Film Review: The American Friend (1977)

Also known as: Der amerikanische Freund (Germany)
Release Date: May 26th, 1977 (Cannes)
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: Wim Wenders
Based on: Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Jürgen Knieper
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz

Axiom Films, 127 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t know much about this movie going into it. I came across it on FilmStruck as a part of the Criterion Channel. Also, it wasn’t until I was halfway through it that it dawned on me that Dennis Hopper was playing the same Tom Ripley that Matt Damon played in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

I’m glad that I discovered this film however, as it was fantastic and a really refreshing experience, as I’ve been in a bit of movie limbo lately.

From a directorial and cinematic standpoint, this is one of the best films I have ever seen. The framing of every shot is damn near perfection. The visual composition feels alive and the world truly feels authentic and lived in. There is a vivid flare to the picture that is similar to the Italian giallo style. The European cityscapes and late 70s New York City give the movie a genuine grittiness that perfectly emphasizes the tone of the film. The American Friend is one of the best looking and mesmerizing motion pictures I have ever seen and I don’t say that lightly.

Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper are both stellar in this picture. Their relationship changes and evolves throughout the story and you never really know what each man thinks of the other. Add in the criminal elements of the plot and all the twists and turns and this is very true to the film noir style albeit modernized with incredible visual style.

Director Wim Wenders would go on to have a great career but here, he gives a real nod to those who influenced his work. In the roles of the gangster characters, Wenders cast Gérard Blain, Nicholas Ray, and Samuel Fuller – all three being directors that Wenders had a deep admiration for. He essentially gave props to his influences and mentors in the same way Quentin Tarantino would do decades later.

This film primarily takes place in Europe and is a German and French production but most of the movie is in English. There are some subtitled bits but surprisingly not as many as you would think.

I don’t want to get into the plot too much, as I went into this blindly and fell in love with it. I’d prefer for others to have the same experience, especially in a day and age where movies are spoiled by their trailers alone.

It is hard comparing the film to anything, as I can’t think of anything else like it. It is an amalgamation of a lot of cool things that can be taken away from more famous films but the overall composition is truly original. And frankly, this film deserves more recognition than it has.

Film Review: Devil Doll (1964)

Release Date: September, 1964
Directed by: Lindsay Shonteff
Written by: Ronald Kinnoch, Frederick E. Smith
Cast: Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain

Associated Film Distributing Corp., 81 Minutes

Review:

Devil Doll is a bad movie.

However, it is still entertaining and kind of unintentionally hysterical in certain parts. Those parts make the film endearing and overall, the picture is pretty cool.

It isn’t well made and the acting is not great. The direction did nothing to steer this ship in a good direction from a quality standpoint but for whatever reason, the picture resonates for gluttons of cheese, such as myself, due to its strange hokiness.

The title character, the “devil doll” Hugo, is a cool monster. Sure, he’s not a traditional beast but he is certainly a prototype of the infinitely more famous Chucky from the Child’s Play film series.

Hugo is a ventriloquist dummy but he is possessed by evil. He talks and walks around during stage shows, even when the ventriloquist “The Great Vorelli” is across the room. This impresses audiences but is also baffling, as no one understands how it is possible.

The scenes where Hugo stalks his prey are played by a person in a costume made to look like the dummy. It’s a bizarre and unsettling sight but also cheesily magnificent.

A notable thing about this film is that it stars some people who would go on to do some great things.

“The Great Vorelli” is played by Bryant Haliday, who would go on to establish Janus Films, a distribution company that introduced several films now considered masterpieces and classics. Also, they are closely related to the Criterion Collection.

The film also stars William Sylvester and Alan Gifford, who would both appear four years later in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sylvester was the original Dr. Heywood Floyd (later the star of 2010: The Year We Make Contact where he was then played by Roy Scheider).

The best version of this film to watch is the riffed version that appeared as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Bryant Haliday would also be featured in another MST3K episode when they riffed another one of his movies, The Projected Man.

Film Review: The Tao of Steve (2000)

Release Date: January 26th, 2000 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jenniphr Goodman
Written by: Duncan North, Greer Goodman, Jenniphr Goodman
Music by: Joe Delia
Cast: Donal Logue, Greer Goodman, James Kimo Wills, David Aaron Baker

Good Machine, Sony Pictures Classics, 87 Minutes

Review:

I never saw the Tao of Steve until now. However, throughout the years since it came out, I heard many people talk about it with enthusiasm. Leonard Maltin even devotes a chapter to it in his book 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen. Plus, I have always been a fan of Donal Logue.

