Monday, June 17, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)


Short Attention Span Review - Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Dripping with nuance and a sinister vibe, equally mysterious and wild, Bad Times at the El Royale is a picture that hits a lot of familiar beats in fresh and unexpected ways.  The first act is a nifty slow burn that draws you in, the second act is a dazzling descent into secret identities and desperate situations, and the third act is a sizzling eruption of violence served Grand Guignol.  Crafted with nuance and wit, built upon a lethal script and masterful direction from Drew Goddard, this is a striking venture that never fails to enthrall and entertain.  Goddard, who also gave us the splendid and wickedly inventive Cabin in the Woods, shows a real knack for taking cliches and standard tropes and twisting them into diabolical new shapes.  However, while Cabin in the Woods was a devious kick in the pants, I found Bad Times at the El Royale to be a masterpiece that takes noir to groovy new heights while striking some truly ominous chords along the way.  The performances are exceptional, with Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo leading the way while everyone delivers.  Jon Hamm really sets the stage in the opening reel, while Chris Hemsworth arrives closer to the finale, delivering what may have been his most challenging and richest work.  Psychotic and seductive in equal measures, he is the lynchpin for this rollicking odyssey born of paranoia and intrigue, and he is the catalyst for all the groundwork that Goddard lays along the way to a powerful climax.  This review may ring of hyperbole, but I can honestly say that I had high hopes for this one, and it far surpassed my expectations.  I hoped for a gnarly oddity, and I got that and so much more--Bad Times at the El Royale is one of the best films I've seen in a while, and it is a credit to the efforts of everyone involved that it proves to be so mesmerizing.

Final Grade: A+


Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Bridges: American Treasure.  If you don't love this dude, there's something wrong with you.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - White of the Eye (1987)


Short Attention Span Review - White of the Eye (1987)

This little-known thriller from the late 80s is often described as an American stab at the beloved Giallo sub-genre that put so many Italian directors on the map.  I can see some similarities, so I understand that sentiment, but I find it to be something different, a curious opus that pays homage to many things but ultimately stands on its own.  The direction from Donald Cammell represents a stellar vision that is stark, inviting, subversive, and wildly grim.  This picture has a thing for vivid colors and gruesome subject matter, and it is rooted in the queasy realms of power and domination masquerading as purpose, painting an intimate portrait of a madman.  In fact, the lines between the killer we fear and the leading man we are drawn to are blurred, and even those with the closest ties to the murders contained within this pulsing chiller can't decide whether they love or hate the twisted soul who finds purpose in dismemberment.  The score by Nick Mason is a big winner, and the performances are on point.  David Keith is perfect, and Cathy Moriarty matches him stride for stride, while Art Evans and Alan Rosenberg take smaller roles and turn them into major assets.  Few thrillers operate with this much charisma while probing such depths, and the end result is a bit of a mystery.  While the events portrayed are far from ambiguous, the viewer's reaction may be defined by a sense of puzzlement.  When all is revealed, it is difficult to determine just how we should feel about everyone involved, and that is why I cherish White of the Eye.  It is provocative, it is exciting, and it asks a lot of tough questions that it answers by dishing out a lot of tough answers.  Evil can be quite seductive.  Evil may even be rather charming at times.  And those who go toe to toe with evil may taint themselves in the process.  Most don't view this type of fare for such meditation on the darker aspects of humanity, but those who do may find this true one of a kind to be immensely satisfying in its thirst for perversion and identity.

Final Grade: A


Like the best Italian thrillers, this American production is a quirky thriller that oozes style and vibrancy.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Dragged Across Concrete (2018)


Short Attention Span Review - Dragged Across Concrete (2018)

Some might bill Dragged Across Concrete as a dark thriller, but I'm not so sure.  Yes, it is punctuated by shocking acts of violence, and yes it centers on some cops and robbers interplay of a sort that we often see portrayed on the big screen.  However, its more about the characters and their circumstances than their actions.  Dragged Across Concrete struck me as a hard-boiled drama, a stark departure from a garden variety police procedural or a guns blazing shoot 'em up.  More to the point, everything is painted in murky shades of gray, and the picture is bereft of any classical good guys.  The standard rules don't apply either, and this gives the picture a few jolts that most movies in the same vein are lacking.  This is a movie about desperate people making desperate choices and hoping to survive in the wake of these fateful decisions.  The pace is methodical; a stakeout is explored with incredible attention to detail, and though shots are fired and bodies are shredded, Dragged Across Concrete is always more concerned with what its characters are doing between these outbursts of carnage and death.  This is Craig S. Zahler's third film, and it's clearly his most deliberate effort to date.  It is both a throwback and a subversion of the genre, and it will excite many viewers for the very same reasons that it will bore others.  Zahler also pushes a lot of buttons, with a lot of social issues coming into play, though he doesn't seek to preach or provide answers as much as he allows his characters to offer up pointed questions while grappling with life as they know it.  Stars Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn fully embrace the material, and they invest such gravity into their performances that both disappear into parts that don't cater to their usual strengths.  Gibson simmers where he usually boils over, while Vaughn is more subdued and inquisitive than showy or declarative.  Tory Kittles upstages everyone as the unofficial third lead, an equally complex ex-con with a fluid knack for survival that serves him better than brutality or strategy serve his counterparts.  From the onset, we like all of these players in spite of their flaws, which are many, just as we recognize that this is not a happy ending kind of show.  While the gritty drama steadily nears a gruesome conclusion, we are continually surprised by the all too familiar yet oh so foreign plot.  It's not quite a masterpiece, but Dragged Across Concrete is really fresh, really intricate, and thereby really damn good.

