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Showing posts from April, 2019

Capsule Reviews: Dressed to Kill

Quick-hit movie reviews for the masses. Okay, so this one isn't exactly a "quick-hit" review, but it's hard to stop gushing about this masterpiece.

It's almost astonishing to realize now, but at the height of his powers in the 1970s through the 1980s, Brian De Palma was rarely recognized as the cinematic genius we now know him to be. Look at the murder's row of films he made—all in a row!—in the 1970s alone: Sisters (1972), Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Obsession (1976), Carrie (1976), The Fury (1978), and Home Movies (1979). Then he kicked off the 1980s with Dressed to Kill (1980), followed by Blow Out (1981), Scarface (1983), and Body Double (1984). Outstanding! Not a dud among them, in what has to be one of the great ten-film runs by any director in history.

With Dressed to Kill, De Palma proved how wrong critics' recycled, snarky "Hitchcock" ripoff remarks were—he was an auteur of the highest order, a descendant of Hitchcock, sure, but an …

Capsule Reviews: The Devil Within Her

Quick-hit movie reviews for the masses.
How come nobody told me about this bonkers British horror flick before??
The Devil Within Her (1975), otherwise known as I Don't Want to Be Born, also known as The Monster, is, to put it mildly, highly entertaining. The plot: a sultry Dame Joan Collins is a former dancer (of the exotic variety) who marries a filthy rich (and utterly clueless) Italian, then gives birth to what might be a demon child possessed by the spirit of the angry dwarf whose affections she spurned previously. Normal stuff, really.

It also stars Donald Pleasance as Joan's doctor! He drinks a lot of tea and doesn't seem at all concerned about this demon baby thing. 1970s genre bombshell Caroline Munro breezes through the film like a fashion model on her way to another shoot. If you think babies are cute—and who doesn't, really?—this film might change your mind. It's one of the loopiest entries in the 1970s "fear of motherhood" cinema craze. The Brit…

Capsule Reviews: Switch

Quick-hit movie reviews for the masses.

Few actors scorched the screen with the sort of intensity that Ellen Barkin brought to movies during the 1980s and 1990s. In a string of memorable and excellent performances, across various genres—from Diner (1982) to The Big Easy (1987) to Sea of Love (1989) and more—Barkin blazed her own unique path through cinemas during those years. Some actors are interchangeable; swap one square-jawed heartthrob or petite ingénue out for another and hardly anyone notices. Barkin is not one of those actors. With only an arched brow or a sly smirk, she can shoot daggers, make you break out in a smile, melt your heart, or do all of the above, all at once. She occupies her own unique orbit, doing what she does better than any imitator ever could. She's smarter, hotter, and funnier than all of you, so just stop it already.

Blake Edwards's mostly forgotten yet wildly entertaining gender-bending farce Switch (1991) offers a beautiful—and all too rare—exam…

Capsule Reviews: Joysticks

Quick-hit movie reviews for the masses.

Greydon Clark's teensploitation paean to video arcades, Joysticks (1983) has to be one of the raunchiest films in a genre—1980s teen sex comedies—that was hardly lacking in raunch. Even the title is a smutty double entendre.

In the early '80s the burgeoning video arcade scene was frowned upon by square parents everywhere as a scummy din of inequity. That sleazy subculture is parodied with loving care in Joysticks—even if the arcade in the film has 100% more topless women than I ever remember from the arcades of my youth. This is the film that introduced the world to the old "hot dog in the cleavage" shot (yes, as stupid as it sounds), along with strip video gaming, the eight-bit update of the venerable strip poker sensation. A high class production, obviously.

In a film with every conceivable '80s stereotype (bodacious babes, bumbling nerds, out of touch adults, preposterous punkers), Corinne Bohrer (Police Academy 4) deserv…

Spring Awakening: "Instructions on Not Giving Up," by Ada Limón

Spring has sprung, and as we emerge from our winter slumbers, let's take a breather and luxuriate in some beautiful poetry, in honor of April being National Poetry Month.
Because I'm currently reading Ada Limón, here's a seasonally appropriate poem from The Carrying.
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees that really gets to me. When all the shock of white and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath, the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin growing over whatever winter did to us, a return to the strange idea of continuous living despite the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then, I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
Ada Limón, "Instructions on …

Capsule Reviews: Leaving Las Vegas

Quick-hit movie reviews for the masses.

Mike Figgis's Leaving Las Vegas received overwhelming praise from critics upon release in 1995, with Roger Ebert even naming it the best film of the year. It's an extremely dark and harrowing portrait of a despondent man named Ben (Nicolas Cage) trying to drink himself to death in Vegas, while the age-old hooker with a heart of gold trope means that call girl Sera (Elisabeth Shue) falls in love with Ben, and works against increasingly difficult odds to try and save him from himself.

The central performances by Cage (who won an Academy Award for Best Actor) and Shue (who was nominated for Best Actress and really should've won) are exceptional, so it's unfortunate that Figgis chose to drape nearly every scene in the film with jazz standards (several sung by Sting and Don Henley), or bluesy laments. The score and soundtrack just feel overdone. It's a minor miracle Cage and Shue still register so effectively—and powerfully—given …

Capsule Reviews: Night School

Quick-hit movie reviews for the masses.
Night School—where all the exams are final!
Night School is an unfairly neglected 1981 slasher flick, full of off-kilter charm that makes for fun repeat viewing. The plot: A motorcycle-helmeted killer is slicing off the heads of pretty young coeds at an alarming rate, in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood. Everyone's just weird enough to be a suspect, and the final act's twist was fairly unique to the early days of the slasher craze.

The tone is moody, gritty, and bloody. Bahston never looked so eerily claustrophobic and creepy. In her film debut, an incandescent Rachel Ward, playing an intense anthropology student, is full of existential ennui and always on the verge of tears. In other words, she’s magnificent. The film's Drive-In totals are impressive: Machete fu, ritualistic shower sex fu, buckets of blood. Tweed jackets everywhere. Nobody ever seems to go to class. A smarmy college professor beds his students with regularity. A s…

Capsule Reviews: Eating Raoul

A new feature that aims to provide brief—roughly 300 words, give or take—quick-hit movie reviews for the masses.

One of the most hilariously vicious satires ever made, Paul Bartel's subversive masterpiece Eating Raoul (1982) hasn't lost any of its bite (sorry) over the years. The film's delicious evisceration of consumer culture, Hollywood, the swingers fad, and so much more, made it a cult sensation among left-of-center cinephiles almost immediately upon release.
A wonderfully impassive Bartel and frequent collaborator and cult legend Mary Woronov are the appropriately named Paul and Mary Bland, a puritanical couple disgusted with societal vice who just want to be left alone by all those damn swingers and just make enough money to buy their dream restaurant. What follows is a series of financial-related setbacks, many of which involve cartoonishly horny men throwing themselves all over a disgusted Mary, until finally an accidental murder sets them on the path to financial…