is affable, Tierney is lovely, the supporting cast all pros, but it doesn’t have as much verve as, say, Trouble in Paradise (1932), though maybe that is asking a lot.  It’s in lovely Technicolor and has its charms.  I was frequently aware of the period sexism therein, which was largely flippant and for gags, but maybe runs more deeply in analyzed.

I really need to string several Lubitsch pictures together for some consistency of perception rather than one or two a year at odd times.

Jack Frost (1964)

Jack Frost (1964) title

director  Aleksandr Rou
viewed: 12/24/2016

It’s hard to pinpoint every aspect of weirdness that Aleksandr Rou’s Morozko (Jack Frost) exudes.  The brightly colored Soviet-era fantasy film is gaily produced, all-in with sincerity, telling a version of the Russian fairy tale “Morozko”, or “Father Frost”, about a put-upon step-daughter abandoned to the snow and taken in by the kindly ice king. The ruddy-cheeked Russians who populate the film and its tweak away from more well-known European fairy tales make it slightly off, but familiar.

The version available on Amazon Prime also featured a stutter in the soundtrack, off-synching the voices and subtitles.  Like it needed further oddity.

Like all of Rou’s films, the art direction is very pleasing.  Morozko starts with a young handsome egotist who is taught a lesson by a clever gnome by turning him into a bear-man until he learns his lesson.  But the film really gets good when the young fellow, having been turned back into a fellow, goes to old witch Baba Yaga in her walking cabin (echoes of Howl’s Moving Castle, or maybe Howl’s Moving Castle echoes of it).  She also employs an cadre of tree monsters and a sly black cat and pig sled.

And as often is the case, some acting bears.  Here moving mushrooms around.

I dig this crazy biz.

Pigs (1972)

Pigs (1972) movie poster

director Marc Lawrence
viewed: 12/21/2016

From what I’ve read, Pigs is a flick that has gone by several names.  While not so strange a phenomenon for a horror film finding distribution and marketing, it also seems that it went through some editing that may have turned out something lesser than it originally was.

Released originally as Daddy’s Deadly Darling, it seems that the film was a passion piece of sorts for writer-director-producer-star Marc Lawrence, a career character actor turned auteur.  Primarily, it serves as a vehicle for his daughter Toni Lawrence.  Ms. Lawrence plays an escapee from a psych ward, an abused daughter who killed her father and lost her mind.  She shows up randomly on the doorstep of the elder Lawrence, “Zambrini”, who has a diner and pigs in whom he’s cultivated a taste for human flesh.

Even in its messy and shabby state, released under the Troma brand and playing on Amazon Prime, it’s clear that there is something here.  It’s hard to say if it’s a diamond in the rough or perhaps some lesser precious stone, but it’s certainly in the rough.

Other folks whose opinions I appreciate admire the film.  I’m willing to hold out a chance of seeing a better, cleaner version of it at some time.

Daughter of Horror (1955)

Daughter of Horror (1955) movie poster

director  John Parker
viewed: 12/21/2016

“To what degree this film is a work of art, we are not certain but, in any case, it is strong stuff.” – Cahiers du cinéma

I watched this on a crappy public domain version on Amazon Prime, the version with the narration, and I’m still pretty sure that I’ve found another favorite film of all time.

An independently produced horror-noir originally without any words as Dementia, re-done here with some narration (by Ed McMahon of all people), Daughter of Horror is cheap and lurid art house Expressionism, outrageously weird and remarkably well-made (for its obvious low budget).  It’s a nightmare of sexual violence starring an uncredited cast and featuring excellent cinematography.

The Surrealism is vivid, and even with the campy voice over, it’s brilliant.  I like the camp as well as the highbrow qualities.  I’m sort of beside myself, wishing I could lay hands on the apparently “out of print” Kino edition of the film that features restored copies of both versions.  I need to see this again.

One of the most amazing, strange, obscure wonders that I’ve discovered in years.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) movie poster

director Joseph Zito
viewed: 12/20/2016

If you think about it, it’s kind of clever to have The Final Chapter before the halfway point of your film series.  Like the makers of the Friday the 13th movies, I guess I had no idea when they’d finally think that the series was totally bankrupt and out of breath.  I wasn’t even sure.  Had I seen this one?