Final Grade: A-


Vaughn and Gibson make an excellent pair in this gritty drama masquerading as a thriller, a grim saga where nothing comes easy and no one is safe.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Triple Threat (2019)


Short Attention Span Review - Triple Threat (2019)

First off, let me acknowledge that as an action film, Triple Threat probably fails more than it succeeds.  The plot is riddled with so many holes that it is fairly nonsensical, the dialogue is atrocious, and a few poignant scenes are so sorely out of place that they veer toward purely unintentional comedy.  And, it should be noted, that as a kung-fu flick, it doesn't even approach the level of greatness that a venture with this cast could attain.  However, anyone who gets their kicks from this sort of fare will find plenty to enjoy nonetheless, because even a bad rock 'em sock 'em movie with these cats winds up being mediocre.  We've got Tony Jaa, Tiger Chen, Scott Adkins, and two of my all-time favorites, Iko Uwais and Michael Jai White, in the mix, after all.  And while director Jesse V. Johnson fumbles where the exposition (and pretty much everything aside from the action bits) is concerned, he does capture some excellent martial arts mayhem.  Unfortunately, some of the clashes are a bit too brief, and a few of these Grade A combatants never get to engage one another.  Yet the fights we do get are compelling match-ups, and all of the players get to show their stuff to devastating effect.  In particular, I loved seeing Uwais and White square off, and Adkins and Jaa also have a fantastic battle.  Chen also shines, doing a fine job in his work with MMA vet Michael Bisping, who proves rather adept at cinematic fisticuffs.  In truth, I think Adkins may steal the show, with his amazing talents establishing him as a stellar villain.  Dude is so versatile and smooth, he makes dizzying acrobatics look easy, and he can play an arrogant badass with the very best of them.  In a lot of ways, Triple Threat reminded me of one of those 90s martial arts movies I used to enjoy, pictures with guys like Gary Daniels, Don Wilson, and Billy Blanks taking on all comers.  The movies themselves were quite pedestrian, but the fight scenes made them worthwhile.  Triple Threat is far better than most of those, but it doesn't leave them in the dust the way it should.  Regardless, if you're a fan of this sort of show, or an admirer of any of the people involved, this is one you can't pass up.

Final Grade: A very fun C

As a movie, Triple Threat is prone to misfires.  As a martial arts bonanza, it falls well short of its potential, but still emerges as a rollicking showcase for the extraordinary talent involved.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Hell or High Water (2016)


Short Attention Span Review - Hell or High Water (2016)

Hell or High Water is a little slow, rather grim, genuinely interested in those areas where morality and integrity stand at odds with the foundations of society, and built on the bonds of family and loyalty.  The violence is realistic, the choices are dire, and the cost of living is high.  It's a movie that boasts many robberies and a couple of shootouts, but it offers much more in the way of drama than excitement because we care so deeply about the players.  This is due to an excellent script, some rich characters, and a wonderful cast that really grasps what the picture is all about and brings it to life with gut-wrenching authenticity.  We sense doom for some of these players from the moment the picture opens, and while we are propelled forward by the choices required of them, we never fully accept their fates, and are reluctant to see just how this uncompromising landscape will break them.  Jeff Bridges does an astounding job as a fair and likable lawman who is as human as he is larger than life--kinda sounds like a Jeff Bridges sort of role, doesn't it?  Gil Birmingham should not be overlooked as perhaps the most dignified person embroiled in this unforgiving saga.  Chris Pine and Ben Foster make the whole thing click on another level altogether as two very different siblings, with their work here draped in authenticity and crackling with purpose.  Pine is a bit reserved as the more introverted of the two, allowing Foster to light the screen up in one of his best performances to date.  Foster plays the most flawed and also the most generous of all these characters, and in a story like this, those who are willing to give of themselves are issued a bloody receipt for their efforts.  That's okay, though, because he plays the kind of man who is more than willing to man up and pay his dues, especially if his family is at stake.  Hell or High Water is another top-notch film from the mind of Taylor Sheridan, who also gave us 2017's unofficial best picture, Wind River.  Director David Mackenzie does a stellar job of bringing this deft combination of a modern western and an essay in noir to fruition, and I rate Hell or High Water as an absolute must-watch for those who like tough movies about hard choices.

Final Grade: A


Jeff Bridges remains an American treasure, but the work that Pine and Foster do here 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Short Attention Span Review: Suspiria (2018)


Short Attention Span Review: Suspiria (2018)

Someone I know heralded this remake/reboot of Dario Argento's most beloved motion picture as superior to the original.  He did go on to say that given how far it strays from the 1977 cult classic, this should have been crafted as something else altogether.  "If that were the case," he said with the utmost confidence, "We would all be hailing this as a genuine masterpiece."  Full disclosure: this guy is clearly an idiot.  Of course, some of you liked Hereditary, so maybe shitshows are en vogue these days.  I don't know.  But I do know this: the 2018 Suspiria is a monumental clusterfuck with only a few stunning flourishes to offer any enjoyment for those who suffer through this master class in turd burglary.  This is far too little for me to submit any sort of recommendation, for while there are a handful of pieces to the puzzle that sizzle, they are few and far between.  And they are buried in a plodding and nonsensical affair that tries so very hard to be grandiose and transformative that it renders itself overwrought and tedious.  In many ways, it's a joke, a really bad joke, like a dad joke that has died and gone to hell.  The director has no feel for the material, and the cast and crew are betrayed by a script that is a mess when it aims for intrigue and a bit of a bore when it strives for excitement, save a few instances that must have been accidental forays into entertainment.  Remember the score for the original Suspiria?  Of course you do, Goblin's dizzying array of energy and brilliance were among that startling shocker's greatest strengths.  This time out, we get a softer approach from Thom Yorke of Radiohead, and I think this take on the material could best be described as one basic bitch of a score.  I would categorize the whole thing as abysmal, but I don't want to insult any abysses.  Friends, let me put it to you like this: Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria is like a reboot of John Wick directed by Steven Soderbergh that runs nearly three hours long and only dishes out six minutes of action.  And there is an entirely pointless subplot that constantly drags the whole sorry affair even further into tedium wherein Keanu's titular surrogate pulls double duty in a second role as an old woman with feeble ties to the plot.  And we're not supposed to know it's the same performer in another role, but it is painfully obvious and only makes this particular ingredient and the recipe as a whole less appetizing.  And those who like the original John Wick and those who don't give a shit about John Wick alike can only wonder why they bothered to waste their time with this hypothetical piece of shit.  Though, in fairness, any hypothetical piece of shit is better than the 2018 Suspiria in my book, because I can't really waste 152 minutes of my life watching a hypothetical piece of shit, can I?

Final Grade: F for "Fuck this."


