Monday, January 21, 2019

Recommendations :: What I've Been Watching, and So Should You! At Your Own Risk. Maybe. Or Not. You've Been Warned!

To be frank, I was kinda terrified I was dealing with An Occurrence at Owl Creek  Bridge scenario in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) as this delightful though, in the end, melancholic anime about a precocious teenage girl, who finds herself able to leap back in time after a near death experience involving some failed bicycle brakes and a moving train, played out. Turns out my fears were mostly unfounded as the girl, Makoto, uses her new found abilities for silly selfish reasons at first before graduating into trying to fix things and play matchmaker for her friends while she tries to sort out her own confused feelings with a boy named Chiaki. However, Makoto is soon to learn the more you mess around with history to try and fix things, the more chaotic and dangerous the past can get. And through her best intended machinations, she puts one of her best friends in mortal danger just as Makoto finds out too late she only had a finite amount of time leaps. Loved this one. Loved it. The animation is breathtaking, and the voice acting fits perfectly with a special shout-out to Riisa Naka as Makato, who just captures the spirited character's awkward gung-ho-ness effortlessly. See, to make the time jumps work Makato has to actually make a physical jump, and the further she jumps the further back in time she goes leading to some pretty hysterical aerobatics and crash-landings for our girl. Cannot recommend this one enough, folks.

A funny yet bittersweet docudrama, A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018) covers the life and death of Doug Kenney; one of the founding fathers along with Henry Beard of the National Lampoon magazine, radio show, the Lemmings, and co-writer of such comedy blockbusters as Animal House (1978) and Caddyshack (1980). Will Forte is fantastic as Kenney, as is Domhnall Gleeson as Beard (-- spent the whole movie trying to recognize who that was underneath the beard and was shocked when the end credits rolled). In fact, the whole cast really makes this thing cook as we get an inside look at the inner-workings of the Lampoon as Kenney tries to work through some "daddy never loved me issues,” which serves as the root cause for his downward spiral of self-destruction and drug addiction and his eventual death that was either an accident or a suicide, depending on who you ask, at the bottom of a cliff in Hawaii. (As Harold Ramis so famously quipped, Doug probably fell while looking for a place to jump.) How much is true? How much of it is bullshit? Well, it hewed pretty close to Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (2015), a straight up doc on the Lampoon so ... maybe? Regardless, highly entertaining and highly recommended.

A delightfully bonkers Allied Artist programmer, Death in Small Doses (1957) sees an undercover federal agent (Peter Graves) infiltrate a trucking company to smash an amphetamine ring due to a sudden spike in traffic fatalities because too many long haul drivers have been "riding with Benny" with dire consequences. Sure, it's the usual preaching and finger wagging, but the lingo is a hoot; and while Graves is fine, the film gets a definite boost from a free-wheeling Chuck Connors as a pill-popping and jive-talking trucker (-- whose eventual meltdown is one for the ages). You'll probably spot the true "Mr. Big" a mile away but, eh, this ride is definitely worth it.

An interesting little Cold War potboiler, Beyond the Curtain (1960) begins when a commercial airliner veers off course and into Russian occupied Germany's airspace and is forced to land. And after a lengthy vetting process, when the plane is finally allowed to leave, several passengers of interest are left behind, including a stewardess (Eva Bartok), a former East German resident, who escaped to the West, and whose dissident brother remained behind to cause more havoc. And so, the Stasi hold the girl hostage in plain sight thinking it will lure the brother out of hiding so they can pounce and make him "disappear" for good. This, of course, does not sit well with our heroine's fiance, a square-jawed British pilot (RIchard Greene), who doesn't buy the KGB story saying she willingly stayed behind. From there it's a lot of intrigue and spy shenanigans as our hero heads to the other side of the Iron Curtain under false credentials and efforts to match wits with the secret police and rescue his girl -- if she even wants to come back, that is. This movie started really strong, but was kinda running on fumes by the end until it was salvaged, somewhat, by a crackling finale taking place in the bombed out ruins of the Reichstag. Also nice to see Andree Melly (one of those Hammer Brides of Dracula) in a supporting role.

Upon completion, perhaps this Pim de la Parra oddball ode to Hitchcock and Michael Powell should've been called Perversions instead of Obsessions (1969). Judge for yourselves as a medical student discovers a peephole into his neighbor's apartment, who then watches as this neighbor keeps a string of women doped to the gills on horse-tranquilizers and bound to the tub or bed. And does our hero call the police? Nope. The pervert keeps on peeping, steals the landlord's keys, and goes snooping around said apartment. (To his credit, he does release and sober up one of these ladies. The others? Meh. He's gotta have something to watch, amIright?.) Anyhoo, all of this winds up tying into a murder mystery his reporter girlfriend is trying to resolve, which leads them down a rabbit hole of drug-pushers and stolen identity. And all of that leads to one of the greatest, "No shit? Well, he totally had THAT coming" endings I've seen in a good long while. One should probably note this movie was co-written by Martin Scorsese of all people, and the rollicking score was provided by Bernard Herrmann. (The film is also dedicated to Republic Pictures for some reason.) Yeah, this one's a weird duck, folks, that won't make a lick of sense until the last five minutes of the film, when one character finally decides to take a massive plot dump. Is it worth the effort? If you're into this kind of Eurosleaze you could do worse for your 90-minute investment. To me, the ultimate ending was cathartic enough to let everything else slide. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime via a horrible dub with some hot hot audio, so prepare to turn your volume way down if you dare follow.

