Saturday, February 20, 2016

Alamo Drafthouse: Three movies and an awesome experience! =) "Hail, Caesar!" "Deadpool" and "Demons"

I went to San Francisco this past week and did a bit of movie watching at the Alamo Drafthouse… here’s what I saw!

“Hail, Caesar!”


I am largely hit and miss with the Coen Brothers and their films. What’s weird is that I tend to prefer many of their “less popular” films and this seems to be the exception that proves the rule. While many critics are struggling to say anything positive about this movie, it was an awesomely fun ride for me and just proved how talented these men are as writers. Their characters are fun, quirky, enjoyable to watch, and are always pushed forward with a specific motivation that makes these people engaging to watch. And the aptly named “Guy Mannix” is no different- he’s an engaging character from beginning to end and Josh Brolin delivers this very serious character in the midst of several crises with perfect tone and temperament.

And one of the reasons I think I find myself in a different boat than most reviewers is that they are totally missing the real story being told. And this is despite the declaration from the title card of the picture, which blatantly spells it out for anyone who may be curious. It’s repeatedly addressed in a number of scenes, but most spectacularly when Mannix takes a meeting with several figures from the various religious communities. “Hail, Caesar!” is a tale of The Christ- the Christ as a figure, as a savior, as a miracle worker, as a sacrifice, and all of that- and Guy Mannix represents the Christ of this film as he performs one miracle after another, helps the community with which he has taken responsibility, and ultimately faces temptation, betrayal, and doubt in a manner that is very specific to the Gospel itself. And it’s done in a way that’s funny, irreverent, and with several nods to the splendor and creativity that is the Film Industry.

So while many reviewers will dismiss the film as “confusing” and with too many unresolved plot points, I’m going to say that this film was a fun ride and a great experience. The plot is very linear so long as you understand that you are watching three days in the life of one man and especially when you understand that this is an adaptation of Christs’ tale in the same way that “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou’” was an adaptation of The Odyssey.

5 out of 5.


I am a HUGE fan of the Deadpool comic book series. I collected the comic well into the mid-2000’s and even purchased the “Agent X” series that spun off on the spare chance that Wade Wilson had survived his “death” and had only forgotten who he was. (Spoiler: He did survive, no he hadn’t really forgotten, and yeah the story is convoluted and confusing… moving on.) I really love the Merc with a Mouth for a number of reasons- he’s irreverant, he’s funny, he’s violent, and he breaks the rules with a specific purpose in mind as he does so. Deadpool is also a great story of possible redemption that never actually takes place because of just how broken the character really is- and we see him making the same mistakes over and over again throughout the years.

The Deadpool movie is everything that it should have been and so much more- because it did everything right and it had the passion of the film’s star and director and a production team that truly believed in it. We have what many thought would be a box-office flop and the studios are now faced with a massive success that they’ll never be able to bottle or understand. This is the irreverent and subversive film that it needed to be. And I don’t mean that in the “throw away a nice little adjective that will be a cool selling point” turn of phrase- this film is SUBVERSIVE! It will dig in and it will change the way people view comic book super heroes, it will change the way studios make films, it will be a huge turning point in cinema and this is a film that is going to make a difference… and not always for the better.

The plot is fairly standard- Wade Wilson is a mercenary diagnosed with cancer who undertakes an experimental procedure to cure himself and possibly gain super powers in the process. His reasons for doing this include a loving girlfriend named “Vanessa” (Morena Bacarrin, of Firefly fame). The process is brutal and is overseen by a coldly sadistic “Ajax” and his assistant. The experiment results in  Wilson being deformed but having gained the mutant ability to regenerate and heal at a very fast rate. He goes on a path of revenge and dons a mask- you’ve seen all of this a thousand times before in other hero films, comic book and otherwise. You’ve seen the villain before- arrogant and dismissive of all morality. You’ve seen the action set pieces before, the swinging blades, the shooting guns, and everything. You’ve seen all that before!

You haven’t seen Deadpool.

Deadpool is the game changer here- he’s not a character that really belongs to the world in which he inhabits. He’s driven beyond insanity by the experimentation done on his body and he’s crawled into a dark pit of self-loathing and black humor that mocks everything about the world, including it’s very existence. He breaks the fourth wall- he addresses the audience, he understands pop references to moments outside his universe, and he undermines the very existence of his character at every turn. He knows who and what he is- and he’s going to reject every bit of it out of spite and in a way that’s going to make HIM laugh just as much as the audience who is watching him. He’s not the hero that universe may want him to be- he’s going to be something different.