This clip from the film stands as a perfect metaphor for the joy I experienced while watching director  Luca Guadagnino's valiant effort to deeply insult anyone and everyone who enjoys the original.  Personally, I'm ready to throw hands.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Comics Corner - The Immortal Hulk (2018 - Present)


Comics Corner - The Immortal Hulk (2018 - Present)

One comic that has been garnering a lot of praise recently is Marvel's latest take on the Hulk, aptly titled The Immortal Hulk.  This is partly a fresh approach, but it also serves to turn back the clock to the days when everyone's favorite green behemoth first hit the scene.  Once upon a when, the Hulk was more of a monster that men feared who only became a hero when greater threats arose--sort of like Godzilla in the flicks where he gets to play the good guy.


Writer Al Ewing has certainly cast the Hulk as a creature to be feared in this stellar run, and he has conjured up some wicked threats to pit against the titular character.  Joe Bennett has done a gnarly job of translating Ewing's vision to the medium.  Combine their fiendish efforts, and this book somehow manages to give me the Hulk I crave while seemingly paying homage to the grotesque delights of John Carpenter's The Thing, or perhaps some of Sam Raimi's work when he's in "paint the screen red with blood" mode.  Then there's the icing on the cake: the covers from Alex Ross, who is always impeccable, but has taken things up a notch with these diabolical visions of everyone's favorite raging jade goliath.


With Marvel being known and loved the world over for its playful sense of humor, I feel that people probably underestimate what I and other fans mean when we refer to this as a horror comic featuring the Hulk.  It's not a typical Hulk book with him facing off against a few beasties with red eyes, it runs much, much darker than that.  The Hulk himself is a tortured creature, and he has been dismembered, corrupted, and even taken to hell in the fourteen issues of this title released to date.  He has faced off against some deeply malevolent foes, and the pages have dripped with sinister imagery.  Is it on the same level as Alan Moore's legendary take on Swamp Thing so far as plunging a beloved entity into the very depths of the macabre is concerned?  That's a good question.  Maybe it hasn't gone quite that far, but then again, maybe it has.


It hasn't been as surreal as Moore's work with DC's green force of nature, though it has paused to ask some very profound questions and there have been some metaphysics in play.  I like the way the supernatural elements have been portrayed in a straightforward manner--it's quite unique, somewhat akin to marrying high adventure to the sort of body horror that David Cronenberg is famous for.  Seriously, I'll stand by that.  I have always enjoyed the Hulk, but this direction caters directly to my sensibilities, and I will join the choir in hailing it as perhaps Marvel's finest offering in 2018 and 2019.


In short, if you dig comics, and you like the Hulk, you may well be intrigued.  If you dig horror and you like material with some serious oomph, you too may enjoy this title.  And if you dig the Hulk, you have love for comic books, and you're a horror fanatic like yours truly, this is looking like "can't miss" territory, isn't it?  While there are a lot of good books out there these days, and the last couple of years have been really kind to horror lovers (Elvira, Gravetrancers, BlackwoodJustice League Dark, and The Spider King are among my recent favorites), this is probably the title I look forward to most on my pull list these days.  The hype is real, my friends.  Long live The Immortal Hulk.

Final Grade: A

Short Attention Span Review - Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)


Short Attention Span Review - Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

I may have mentioned before that I'm a big fan of the film sub-genre I refer to as "Movies on Wheels," and if so, I surely mentioned that while I still like pictures in this vein, older flicks like Vanishing PointWhite Line Fever, and this 1974 surprise hit rule the roost.  Why?  Well, because back in the good old days, there was no CGI to thank for such white-knuckle escapades.  Nope, there were real stunt drivers crashing real cars, and the cheap thrills born of that authenticity is impossible to duplicate with even the best modern effects that Hollywood has to offer.  However, there's much more to Dirty Mary Crazy Larry than the vehicular exploits, to include a great cast, a flamboyant but gritty script, and masterful direction from John Hough.  There's also a darkness at the heart of this rip-roaring jaunt down the asphalt that gives it some serious punch.  Yes, it's an entertaining film, and Peter Fonda simply oozes cool as the hotshot driver at the center of the piece, but he's also a real dick.  The movie succeeds because of Fonda's charisma and the character's nerve and skill behind the wheel.  Ultimately, however, all of the players suffer because this captivating figure is more than a little unhinged, and he steers everyone around him down a dangerous path.  The wicked ending that still gives viewers jolts doesn't come off as a cheap trick because it is totally warranted even if it does come out of nowhere.  Crazy Larry himself was practically begging for such a conclusion from the second he put his foot on the gas.  Fonda is joined by Adam Roarke, Susan George, and Vic Morrow, with an uncredited Roddy McDowall aiding the proceedings as well.  All save McDowall play intriguing but flawed parts, and while their story is entertaining as hell, the film's true impact stems from the fact that these are lost souls on destructive paths, and not the nobler and ultimately courageous types that most films concern themselves with.  No, these are bad people racing down tricky roads; some are addicted to adrenaline, some are just desperate for a score, and some wield a badge but truly serve their own need for authority.  Even those who are simply along for the ride can't claim innocence, and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry keeps us on the edge of our seats for 90 minutes and then gives all of the characters just what they deserve.  The stunt work is among the best you'll ever see, the lines* are zingers, and Hough did something daring and ultimately quite remarkable with this unlikely thriller that defies expectations at every turn.

*Exhibit A:

Larry:  Yeah, yeah.  So we got off to a bad start.  Well, ya know what it means when somebody like me gets off to a bad start?  Not a goddamn thing.

Exhibit B:

Larry:  You know what a man would do right now if he were smart?

Deke: What?

Larry:  I don't know.

The car stuff is among the best you'll ever see, but it's the grim vibe and the director's prowess that make Dirty Mary Crazy Larry so memorable.