Turns out I had.

It’s easy to see why it’s popular with some fans. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter has a good cast, not just young Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman, but other familiar faces like Lawrence Monoson or Bruce Mahler.  And behind the scenes Tom Savini.  It also features the strange addendum of watching old porn movie reels.

Director Joseph Zito keeps the pace popping along, sometimes making some of the kills a little perfunctory even.

That final kill, that effect is pretty slick.  And that final shot of evil Corey Feldman.  Most memorable moments from episode 4, The Final Chapter.

Fellini Satyricon (1969)

Fellini Satyricon (1969) movie poster

director Federico Fellini
viewed: 12/18/2016

As Fellini Satyricon opens, there is a sense of theatricality and staginess to his adaptation of the Roman classic play by Petronius.  For me, this is usually a warning sign that I’m not going to like a movie.  This potential pet peeve, though, is not only disproven but eventually utterly eradicated.

Satyricon is masterful.

It’s a sprawling work, interweaving so much in its 129 minute running time that I don’t even know where to start.  Episodic, fantastic, far-reaching, at its essence it is about two friends, Encolpius and Ascyltus, having a falling out over a young lover, Gitón.  There is much sexuality in the film, desire, fulfillment, loss, yearning.  And it is somewhat pansexual but also very much about homosexual love and desire.  It feels amazingly progressive, even for 1969.

This rich and complex fantasy is more than I can react to from a single viewing.  It’s surprising and vivid, outrageous, painful, wildly evocative.  From what little I’ve read about Fellini’s approach and interest in the source material, a play only known in fragmentary form, seems really interesting.

I’m really at a loss to say more of it at the moment.  I thought it was amazing.

Giuseppe Makes a Movie (2014)

Giuseppe Makes a Movie (2014) movie poster

director  Adam Rifkin
viewed: 12/17/2016

Scumbalina’s Atomic Caravan has turned me on to a number of things, so when she wrote up Adam Rifkin’s documentary about Guiseppe AndrewsGiuseppe Makes a Movie, I added it to my “watch list”.  When it popped up on Fandor, I was pretty jazzed.  It’s just the sort of thing I look for from Fandor.

Rifkin follows Andrews around as he shoots his film Garbonzo Gas around Ventura and other parts of LA.  Andrews, for those like myself who was “out of the know”, was a child actor now turned cult filmmaker, in the mode of John Waters or Harmony Korine.  He shoots his films on video, paying people a few bucks to appear onscreen as he prompts them for action and dialogue.  Many of the people seem to be homeless or nearly homeless.  They are also apparently regular parts of his troupe.

It’s virtually impossible to speculate, having never seen Andrews’ movies.  So, I will limit it to this.

He shows a lot of humanity in his work with his cast, caring for them, even cleaning one older alcoholic who has soiled himself more than once.  Whatever level of exploitation might be here, seems perhaps mitigated by his caring and the shared willingness of his collaborators.

An interesting film.  I definitely need to see some of his movies and would recommend doing so before watching this doc (more for context and understanding than anything.)

Lights Out (2016)

Lights Out (2016) movie poster

director David F. Sandberg
viewed: 12/17/2016

When we saw the trailer for Lights Out in which a shadowy figure appears in the gloom, disappears in the light, my kids were both of the mind that this was a film too scary to see.  Adapted and expanded from a short film, David F. Sandberg takes an effective motif and turns it into supreme nonsense.

The shadowy figure (who sneaks up and kills in the dark but is repelled by the light) turns out to be an old friend of mom (Maria Bello) from her days in the psych ward.  This friend suffered from some ailment related to light that would sear and putrify her skin, and forced her to hide in the dark.  It turns out that the radical treatments of shooting her with intensive light surprisingly(?) backfired and reduced her to ashes…and the shadows.

And now she’s back to control Bello and kill anyone of her family members who try to wean her away.

My kids very quickly forgot that this seemed scary and we spent most of the film laughing at it merrily.