For readers of the comic book- He’s a squirrel with a coconut.

5 out of 5.

Demons (1985) @ the Alamo Drafthouse

Italian film-maker Dario Argento produced this film by director Lamberto Bava, son of legendary film-maker Mario Bava. It’s the second full feature from the son of a legend and it carried the legendary seal of Italian suspense  master Argento, so “Demons” was gauranteed to be a bit of a cult classic at the time of its release and the movie did manage to spawn at leastone official sequel and another sequel “in name only.” It featured extensive practical effects that pushed the limits on what was thought to be possible, including the eruption of a demon from the small of a woman’s back.

The story is pretty standard- Cheryl is approached by a mysterious figure on a train, a man handing out free tickets to a film screening for later that same night. So she hooks up with her friend, another local student, and they attend the feature at the newly opened theater. While watching the horror movie on the screen, another patron is possessed by the Demonic entities and the sickness spreads through scratches and bites from one victim to the next until the remaining survivors are forced to fight back or perish.

Screening at the Alamo Drafthouse for their Tuesday Terrors, “Demons” came with a short introduction from the theater’s “Terror” organizer that included a run down on the Bava family’s lineage through film (going back three generations to Mario’s own father). The pre-show trailers included some old favorites from the same time period and scenes from cult classics (including “Street Trash” and “Brain Damage”, among others) and a rundown on their other “event” screenings; Weird Wednesday, Music Monday, and even a nod to their Miyazaki Month that was still running. Servers were helpful, offering tips on ordering before the feature presentation and recommendations.

The seating is wide and spacious with a table set between every other seat, a dim light to peruse the small menu, and a pen set for every patron. Orders are filled out on a little card while little Ninja come running through for a quick snatch and order drop throughout the course of the film. The bill is dropped near the end of the film and often cashed out before the credits even start to roll, creating a truly memorable film experience. Soft drinks are plentiful with free refills. Popcorn comes with multiples flavors, though we chose the delicious “Truffle butter with parmesan seasoing” and it blew our minds! Their cookies were also delicious and the pizza was pretty good if a little overpriced at $15 for a personal size. Some other items seemed a little overpriced for their value (The Milkshake was $9 for what was essentially a childrens glass) but they had a large alcohol-based menu.

5 out of 5 for the experience and I hope to go again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Weird Reviews!!! Yakuza Apocalypse, DEATHGASM, The Sacrament, And special guest Retro Review of the "Poltergeist" series.

Yakuza Apocalypse

Takashi Miike is a weird dude.

He’s got a filmography that includes everything from a Sobiake Western to family friendly monsters and violent excessiveness to dramatic melodrama and often blending elements of everything into one film. So when I say “Takashi Miike is a weird dude”, keep in mind that his is the only “Masters of Horror” short that was ever pulled from rotation for being too extreme.

And, as I’m watching Yakuza Apocalypse, all I can think is: “Takashi Miike is a weird dude.”

Here’s the premise- there’s a small village in Japan and it’s basically run by a small gang of Yakuza, including a boss whose sentiments seem more along the lines of a basic Robin Hood-sorta’ guy. He protects the regular people from the violence of the Yakuza, helps those in need, and basically runs the town in a pretty fair manner. But then he’s killed… in, like, the first fifteen minutes of the film we get the build-up of how important he is to this small village. And then he gets killed. But then his head wakes up just long enough to bite his subordinate and pass along his “Yakuza Vampire” powers to the young protagonist of our story.

And I want you to note that I said “Yakuza Vampire”… not Vampire who happens to be a Yakuza, this means he is a “Yakuza Vampire”! This is important to note because he starts to bite other people and he starts to turn them into “Yakuza Vampire”… No, not vampires. Yakuza Vampires- because in addition to the thirst for blood and undeadiness of being a vampire, these people are also cursed to become Yakuza. They grow tattoos on their backs and they behave with the boorish and “go to hell” lifestyle of being a member of the Yakuza. I’m a gaijin jerk so I’m not entirely sure how culturally accurate or relevant this issue is- but the comedic value of watching school-teachers, students, nurses, housewives, and shop-keeps turned into blustering Yakuza is kind of hilarious.

And the movie is violent- and utterly ridiculous. The “Monster Terrorist” that is warned about repeatedly throughout the early portion of the film comes into town- wearing  a full body “Frog” costume within which he fights, pulling dangerous martial arts skills and decimating forces- all while dressed in a large frog suit. Not a diving suit- I mean a literal frog. Green, big head, and floppy feet. Did I mention that Miike is some weird dude?