Final Grade: A

Monday, April 1, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Castle Freak (1995)


Short Attention Span Review - Castle Freak (1995)

Like many of my fellow fright fans, I spent Friday night enjoying The Last Drive-In courtesy of the good folks at Shudder* and Joe Bob Briggs**.  Not only did I have entirely too much fun with this resurrection of one of the horror staples of my youth, but I also watched Castle Freak for the first time as a result of its inclusion in a nifty double feature (the first film was C.H.U.D., a familiar favorite that I like a lot, even though Joe Bob was clearly not a fan).  Now, I may have mentioned my disdain for Full Moon before.  I know, I know, that's a Holy Grail of sorts for some of you horror lovers out there, but the studio never really did a lot for me.  With that in mind, I'm pretty sure that I never even noticed that Castle Freak was a Stuart Gordon film with Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton in the lead roles.  After Seedpeople, I avoided Full Moon productions like the plague.  Regardless, that was a mistake, and I'm glad that Joe Bob remedied this situation for me.  Castle Freak is a creepy picture, lean and incredibly mean, with fine performances, quality direction, and a beastie that really made my skin crawl.  Despite the presence of Combs in the lead and Gordon in the director's chair, there was no humor in play, and Castle Freak painted a nasty picture in gruesome detail.  Like most Full Moon features, the budget wasn't an asset, but in this case, a crafty screenplay and terrific work from the cast and crew enabled the film to rise above any limitations.  In truth, while a tale of this variety could never find as much love with a larger audience, I think it sits as a worthy companion piece to either Re-Animator or From Beyond, and it was far more unnerving than either of those beloved oddities from the same diabolical entertainers.  The effects were gnarly, and Jonathan Fuller positively slayed it as Giorgi, who is both a creature to be pitied and the stuff of nightmares.  This isn't one of those fun horror movies where you snicker and lay odds on which dumb teenager will be next on the chopping block, this is a frightening spectacle where everyone involved worked very hard to scare the hell out of the audience.  I rate it as a success, and I'm going to join Joe Bob in hailing it as a superior effort that warrants more attention from the horror community.

*For any horror fan who has yet to subscribe, Shudder is an absolute steal.

**I mean, he's no Elvira, but Joe Bob is great at what he does--and his recent work for Shudder has found him at the very height of his game.  You may not agree with everything he says, but it's a lot more fun to watch one of these pictures with him, and even diehard genre fans like yours truly will gather a few nuggets along the way.

Final Grade: B+


The cast as a whole performs admirably, but it is quite possible that Jonathan Fuller's work as the titular creature is  the key to Castle Freak's success.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Aquaman (2018)


Short Attention Span Review - Aquaman (2018)

A visual spectacle that dishes out ample doses of excitement and cheer, Aquaman is a glorious achievement.  This offbeat superhero yarn is a fun picture that offers up thrills, laughs, drama, and magical special effects.  It is a journey brimming with epic staples, and as such, it is centered upon a daunting quest with the fate of the world at stake.  Yet even as director James Wan dazzles us with grandeur and all the most rousing aspects of a legit blockbuster, he allows his imposing but playful star to wink at the audience from time to time.  Arriving as DC's second surefire hit amid a couple of mediocre outings and at least one misunderstood gem*, Aquaman stands proudly alongside Wonder Woman, giving us renewed hope in this comic book juggernaut's ability to translate their work to the screen for current audiences.  For me, the most impressive thing about this crowd-pleaser was the fact that while it was overflowing with eye candy of the highest order, the visual treats never overshadowed the characters or the performances.  This cast and the story may have won me over even if the FX wizardry had fallen short.  Seeing both of these elements of the production fire on all cylinders is a fabulous experience.  At the center of all this enchantment is Jason Momoa as a hero who has been a punchline for much of his existence, at least where the general public is concerned.  Despite bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the character, this dude was born to play the king of the sea, and his casting is the biggest gun in DC's arsenal right now.  Truth.  His physicality and charisma are the foundation upon which Aquaman is built, and it's one hell of a foundation.  Stars like Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe join Momoa and the ever-potent Amber Heard in elevating this impressive adventure, while Patrick Wilson and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II portray dastardly threats to the world Wan has created.  In fact, Wilson really impresses, making Orm an arrogant and dangerous opponent despite Momoa's prowess, while Abdul-Mateen II damn near steals the show.  In closing, Aquaman is an enjoyable film that aims for the stars and soars to incredible heights.

*Batman vs. Superman (the extended cut)

Final Grade: A
Aquaman is a stunning movie that likely would have survived the presence of a lesser performer in the lead role, but Momoa's athleticism and warmth only add to its wow factor.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Fabulous Faves - All That Jazz (1979)


Fabulous Faves - All That Jazz (1979)

All That Jazz doesn't sound like my kind of film.  I love movies in general, but we all know that I'm a horror guy first and foremost, and I greatly enjoy a lot of pulp.  And a lot of the stuff I call pulp, the rest of you would simply dub trash.  All That Jazz is a musical.  Not really my thing.  All That Jazz is famous for its dance choreography.  Again, not really my thing.  All That Jazz is a surreal narrative that frequently delves into the metaphysical, to include a healthy part for Death herself.  Yeah, just not the type of thing that usually does it for me.  And yet, . . . I cherish this picture.  I fell head over heels for it the first time I watched it, and it is one of those masterful endeavors where I seem to find more to love every time I revisit it.  The plot is a manic exercise that straddles so many genres that it would be hard to list all of them, and I feel that it hits every note that it aims to deliver.  Fosse's dazzling spectacle is buoyed by humor at every turn, but it is an unflinching look at dying.  It showcases the excitement and drama of performing on stage with dizzying grandeur, but it does so while also probing self-destruction and addiction with painful intimacy.  All That Jazz explores the highs and lows of fame, and love, and life as we know it.  With Fosse in the director's chair, the authenticity on the screen is a joy to behold, and Roy Scheider is unbelievable in the lead role.  I have always been a fan of Roy's work, and this is both a big stretch for him and his greatest achievement; he went big, very big, and he delivered something so mesmerizing that it could aptly be described as magical.  Everyone involved in the production of this quizzical and riveting jewel succeeds, and this is one that I can't really find any faults with.  It is a trip, and it oozes morbid humor and surreal escapism while dissecting immense and controversial behavior issues with shameless attention to detail, so I can see where many would be put off by it.  That's okay, some of the best movies ever made can be uncomfortable and astounding in equal measures.  This is one of them.