Unfortunately, this movie didn’t resonate with me like it did with other people. Maybe it’s because I watched it now, seventeen years after its release. So it doesn’t tap into nostalgia but instead feels like a film full of some of the worst 1990s romantic comedy cliches.

It is enjoyable in the fact that Logue is as charismatic as ever but even then his presence is bogged down by less talented actors and a script that feels like it was written by philosophy majors that were only one semester deep but thought they had reached some sort of twenty-something enlightenment.

Additionally, the music is dated in a bad way. Yes, there are great tunes from the late 90s but The Tao of Steve uses some lowest common denominator safe pop rock dreck that needs to just stay in the 90s and not venture out into the year 2000 (or beyond), when this film was released.

I don’t know if it’s a Santa Fe thing but the fashion in the film feels incredibly dated, even for 2000. In fact, the guys all look slobbish and the girls all look like tomboys at a Smash Mouth concert.

The Tao of Steve is not as interesting as you would think. His zen philosophy on picking up women has more holes in it than Swiss cheese but then again, that is part of the plot. Still, you can see the holes from a mile away but this film tries to play it up a lot more than it should.

It feels like this film tried to use Donal Logue in a way to create their own version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. However, despite Logue’s strong performance, the script isn’t even a tenth as brilliant as the Coen’s Lebowski script.

I don’t want to hate on this film, I went into it expecting to like it. For me, it just failed in all the parts that aren’t Donal Logue.

Film Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Also known as: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (after the release of sequels)
Release Date: June 12th, 1981
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Alfred Molina

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest films ever made. It was kind of cool seeing it on the big screen for the first time, which leaves Temple of Doom as the only Indy film I haven’t seen in the theater now. Indiana Jones is also my favorite film series of all-time. Yes, I even loved that Crystal Skull one that everyone feels the need to bitch about.

While Temple of Doom is my personal favorite (and an unpopular opinion), I can admit that Raiders is actually a better film. Everything about it is just right.

The casting was perfect and I can’t imagine how the film would have turned out had George Lucas had his first pick, Tom Selleck. Indiana Jones is Harrison Ford’s role and unlike James Bond, no one would probably ever accept someone else as the character. Granted, several actors played a young Indy but both River Phoenix and Sean Patrick Flanery did a fine job as the character outside of his normal form. Harrison Ford will always be the adult Indiana Jones but I am sure that Disney will somehow milk the franchise into oblivion at some point and then forever.

The chemistry between Ford and Karen Allen is wonderful and out of all the Indy ladies, she was the only one to eventually come back and marry America’s favorite adventurer. Rightfully so, by the way, as the relationship between Indy and Marion is, by far, the greatest romance in the series and a natural fit for both characters and both actors. While Karen Allen has been in several great films, she will always be Marion to me and probably to everyone.

Paul Freeman is perfection as Indy’s adventuring archaeologist nemesis René Belloq. It is unfortunate that Belloq dies, as he would have been a great villain to carry on in the series. In fact, there was a planned origin story for Belloq in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the 90s TV series, but the show was cancelled before those stories were filmed.

Ronald Lacey was another villain and possibly the most frightening in the entire series as the reptilian-like Toht. He was a Gestapo interrogator dressed in black and always ready to torture Marion in vicious ways. Luckily, she is spared from anything that the evil Toht had planned.

Raiders also introduces us to John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah and Denholm Elliot’s Marcus Brody, two characters that would return and get more screen time in The Last Crusade.

This is the perfect adventure film. While it is obviously inspired by the serials of old, it brings that formula into the modern era and reinvigorates what was a dead genre, at the time. This, alongside the original Star Wars trilogy, tapped into the great storytelling style of those seemingly ancient serials. It would have been cool to see what other films from the old school serial style that Lucas and Spielberg could have done in addition to Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Maybe something along the lines of a superhero series like the Phantom or the Shadow could have worked well before their not-so-great 90s versions came out.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is what going to the movies is all about. At least in the summer blockbuster sense. They don’t make movies like this anymore and even though this was a massive film in 1981, it is much smaller than the grandiose CGI spectacles of today. The practical special effects keep the film grounded in reality and make it feel much more authentic and genuine than say, the Transformers film series, the Marvel stuff, a Zack Snyder flick or a Roland Emmerich “destroy the world” type of picture. The most recent version of The Mummy, which is close in subject matter, pales in comparison to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A lot of the film’s magic isn’t just the work of Spielberg, Lucas and the wonderful cast, a lot of credit goes to the score that was composed by the movie music maestro John Williams. Say what you will but movies today just don’t have soundtracks and iconic themes like those composed by Williams. Can anyone even remember the theme from Iron Man? At least Wonder Woman had a pretty unique theme that stands out but it is just one film in a sea of modern movie making mediocrity.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a motion picture that did everything right. It should always be held up, above the vast majority of tent pole movies, as an example of what films like this should be. It shouldn’t be copied but it should be cherished and looked at for inspiration. Everyone from my generation knows it but as new generations are born and as movies are becoming nonsensical extinction level event CGI festivals, the greats like Raiders aren’t as appealing to younger generations that want bigger, louder, faster, more, more, more!