4 out of 5 and a WTF Japan?!?!! Must watch if you like the weird.


Because lower case letters are for pussies.

Kiwis may very well be the “go-to” folk when it comes to splat-stick horror comedy. Starting with Peter Jackson and straight on up to films like “Housebound” and “DEATHGASM!”, New Zealand keeps serving up some deliciously nasty little gross-outs through the years. And while it proved a little difficult to find, I managed to scrape up just enough knowledge to find out that Wal-Mart had decided to carry this latest gem under the title of “Heavy Metal Apocalypse”- which is getting scratched out soon on my box and will be replaced with the films proper title of “DEATHGASM!” so let’s not dwell on that too much. If you wanted to know, now you know.

The film starts with a bit of a typical “fish out of water” story about our young protagonist having to move in with his hyper-religious Uncle and extended family. The kid is a metal-head, he’s a social outcast, and he almost immediately hooks up with other town outcasts and forms a band. One things leads to another, he falls for a girl, he gets his hands on some brutal sheet music and then they accidentally unleash a demon from the bowels of hell. Gore splatters, chainsaws rev, and adult toys are used as melee weapons of mass carnage- this is basically a truly metal horror comedy and all was right with the world throughout  the film’s runtime. I had a blast watching this film and I think other fans of “Dead Alive” and films like that will definitely love this one to bloody nasty pieces.

The soundtrack features a good blend of metal with epic guitar shredders, roaring doom riffs, guttural bellows, and high pitch melodies. So when others reviews insist this is “the most metal movie of all time” they aren’t just whistling Dixie. This film has plenty of Easter Eggs for the typical fan of the music with a few deep cut references that never really pulls the casual audience out of the action.

4.5 out of 5.

The Sacrament

I keep saying that I’ll avoid Ti West films and yet I keep finding myself watching a Ti West film when all the chips are down on the table. And , let’s face it, this thing is supposed to be a POV-shot “documentary”-style film? The nails should already in the coffin long before I press “play” for my Netflix stream to begin-

And yet!

He's a "genre darling" and he keeps making movies with an interesting premise.He keeps coming back and I keep rolling that streaming video through Netflix or Amazon or throwing in a blu-ray or a DVD... whatever. 

Let me start this review.

This movie is good.

I don’t mean “good” as in the film is an enjoyable romp through the backwoods of some South American country. I mean “good” as in this is a dark freaking movie about a cult leader in South America and is pretty much a film with the Jim Jones-vibe running strong and before choking the life out of you with unpleasant horrors. It’s disturbing and the violence is shot in a way that it looks more than realistic- it’s downright chilling at times. People don't have "movie" deaths- there is some serious research into how death occurs and some attention to detail you don't normally see in cinema. 

Okay, that requires some explaining: Death in a movie is dramatic and is played for entertainment of the audience. Death in real life is not nearly as "entertaining" as it is in the films- and I'm not talking the crawling, creeping, choking, melodrama- I mean people generally don't have that glassy-eyed stare we see in movies. Poison isn't just choked out and vomited- it literally eats away at your insides and burns parts you normally don't even feel. People don't spurt blood- if there's a lot of blood it tends to spill out like a leaking faucet because your heart beat stops. Death spasms aren't really tight- they're loose and chilling to watch. This movie goes into a very dark place, so be prepared.
The premise is disturbing and it takes a major turn in breaking my personal rules (violence toward children) but this movie moves along at a brisk pace and is really well made. And I have to say this is more along the lines of “The Innkeepers” in a film making sense than it was a “House of the Devil”… so if you like really disturbing stuff, “The Sacrament” has plenty of that for you.

4 out of 5.

AND NOW... on the heels of my recent Phantasm blog, here's another Retro-look back at a film series. 

Featuring special Guest Commentator: REMO D.!!! (AKA: Shane M. Dallmann) 

Since I had no interest in the Super Bowl whatsoever, I availed myself of the opportunity to marathon the original POLTERGEIST films last night... I won't be as detailed as you were on the PHANTASM flicks, but you get the idea.

POLTERGEIST still rocks and has plenty of awesome scary and gruesome moments (how the hell they got a "PG" with the guy tearing his own face off in the mirror is beyond me, Spielberg or no Spielberg)... yet, after thirty years of sequels and ripoffs and endless retreads of the setting up of the paranormal detection equipment, I've got to admit that even I get restless during that long stretch between Carol Anne's disappearance and her rescue. Of course it's not the movie's fault for starting the trend, and it's still a classic, even though Spielberg really ought to have acknowledged "Little Girl Lost" from THE TWILIGHT ZONE somewhere in the credits.

POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE was flat-out awful despite some flawed gems trying to stand out in a sea of cheesy opticals. Julian Beck was creepy as hell as Reverend Kane, true... and there was a genuinely disturbing scene near the end where the possessed husband teeters on the verge of marital rape AND lets his daughter hear that they were seriously considering not having her... that's some vicious adult material right there, which makes it all the more pathetic that we're handed a saccharine finale with the magic grandma whisking Carol Anne out of the netherworld when all seems lost. Time to add "Long Distance Call" to the TZ rip-off formula... oh, and it's heartbreaking to hear Carol Anne tell her grandma that she doesn't want to grow up, considering that in real life she never did.

POLTERGEIST III: The story is pure, disposable, unnecessary cheese-corn, but the reliance on practical effects (as opposed to endless blue-screen) and experienced director Gary Sherman's experimentation with a constant "mirror" theme at least make this more interesting on a visual level than the previous fiasco. I especially liked the ice cars. And that's really all I need to say.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Retro Thoughts: PHANTASM!!


Michael is a young teen in the care of his older brother, Jody. The two have only recently lost both their parents to tragedy and are now faced with another death when their friend is found murdered. Haunted by nightmares and the impending threat of his brothers desire to leave, Michael believes he witnesses a strange occurrence at the local Cemetery. He starts to investigate the mysterious Tall Man, the string of recent deaths, and what’s behind that low hum that echoes throughout the halls of the mortuary.

For me, Phantasm is one of those PERFECT horror films that does precisely what it sets out to do from beginning to end. It is a surreal nightmare with iconic imagery, smart scripting, incredible casting, and an unexplained horror that will continue to haunt the viewer long after the film ends. It borrows from a Weird Fiction influence with probably nods to Lovecraft (Whisperer In The Darkness), Ramsay Campbell, and especially Ray Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes). Don Coscarelli takes a limited budget and a small pool of actors to create one of the most enduring films in horror that is nearly as effective today as it was the day it was released.

There are several things that truly make the film work:

First, the surreal nightmare landscape where things may not be as they initially appear. Jody offers an early explanation that the film we are seeing may not be real- that much of what we are seeing may be the tortured dreams of young Michael and that our main protagonist may be seeing his life through a prism of grief. He is desperately afraid that Jody may leave him behind and he follows his older brother from a distance. Things are off kilter through much of the filming- the hallways of the mortuary seem to stretch for miles with twists and turns, that low humming, and the sudden imagery that seem to erupt from nowhere.

Secondly, the relationship between the three protagonists seems genuine. There seems to be an honest affection between Jody, Michael, and their friend, Reggie. It comes through at various points in the film and Coscarelli is brave enough as a film maker to let those moments linger when another director might cut the material entirely. We see the bond between these characters and why Michael feels the way that he does regarding Jody’s possible departure. We also see how closed in Jody feels, how torn by devotion to these two brothers Reggie becomes, and what effect the Tall Man’s schemes has on these characters.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the mystery. We never actually find out what is happening, if it’s really happening, or why it’s happening. The Tall Man’s work is a mystery- and it remains a mystery that is never solved even as we travel throughout the series of films but most importantly in the first film in the series. We see clues- we see things that are happening, we know there is a plan, we know there is an endgame, but we never know what that endgame really is. And, in the first film, we can’t even accept it as a given that the film is really happening as we’re seeing it. This is all from the point of view of a young teen- a young teen haunted by nightmares during the a period of grief and loss. And with all these ways in which to interpret the film, I love thinking about it from several different angles. If it’s a teen in grief or if there really is an inter-dimensional  traveler enslaving the dead to do his bidding for some unknown purpose, the horror still works either way.

All of this and I haven’t even gotten to the spheres. And believe me, those spheres are something to see- it’s one thing to see them flying through the halls, but to hear them coming and to have that impending sound of doom start whistling louder and louder as it gets closer. Then Coscarelli gives us that shot of the sphere, a perfect mirror to the hallways surrounding it when those blades emerge with a “snikt” and then plunge into their victims. That one kill is one of the most intense moments in film history and initially landed the film an X-rating when the body drops and releases other fluids to puddle on the white marble floor.

Angus Scrimms’ “Tall Man” character is an iconic figure in horror and Coscarelli’s film is a masterpiece in surreal nightmares. That’s my two cents.