Final Grade: A+*

*All Fabulous Faves get an A+ from me.  That's why I call them Fabulous Faves!

To truly understand what Roy is capable of, you must watch this movie.  Seldom has a performance been dubbed "a revelation" for such good reason.  My take: it is absolutely one of the most powerful star turns ever realized, and it shows that while he is rightfully regarded as a legend, Scheider could have gone much farther given the chance.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Short Attention Review - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)


Short Attention Span Review - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

I've been down with Spidey for about as long as I can remember, and I'm a 40-year-old dude who still rocks comics.  Bonus points: the one mainstay on my pull list has always been The Amazing Spider-Man.  With that in mind, I believe I can speak with some authority when it comes to the webhead.  My expertise extends beyond the comics and also applies to the movies, to include the appropriately obscure.  Of course, I've seen all the mainstream ventures, but I didn't stop there.  Seriously, have you ever gone on a quest to track down every episode of the 1977 television series starring Nicholas Hammond--and forced yourself to watch them all?  Dear lord, I hope not.  I like to think that I paid that tab for all of us.*  Anyway, I say all that to say this: I was a bit unsure about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and my unease may have increased in light of all the incredible praise heaped upon this 2018 animated adventure.  Surely, I thought, it can't be that good.  Listen up, peeps.  It's that good.  It's freaking epic.  It rocks.  I didn't like it, I positively loved it.  The animation is unique but brilliant, the voice performances are perfect, and the soundtrack is nothing short of superb.  Most importantly, the direction courtesy of Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman is amazing, and the screenplay from Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman is spectacular.  They weave a mesmerizing web of rollicking action and heartfelt drama that elevate this into the upper stratosphere of comic book movies.  Look, I drooled over Infinity War with the rest of you, but Spidey snuck in like a thief in the night and rocked the Casbah with this vivid and thoroughly entertaining smash hit.  I do not believe I am taking things too far when I dub this the best Spider-Man movie we have seen to date, and I enjoy all of the previous efforts, even Spider-Man 3**.  I rate Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming as among the best comic book adaptations ever produced.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse surpasses all of these adventures starring the wallcrawler we hold so dear.  Guess what?  I'm not stopping there.  No, I would like to take things even further, to be honest, and I'm here to declare this one of the best superhero movies out there.  In terms of craftsmanship and quality, it is on par with the best of the lot, to include the previously-mentioned Infinity War, as well as other legit classics in that realm, movies like Logan, The Dark Knight, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Superman II.  I can't recommend this one highly enough, and it is a joy to encounter something that is equal parts diverse, inclusive, and splendid.  I want to thank everyone involved for taking my favorite superhero to new heights.

*For the record, they're kinda fun, and I give the makers of the show props for trying really hard.  That's probably too kind.  Okay, okay.  Let's be real here.  The show was so hokey that it flirts with comedic glory.

**Shoot me if you must.  It's true.

Final Grade: A+


This wonderful feature succeeds partly by inviting lots of takes on our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to the party, but mostly because it nails each and every one of them, and allows them to participate in a marvelous story.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Curse of Chucky (2013)


Short Attention Span Review - Curse of Chucky (2013)

We're getting a new Chucky movie, and by that, I mean a reboot, not a continuation of the series as we know it.  I share Jennifer Tilly's thoughts on the matter, and lest you're unaware: we're not too keen on the idea.  Honestly, between 2013's Curse of Chucky and 2017's Cult of Chucky (and talks of a tie-in series from the man behind this franchise, Don Mancini), I see no need to do something new and different here.  Now, I enjoy these movies, but I'm not necessarily what I would consider a diehard fan.  Still, as a guy who digs horror, this does feel like hallowed ground for a few reasons.  First off, they're revamping Chucky himself.  That's a terrible fucking idea.  Secondly, they're looking for an "A-list talent" to try and fill Brad Dourif's shoes where the voice of everyone's favorite sadistic doll from hell is concerned.  The phrase "good luck with that" comes to mind.  Anyway, I'm going to push my little tangent here aside (sorry, but not really sorry at all) and review this 2013 chiller for you.  It is not a reboot at all, but something of a restart, taking the story in a new direction without severing any ties to the pictures that came before.  The tone is a fairly significant departure, with this being more of a sinister and spooky tale largely devoid of the zealous lunacy that we saw in the last few entries.  In that regard, it is a lot closer to Tom Holland's killer venture that started the ball rolling, though I would argue that Curse of Chucky is even more subdued, and plays a little more like an old school shocker.  It slowly builds to a crescendo, and even though we all come to this particular party knowing just what to expect, Curse of Chucky takes its time getting to the good stuff.  After all, the family at the center of the tale doesn't know that the doll young Alice is so taken with is a supernatural vessel for one vicious son of a bitch's tainted soul.  Mancini surely understands the lay of the land, and he handles Chucky's malicious exploits with great skill; the design and effects are on point, and the character's behavior is just what fans are hoping for.  Mancini's greatest feat may be pairing Brad Dourif's unbelievable performance with the ominous nature of the piece.  Brad isn't the only Dourif who shines in this outing, as his daughter Fiona excels as our lead.  Her part is both complex and endearing, and Mancini encourages us to really invest in this strong-willed heroine as he puts the screws to her in a big way.  While I won't rate this as the best of the lot, it is a welcome addition to a legacy that remains potent better than three decades after Chucky hit the scene--a legacy that need not be refashioned for current audiences when all the necessary parties are still fully capable of delivering the goods.