Documentary Review: No No: A Dockumentary (2014)

Release Date: January 20th, 2014 (Sundance Film Festival)
Directed by: Jeff Radice
Music by: DAdam Horovitz

Arts+Labor, 100 Minutes

NONO FINAL FILE

Review:

Many have heard the tale of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis and how he pitched a no-hitter on LSD. Well, this documentary covers that game and also the career of one of baseball’s most enigmatic figures.

Dock Ellis was a guy who didn’t like the system and always used his voice to be a thorn in the establishment’s side. Whether it was the baseball establishment or the establishment of American society in the 60s and 70s.

He was also an avid drug user and alcoholic. He’s gone on to talk about how he never pitched sober and how it helped him deal with the fear he had in being in such a high pressure position on the grandest stage.

No No chronicles all of these things and also how his substance abuse issues affected those around him, whether it was his ex-wives or his teammates. The film also paints an amazing picture of baseball culture in Ellis’ day.

Most importantly however, the film shows how he hit rock bottom and turned his life around. In interviews with Ellis, he talks about how he has moved on from those darker days and used his experience to talk to other people with substance abuse issues.

It also sheds light on how he wasn’t proud of his LSD-fueled no-hitter.

The documentary interviews a lot of Ellis’ teammates and friends and even Ron Howard, who worked with Ellis on his film Gung Ho.

This is one of the best baseball documentaries to come out in recent years. It is definitely worth a viewing and is currently streaming on Netflix.

TV Review: Game of Thrones (2011- )

Original Run: April 17th, 2011 – present
Created by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Iain Glen, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Conleth Hill, Aiden Gillen, Gwendoline Christie, Issac Hempstead Wright, Jerome Flynn, Julian Glover, Liam Cunningham, Rory McCann, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ben Crompton, Daniel Portman, Charles Dance, Carice van Houten, Natalie Dormer, Jack Gleeson, Michaelle Fairley, Kristofer Hivju, Ian McElhinney, Jacob Anderson, Stephen Dillane, Kristian Nairn, Hannah Murray, Mark Stanley, Richard Madden, Finn Jones, Iwan Rheon, Diana Rigg, Jonathan Pryce, Jason Momoa, Sean Bean, Mark Addy

Television 360, Grok! Television, Generator Entertainment, Startling Television, Bighead Littlehead, HBO Entertainment, 60 Episodes (so far), 50-69 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Since I was a kid, I have always been a big fan of fantasy fiction. I never got into George R.R. Martin’s massive Game of Thrones books when they started coming out though. They were abnormally massive, had way too many characters with difficult names and although I like reading and I read pretty quickly, it is hard for me to give something so massive and seemingly tedious, that much of my attention.

I did not watch this show in the beginning. In fact, I figured that I’d put it off until after it was over and then just binge the whole thing. Years and seasons have gone by, however, and everyone and their mother and their mother’s mother has talked this show up like it is the second coming of Jesus. The hype and admiration for this show has been absolutely ridiculous. So when I got injured and was trapped in my house for several days with nothing to do, I finally fired up Game of Thrones.

Well, I am definitely in the extreme minority because I think the show is absolute shit.

In fact, I got a little over midway through the third season when I had to stop. I couldn’t suffer through anymore episodes, I had had enough and I didn’t care about a single person or situation on this show. Well, except for Maisie Williams’ Arya Stark. Really, she is the only interesting character out of the 817 that I was introduced to in two and a half seasons. Peter Dinklage, while a great actor and enjoyable on screen, just ran his course quickly. But he was the only other character I was even remotely engaged in. Fuck the Khaleesi and her stupid dragons, I’d rather have Shadowcat and Lockheed from the X-Men comics of the 80s.