You know? I'm starting to sense a pattern in horror movies lately. And what that pattern seems to be is a Rashamon (1950) effect, where we are presented one story, and then, about half way through, the film kinda starts over and we see the same story again from a different angle to show how everything we've seen so far and were led to believe were wrong if not an outright lie. All well and good if you feel like watching the same movie twice. SPOILER WARNING! In Fractured (2018), a couple are gonna spend a weekend at an isolated country cottage. Someone is obviously stalking them, and they soon get the sense they're not alone. Things escalate, then murder, and then, the reset button, where we find out these victims kinda had it coming all along. The film is barely 80-minutes, and it's basically the same 40-minutes twice. Clever on the surface, a cheat everywhere else. But it's well made, good suspense, with clues scattered about that something isn't quite right, here. In the end, I didn't much care for it but, as always, your mileage may vary.

Well, what we have here is another gonzo entry in Constantin Film's series of krimi. And while not officially an Edgar Wallace mystery, The Carpet of Horror (1962) still bears all the earmarks of one of those whackadoodle tales of spies, criminals, deathtraps, damsels in distress and Scotland Yard's finest trying to untie an impossible knot of intrigue -- it's even directed by Harald Reinl and stars krimi regulars, Joachim Fuchsberger and Karin Dor! Anyhoo, when a gang of criminals start bumping each other off with those mothballs from hell ... And do I really need to go any further than that? What really struck me with this one was how gorgeous the film looked thanks to Reinl and cinematographer, Godofredo Pacheco, who milk these black and white images for all they were worth -- rivaling the noirish flair of The Third Man (1949) IMHO. As usual, this eye-candy enhances (and overcompensates for) a plot that constantly pretzles itself over and over again. Thus, the mystery and resolution didn't make much sense; then again, they NEVER made much sense in these things. So, who cares! Watch and boggle. Just be wary of those mothballs.

A strange transition piece for Walt Disney via their Wonderful World of Color anthology TV series, The Sky Trap (1979) really feels like the studio dipping it's toe and testing the PG-rated waters, making it a bridge between The North Avenue Irregulars (1979) and Midnight Madness (1980). Here, a couple of teens get mixed up in a drug smuggling operation near the Mexican border, where one of them is forced into becoming a mule by using his glider to transport drugs over said border. Marc Mclure and Katherine Moffat make for a cute couple as our spunky protagonists, but the film can't quite shake the Very Special Episode of Spin and Marty feel of this thing as whole, spoiling some otherwise beautiful aerial footage and some pretty spiffy hand-held camera-work during the myriad chase scenes.

Now. I found The Nesting (1981) to be a fairly interesting ghost tale that is almost undone by some reaaaaaaally bad acting from the supporting cast. Almost, but not quite, as a recovering agoraphobic writer of Gothic fiction takes a chance, moves to the country, and occupies an old mansion that, turns out, is full of belligerent ghosts looking to take revenge on those who committed the massacre that resulted in them being ghosts in the first place. These ghosts then kinda channel themselves through the author, who isn't sure if this is real or all in her head as people around her start dying under dubious circumstances and the truth starts to unravel around her. If you're familiar with this type of genre, you'll probably know exactly where this is all going but I think this film did a pretty decent job of getting us there. Robin Groves is pretty great as our protagonist, making up for all the drips around her; and it's always fun to see John Carradine lurking about; and double-extra points for Gloria Grahame as the madame of the brothel that used to occupy the mansion and the ringleader of our vengeful spirits. I really dug this, but your ectoplasm readings may vary. 

And lastly, I recently plowed through and enjoyed the hell out of the first two seasons of HBO's The Deuce (2017-2018), which is a case study of the fragile ecosystem of the pimps, the prostitutes, the dive bars, corrupt cops, the smut peddlers, the dirty movies and their makers, and the creeping parasitic influence of the mob on all of the above in dirty old NYC of the 1970s as they all caught the fever of crumbling moral standards and siren call of porno chic. Recommended, absolutely, but fair warning: it is ridiculously eXXXplicit when delving into the subject matter. I know I will never look at potato soup the same way ever again. 

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