Final Grade: B-

Non-Spoiler Alert: Chucky is still one mean little bastard.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Powerful Pages - Mr. Majestyk by Elmore Leonard (1974)


Powerful Pages - Mr. Majestyk by Elmore Leonard (1974)

Man, I miss Elmore.  He had such a gift for telling gripping stories populated with vivid characters.  He did so by painting incredible pictures with as few brush strokes as possible.  Mr. Majestyk is a perfect example of his style, lean but provocative, fast-paced but detailed, a dramatic confrontation that is never dull and consistently defies expectations.  Majestyk himself is an ideal hero in the Leonard mold, a stoic type with a willingness to strike hard when given no alternative, as well as a deliberate man with a code he will not violate.  Frank Renda, the villain, is another classic Leonard creation, a nuanced tough guy who is both deeply flawed and wildly dangerous.  Majestyk is a melon farmer while Renda is a contract killer, and their little war is as entertaining as it is unlikely.  As with any of the author's works, the dialogue sizzles, and every word brings us closer to a reckoning.  While my efforts here may lead the uninitiated to imagine a cartoonish machismo extravaganza masquerading as a novel, that would be grossly inaccurate.  Yes, Elmore liked to spin yarns about tough guys caught up in even tougher situations, and he had a real knack for one-liners and unexpected laughs.  He also had an unbelievable feel for his medium coupled with a pretty sound grasp of human nature, thus his writing is also insightful and moving.  Don't confuse brief with shallow, and please understand that guns-blazing action and potent drama can occupy the same space.  And if you don't believe me, hell, go ahead and ask Mr. Majestyk.  It is a quick and enjoyable read, and I think it was one of Leonard's best.

Final Grade: A

Monday, March 11, 2019

Short Attention Span Review - Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)


Short Attention Span Review - Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

Q works for a few reasons.  As many have pointed out before, the most significant boost comes from Michael Moriarty, who just acts his ass off.  In the midst of a campy horror movie with a flying monstrosity and killer cultists, Moriarty lets it all fly, and his performance is positively Oscar-worthy.  There is no way that previous statement won't come off as hyperbole, but it's totally true.  Moriarty does some Daniel Day-Lewis method shit and slays his role as a petty crook who is both a coward and a dreamer who won't shy away from a big play.  Another key to this cult classic's place in the hearts of horror fans is that while it does contain a flying serpent and those bloodthirsty cultists, that's not really what it's about.  It's mostly about the characters, to include Moriarty's ambitious thief, David Carradine's inquisitive detective (he's equal parts tough and thoughtful), and Candy Clark as Joan, the woman who loves Moriarty's Jimmy Quinn and also despises him.  Cohen's direction and witty script (there are some top-shelf lines in this one) are also winners, but that won't surprise anyone who digs his work.  The effects are sinister where the cultists are concerned and downright hokey where the titular terror is concerned.  This flying fiend is captured via stop motion a la Harryhausen, making this both a kooky frightfest and a love letter of sorts to the creature features of the 50s and 60s.  Q is a strange dish, and it surely registers as junk food, but it remains tasty after all these years.

Final Grade: B


Yes, it's a goofy monster movie, but the praise often heaped upon Moriarty's jazzy performance is wholly warranted.  He should have gotten an Oscar.  I'm dead fucking serious right now.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Short Attention Span Review: Venom (2018)


Short Attention Span Review: Venom (2018)

Because Tom Hardy, that's why.  What else could it be?  Venom is not a great movie, oh no, far from it, but it is way better than it has any right to be.  Why?  Please revisit that first line, good people.  It simply has to be Tom.  Tom is invested.  The script is an exercise in contrived mediocrity.  Tom is quirky.  The direction is so bland it makes vanilla seem like the most daring of flavors.  Tom is funny.  This is a movie about Venom with no real ties to Spider-Man whatsoever.  Tom is exciting.  Both the special effects and the choreography for this film could accurately be described as run-of-the-mill for the industry at large--and may even rate as subpar if compared to most films repping the current superhero craze.  Tom is unpredictable.  Venom is a by-the-numbers comic book adaptation that has more in common with Catwoman or Spawn than anything Marvel has produced in the last decade.  Despite my love for Tom, when you do the math here, it should add up to a lousy review, right?  Wrong.  Because Tom Hardy, that's why.  Venom should rate as an insult to webheads like me, but Tom's gonzo performance makes it a curious success.  There are moments when he seems to be channeling vintage Jim Carrey, I shit you not, and while I can't say that I agree with all of the choices he makes in this role, it is his schtick that makes this rabble worthwhile.  I'll also give props to the sound design where the symbiote's voice is concerned, and the only thing the filmmakers do that matches Hardy's zeal: centering this tale on the relationship between a strange man and a much stranger creature.  And the fact that heads are bitten off is never a turnoff for yours truly.

Final Grade: C+


It's a love story, really.  A love story about a boy who meets a parasite.
Like when Kurt met Courtney, only this time the parasite is from another planet.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Monster Jams: My Diligence - Sun Rose (Released 1/30/2019)


Monster Jams: My Diligence - Sun Rose (Released 1/30/2019)

Terrible name, gnarly Belgian band.  Some might bill this as stoner rock or some variety of progressive rock, but I'm not really sure where it fits.  I don't particularly care either--I'm not too keen on this whole label craze with what seems like a zillion different little niches where sub-genres of music are concerned.  In this case, I'm totally cool with filing My Diligence under rock and taking it from there.  These guys are aggressive, with driving riffs, a steady beat, and some serious cohesion keeping the sound exquisitely forceful and equally tight.  The vocals, however, are subdued if not lethargic by comparison, though the melodies are sweet and the grooves pair nicely with the band's emphasis on momentum.  The precision involved is ruthless, and even those who don't favor the sound should be able to acknowledge the talent involved in crafting this music.  The contrast on display yields a surprisingly smooth output that never veers off course while blancing catchy harmonies against a potent dose of adrenaline.  Maybe it's a weird marriage; it doesn't matter, what matters is that it works.  Standout tracks include "Resentful,""Backstabber," and "Lecter's Song."  I'm not sure that anything included in this release is truly explosive, but there are no misfires.  Sun Rose is a thirty-eight minute foray into a hypnotic sound that will not necessarily blow your mind, but it will take you to some unique places, and it will leave you wanting more.