The problem with this show is it is just talking and plotting and talking about plotting and then betrayal and more plotting and nothing really happens except a whole bunch of nothing. The fan boys who hated The Phantom Menace for all its long winded talkie bullshit should hate this show even more.

I mean, once in awhile a battle happens but it is always underwhelming and just leads to more talking and plotting and talking about plotting and betrayal and more plotting.

Game of Thrones is a fantasy epic for people who don’t like fantasy epics. It is one of the most boring shows I have ever seen. Occasionally you get a titty or two but the big stars stopped getting naked after season one. And all the fanboy love for Khaleesi is baffling to me. But maybe its because these nerds like girls who look twelve.

I hated Game of Thrones to the point where watching it felt like torture but I kept sticking with it because people kept saying, “Dude, stick with it, it’s the best show of all-time!” No it isn’t. If you even think this is even in the same ballpark as Breaking Bad, probably the actual greatest show of all-time, you’re fucking retarded.

I don’t usually get this frank and vulgar in reviews on Cinespiria but I feel like everyone I know fucking lied to me. Like Game of Thrones was just some big elaborate prank. If it was, you got me. You’re an asshole, but you got me.

Now HBO is planning like a half dozen spin-offs of this show. Why? I guess money talks but I’d rather have to sit through a nurse screwing up a dozen times trying to insert a catheter than to ever sit through another episode of this show.

Film Review: The Love Witch (2016)

Release Date: November 11th, 2016
Directed by: Anna Biller
Written by: Anna Biller
Music by: Anna Biller
Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum

Oscilloscope Laboratories, 120 Minutes

Review:

The Love Witch definitely flew under the radar when it came out back in November of 2016. Granted, I doubt anywhere near me had it in the theater anyway. I did see a trailer recently though and it captivated me from a stylistic standpoint. Also, I saw that this was pretty well regarded by critics, as it holds a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So when it dropped on Amazon Video, I had to check it out.

I haven’t seen Anna Biller’s other film Viva but after seeing The Love Witch, I am pretty stoked to check that one out too.

In a nutshell, the story follows a witch named Elaine. We learn that she went through a lot of emotional turmoil after her husband left her well before the start of the film. Since that time, she turned towards witchcraft and found herself, in a sense. She uses her power to attract men through magical means but her love spells come with unforeseen and tragic consequences. This doesn’t deter her, however, as she is hellbent on finding a man that will love her.

Elaine is played by virtual unknown Samantha Robinson. Robinson is absolutely stellar in her role and I hope that this opens doors for her because this film is destined to grow into a cult classic and develop a loyal following. She is alluring in the right way and even though she has selfish motivations and seems to be mostly indifferent to the negative effects of her magic, you still feel deeply for her and want her to find find love, at least in the beginning. As she gets deeper into her schemes and her cycle of wreckage continues, she goes on from being a sad and tragic character to an out of control despicable narcissist. Realistically, she was this all along but as the film progresses, you come to understand that she will not stop until she is satisfied and by this point, you know that she will never be satisfied.

When I read about the production of this film, I was pretty astounded by the level of detail and design that went into it. Not only is it directed, written and musically scored by Anna Biller but she also did the paintings that populate the film and made the costumes, as well. Everything is visually enchanting and the attention to detail really makes the film take on a life of its own, existing in a surreal and magical world but still feeling grounded in reality, in some way.

The Love Witch looks like a picture from the 60s or 70s. It has vibrant giallo-like tones, which serve the film more than just being window dressing. The tea room scenes are exceptionally beautiful. On top of that, everything is well shot; the cinematography is perfect through its lighting and in the way that it captures the vivid and lively visual tones. It is a fantastical film but it feels lived in and real, which isn’t an easy feat with something so stylized.

This is a highly entertaining film. The only thing I can really be nitpicky about is the running time. It comes in at exactly two hours and it moves along nicely but the second act felt like it could have moved along a wee bit quicker.

The Love Witch is enchanting, mostly due to its visual style and the execution and allure of its star. Also, it benefits from the use of its presentational acting style. It feels more like a stage performance where we, the audience, are sitting front row and drawn deeply into the production. Additionally, the dialogue in just about every scene is perfect. I loved the banter in this movie and it was incredibly well-written and presented on screen.

I was surprised by how much I liked the film and I appreciate how much effort went into it. While I wouldn’t consider this a picture for everyone, it is certainly one that will find its audience and develop a much deserved level of respect and admiration.