Final Grade: B+

Monday, March 4, 2019

Short Attention Span Review: Paranoiac (1963)


Short Attention Span Review: Paranoiac (1963)

Typically, when we fright fans think about Hammer, we recall Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee duking it out in their classic takes on such notable horror staples as Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy.  It is easy to forget that the studio also produced a number of remarkable features that run the gamut from eerie thrillers to subdued chillers.  Paranoiac is a 1963 picture directed by Freddie Francis, starring a young Oliver Reed at his unstable best.  Reed smirks, schemes, sweats, and twitches his way through this stunning black and white composition that stands somewhere between Psycho and a devilish whodunit.  The cinematography is crisp and compelling, the score is dark and somewhat insidious, and all of the characters aside from Janette Scott as Eleanor Ashby are harboring dark secrets that slowly come to light.  As the movie nears its dramatic conclusion, the shocks come fast and furious, and there are a few terrifying moments embedded in what is mostly a stark and calculating mystery.  Paranoiac is a fun film to revisit, and it remains suspenseful and ominous even in this modern era of dazzling effects and heightened immersion.  It is a throwback, yes, but it is a throwback to a time when there were no big scares courtesy of CGI delights, a time when filmmakers worked hard to terrify audiences with sinister plots and impeccable craftsmanship.  Such ventures often age well, and that is surely the case with this 1963 spookshow.

Final Grade: B+


Paranoiac is creepier than one might suspect--this mask design is pretty chilling for a 1963 thriller.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Short Attention Span Review: Nightmare City (1980)


Short Attention Span Review: Nightmare City (1980)

Nightmare City is a rather glorious piece of shit.  There's a part of me (and it's not a small part) that wants to leave it at that.  That single statement would serve as a perfect review for this movie, yet I can't stifle the need to elaborate.  Nightmare City isn't just bad, it's very, very bad.  Okay, it's fucking horrible.  It is a perfect example of a cheap Italian horror movie, complete with an absurd script, weak acting, Z grade special effects, copious amounts of shoddy gore and pointless T&A, and characters who are largely defined by their need to make terrible decisions in moments of crisis.  The only thing missing is a laugh track.  But the whole thing is engineered (poorly) with such indisputable passion and vigor that it somehow rises above these shortcomings.  There are even a few areas where Nightmare City actually shines.  Umberto Lenzi directs this trash as well as trash can be directed, for one, and I do mean that as a compliment.  The score is both bonkers and sheer perfection; there could be no better score for this particular serving of cinematic garbage.  Finally, there's Hugo Stiglitz in the lead role.  Yes, dude is wooden as hell.  Yes, the script does him no favors.  Yes, he is legendary.  He seems like a mild-mannered reporter at first, but then the shit hits the fan, and our boy becomes a tough-talking, ass-kicking, and hard-drinking warrior of the apocalypse.  He kicks the shit out of zombies* (literally, his kick may not be all that impressive, but it sends several zombies flying), he throws axes, and he is comfortable mowing down undead ghouls with machine guns or hurling grenades at them.  He drinks whiskey and encourages his woman to stay strong and keep walking after he has firebombed their station wagon with a Molotov Cocktail*.  That's the kind of shit that happens in Nightmare City, peeps, and that's why we love movies like this.

*Okay, they're not actually zombies.  They're irradiated bloodsuckers who can run and wield weapons.

**This happens after the pair stop at a gas station and become surrounded while engaging in a philosophical debate about the pitfalls of modern society and the potential benefits of survival in a radioactive wasteland.  Yes, they should have fueled up and peeled out, but one of the writers went into message mode, so our boy Hugo just had to blow that fucking station wagon to bits and start stepping toward certain death.

Final Grade: B

It's not a special effects extravaganza, it's a straight up bullshit extravaganza.  And I loved it.  

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Powerful Pages: The Tommyknockers by Stephen King (1987)


Powerful Pages: The Tommyknockers by Stephen King (1987)

I often hear The Tommyknockers labeled a lesser outing from Stephen King, and I've never heard anyone recommend it.  Even the author himself has derided the novel as bloated, essentially surmising that it ran twice as long as it should have because he was too coked up to take his foot off the gas.  And yet, writing a book is a lot like casting a spell, and a reader can tolerate a lot of excess if they are sufficiently captivated.  While I will not argue that the book takes a while to get going and sags (a lot) in the middle, I must confess that I'm going to rate it far higher than most of my peers.  In fact, I really enjoyed The Tommyknockers, warts and all.  I attribute this to two pivotal elements of this massive tome.  First, I had a lot of fun with the main character.  Deeply flawed and viciously self-destructive, Jim Gardner may have been the unlikeliest of unlikely heroes.  However, he also had some charm at his disposal, and his reckless passions were described well enough to be understood if not endorsed.  Dude was funny too, with his unraveling at a disastrous dinner party in the somewhat tedious first act practically jumping off the page.  This sequence instantly netted a place as one of my favorite passages from King.  And when the chips were down, it was both easy to root for the guy and easy to believe that he might just come through in spite of all his shortcomings.  The second aspect of The Tommyknockers that I greatly appreciated was the ending, which delivered in a big way.  I am a big fan of King, but as many will agree, he is not necessarily known for sticking the landing.  The last act of The Tommyknockers was smoking hot, deftly combining action on a grand scale, unspeakable horror, and a pronounced emotional wallop.  Is The Tommyknockers worthy of a spot in King's top ten?  Surely not, but it is far from one of his lesser efforts.  I rate it as a quality read courtesy of this generation's most beloved writer, and I strongly encourage anyone who has a tough time with the beginning to hang on for that wicked climax.

Final Grade: A

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Comics Corner - Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (2018 - Present)


Comics Corner - Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (2018 - Present)

Elvira was my first crush.  As a wee fella, I stayed up late one Friday night, and then BOOM!--there she was.  Wow.  I've got goosebumps just thinking about it.  In truth, as a lifelong horror fanatic, my fondness for dearest Elvira and my love for things that go bump in the night represent a legitimate "chicken or the egg" scenario.  In other words, I'm not sure which one came first.


Anyway, the Mistress of the Dark is still my biggest celebrity crush (and my only celebrity crush, truth be told*), and I may just have her to thank for all the joy the horror genre has brought me over the years.  I also dig comics in a big way, so when I heard that Dynamite was set to launch this Elvira: Mistress of the Dark series last year, I made sure to put it on my pull list at Fanboy Comics.  To be quite frank, I didn't know if it would prove to be a solid book (I'm a reader first and a collector second), but I was willing to give it a shot, and I knew it would make for a quality keepsake if nothing else.  Hey, nostalgia sells.


As it turns out, writer David Avallone and artist Dave Acosta have taken this loaded property and ran wild with it.  I am grateful for their efforts; the art is inviting, as it should be, the writing is clever, and the series exists largely as a love letter for both those who treasure horror at large and those who are as charmed by the title character as yours truly.  That bawdy Elvira schtick works as well in this format as it does on the screen, and the tongue-in-cheek approach to the macabre and our lovely heroine's unique assets come through loud and clear.


And the puns!  Oh, the puns!  Puns for days, peeps.  Throw in some classic horror characters and their creators, a diabolical pace, a demented and appropriately snarky sense of humor, and you wind up with a genuine crowd-pleaser that delivers big laughs and big thrills in every issue.  I'm sure the naysayers were expecting nothing more than a big bust, but I am greatly pleased to take this opportunity to rate Dynamite's vivacious Elvira: Mistress of the Dark as an absolute blast.

Final Grade: A

*I'm not counting my man-crush on Michael Fassbender.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Short Attention Span Review: Blade of the Immortal (2017)


Short Attention Span Review: Blade of the Immortal (2017)

Part Logan and part director Takashi Miike's own incredible samurai epic 13 Assassins, Blade of the Immortal isn't as good as either of those films, but it is seriously cool.  Think about it: a stoic samurai warrior sworn to protect a young girl who pairs his incredible skills with a potent healing factor of his own--there's an idea.  It has promise, no doubt about it, and Miike delivers on that promise with one killer action scene after another.  And at a hundred and forty minutes, Takuya Kimura and Hana Sugisaka are given more than enough material to flesh out their characters and draw us into their story.  The effects are stellar, the villains are memorable, and the tale is complex.  Despite the lengthy runtime, Blade of the Immortal never drags, and I do believe that there is a throwdown of some significance gracing the screen roughly every five minutes or so.  The lead baddie is Sota Fukushi as Anotsu, and he enters the movie as the very epitome of a despicable antagonist, yet as the story unfolds he emerges as perhaps the most dynamic and conflicted player in the gruesome proceedings.  Dripping with gore, host to an abundance of wicked duels and at least one massive battle, and populated by groovy characters who hold our interest even when they aren't drawing blood, Blade of the Immortal is quite simply ill as hell.  Now, it is not without faults, as there are a number of choppy transitions that lead one to believe that despite running two hours and twenty minutes, significant pieces of the tale must have been lost to the cutting room floor.  These abrupt shifts are more than a tad disconcerting, and rob the film of some majesty, but it is still a fine motion picture made by talented filmmakers, and it will be fun to revisit whenever I have a jones for some dynamic carnage.

Final Grade: B+


As much as I respect and enjoy Takashi Miike's work, this stylish action yarn's biggest strength is Takuya Kimura in the lead role.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Short Attention Span Review: Curse of the Werewolf (1961)


Short Attention Span Review: Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

As one who considers himself a big fan of both the Hammer catalog and the incomparable Oliver Reed, I waited entirely too long to watch Curse of the Werewolf.  I found this to be a fantastic picture, and I am here to heartily recommend it to my fellow fright fans.  The typical Hammer staples are on full display, to include wonderful sets, a rich color palette, a brisk pace, and sound performances captured by visionary technicians.  It also benefits greatly from the studio's ability to explore familiar haunts with creativity as well as craftsmanship, making old things seem new again.  This lycanthropy yarn, for instance, actually fashions an intriguing origin for the titular curse, and this exploration of the onset of such an abomination occupies the first third of the picture.  Long before a man turns into a beast at the behest of the moon, Curse of the Werewolf has cast a mysterious spell ripe with sinister flourishes and a wealth of drama.  The movie is halfway to the finish line before Reed takes center stage, and he rewards the filmmaker's efforts to set the table in such splendid detail with his trademark power and charisma.  While it is an invigorating departure from typical films in this vein, it does adhere to the classic formula wherein the poor soul who prowls the night under the influence of an unholy pact is both a monster and a victim.  If I were to complain about anything, I would note that the ending is rather abrupt, particular given all the attention devoted to building such a strong foundation.  The climax is gripping, to be sure, but it doesn't carry nearly as much weight as the first act.  Still, the picture is quite entertaining, standing as another high quality Hammer production brought to fruition by director Terence Fisher, who helmed so many of the beloved studio's most cherished motion pictures.  One can only wonder why the studio didn't sequelize this venture as they did so many of their properties.

Final Grade: B+


Oliver Reed offers up a robust performance in this unique take on familiar folklore, taking celebrated mythology in a fresh direction.  

Monday, February 25, 2019

Comics Corner: Savage Sword of Conan #1 (Published 2/13/2019)


Comics Corner: Savage Sword of Conan #1 (Published 2/13/2019)

Like so many fans of this legendary character, I rejoiced when I heard that Conan would be returning to Marvel.  To be clear, Dark Horse did a fine job with the property, but it never spoke to me in the same way.  Maybe it's sheer nostalgia, but when I think of the way Roy Thomas handled our favorite Cimmerian back in the day, or the damn near mystical appeal those eye-popping Savage Sword magazines held for me, I can't help but be a bit underwhelmed by Conan's comic book exploits elsewhere.  Anyway, the first issue of the second coming of Marvel's Conan the Barbarian registered as big winner, but I found the second issue to be more than a little disappointing--and the recently published third issue is a full-on disaster.  So, my enthusiasm had waned a bit when I visited Fanboy Comics to scoop up my copy of this fresh take on Savage Sword of Conan.  A single glance at the magnificent cover from the one and only Alex Ross was enough to scatter my misgivings.  Seriously, I'll put this beauty up against anything Frazetta ever composed, and that is not hyperbole.  Sign me up for a poster, please!  And the comic itself is stellar from cover to cover, with excellent plotting from Gerry Duggan and glorious art courtesy of Ron Garney.  The pencils are bold, the story is robust, and this stands as a brawny and richly compelling comic--in other words, it's a perfect take on Conan.  I now find myself hoping that Conan the Barbarian rebounds while praying (not to Crom, who doesn't heed prayers) that the next issue of Savage Sword of Conan doesn't falter.  This is a grand start and an absolute must-have for any fan of Robert E. Howard's timeless hero.

Final Grade: A+