Film Review: Tangerine (2015)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Sean Baker
Written by: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Music by: Matthew Smith (supervisor)
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan, Alla Tumanian, James Ransone, Clu Gulager

Duplass Brothers Productions, Through Films, Magnolia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Bitch, you know I don’t do downers, bitch. You know I’m an upper ho.” – Sin-Dee

I didn’t know much about Sean Baker until after I had experienced his most recent film and my favorite of 2017, The Florida Project. I read about some of his previous work and Tangerine was a film that was pretty highly regarded. I checked out the trailer and read about how it was made and I had to check it out for myself. I’m glad that I did.

For a film shot on a cell phone, it looks fantastic. Baker used three iPhone 5S smartphones to capture everything. He filmed while using an app called FiLMIC Pro, which helps to control focus, aperture and color temperature while capturing video at higher bit-rates than the iPhone’s standard. Baker also used an anamorphic adapter to capture video in a widescreen format. The smoothness of the shots were achieved by using Tiffen’s Steadicam Smoothee. This prevented the film from having that standard shaky-cam effect made famous by found footage movies. In post-production, Baker used Final Cut Pro for editing and Da Vinci Resolve to correct the contrast and color saturation of what he filmed.

The movie had a budget of $100,000 but due to what they saved on cameras and equipment, most of the budget went to businesses who allowed them to use their locations for the film, as well as to extras who were needed in certain scenes.

Tangerine is nearly fully populated by actors with very little to no experience and is made to feel genuine and authentic, as if you just stepped into these characters’ lives for a day. The only known actor in this film is Clu Gulager, who is in one scene as a taxicab customer.

The plot all happens in one day and on Christmas Eve. For the most part, the film focuses on Sin-Dee Rella, a transgender sex worker in Hollywood. She has just gotten out of prison and while sharing a doughnut with her best friend, another transgender sex worker named Alexandra, she learns that her pimp boyfriend cheated on her with a cisgender woman. Sin-Dee immediately loses her cool and goes off in search of this woman with just the knowledge that her name starts with “D”.

The film also showcases a day in the life of Armenian cab driver Razmik. He seems like a decent guy but as the plot unfolds, we learn that he’s into transgender prostitutes and that he also has a wife and a very small child at home. Eventually, Razmik’s story crosses over with Alexandra and eventually Sin-Dee’s story.

The last act of the film is a big crescendo where all these characters’ issues collide in the doughnut shop where it all started. This isn’t a film that’s really shooting for a positive outcome for anyone but is instead a real character study and just a small sample of these people’s lives.

Between this and The Florida Project, Sean Baker has really cemented himself as one of the best contemporary filmmakers that makes character study films. The fact that both of Baker’s films have been pretty much snubbed, in my opinion, by the Academy, except for Dafoe’s performance in The Florida Project, is pretty upsetting. This film, along with The Florida Project, should have had several nominations and both movies are better than many of the films that received Best Picture of the Year nominations for 2015 and 2017.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Sean Baker’s more recent film, The Florida Project. Also goes good with Moonlight.

Film Review: Black Christmas (2006)

Also known as: Black X-Mas (DVD box title), Noël Noir (French Canadian), Negra Navidad (Spain)
Release Date: December 15th, 2006 (UK, Ireland, Poland)
Directed by: Glen Morgan
Written by: Glen Morgan
Based on: Black Christmas by A. Roy Moore
Music by: Shirley Walker
Cast: Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Hudson, Lacey Chabert, Kristen Cloke, Andrea Martin

2929 Productions, Hard Eight Pictures, Hoban Segal Productions, Dimension Films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 84 Minutes (European cut), 91 Minutes (US cut)

Review:

“I’m sorry, but that-that fuckin’ voice, that was not Megan or Kyle. That was the fucking devil, and he was not talking to us, he was talking to Billy.” – Melissa Kitt

Being a huge fan of the original Black Christmas, I never really wanted to see this remake, which I heard was a steaming pile of shit. Well, it is a steaming pile of shit but I figured that a lot of time has passed since it came out and it is just after Christmas and I was tired of watching the same old stuff, year after year. Frankly, I’ve got my holiday movie staples and I plowed through them all pretty quickly this holiday season. Plus, sometimes I do watch shitty movies in order to review them. Sometimes I like torturing myself with bad films. Okay, all the time. Whatever.

I guess there are two positives I can say about this film. One, is that it tried to be ambitious and original with its story, expanding on the simplicity of the original. Two, I thought the cinematography and the lighting were well done.

But let me take that first example and tear it apart because even though ambition is good, poor execution can make it blow up in your face and that’s exactly what happened here. You see, this isn’t a film that needed to be expanded on. Nope. The first one worked because of its simplicity and its straightforward story. It had some mystery to it, you never really saw the killer except for an eye and his madness didn’t need to be justified by beating the audience over the head like a dead horse with an unnecessary and overly complicated backstory. The killer is yellow because he was born with a rare liver condition?! Huh?! Seriously, what?! And now there is a one-eyed sister with Hulk like strength?! Were they trying to ripoff the Yellow Bastard from Sin City, which had come out a year before this.

The film stars a who’s who of mid-’00s starlets: Katie Cassidy, Lacey Chabert, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michelle “where the hell did she go” Trachtenberg. Cassidy, as much as I love her on Arrow, really had a reputation for being in poor horror classic remakes, between this, A Nightmare On Elm Street and When A Stranger Calls. I hope she’s gotten that out of her system because she’s pretty solid as Black Canary or whoever the hell she is on Arrow now.

Andrea Martin, who appeared in the original, returned for this. I hope she regrets her decision and she at least got a nice check for her role in this turkey turd.

This movie is an abomination: period. I’d rather enter myself into a holiday fruitcake eating contest than ever watch this thing again.

This obviously needs to be ran through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read,”Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Film Review: Santa Claus (1959)

Release Date: November 26th, 1959 (Mexico)
Directed by: Rene Cardona, Ken Smith (English language direction)
Written by: Adolfo Torres Portillo, Rene Cardona
Music by: Antonio Diaz Conde
Cast: Jose Elias Moreno, Pulgarcito, Jose Luis Aguirre, Armando Arriola, Lupita Quezadas, Antonio Diaz Conde, Angel Di Stefani, Ken Smith (English language narrator)

Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., 97 Minutes

Review:

“Away up in the heavens, far out in space, in a beautiful gold and crystal palace right above the North Pole, lives a kind and jolly old gentleman. Santa Claus.” – Narrator

This could be the worst Christmas themed anything that I have ever seen. Sure, it’s a challenge to top Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny but this may have done just that.

Santa Claus is a Mexican movie but don’t worry, as it is accompanied by some really bad dubbing for gringos in the States.

Basically, this pits Santa Claus against the Devil or some form of a devil because he comes from an underground land of devils. The Devil is evil, Santa is good. The Devil wants to stop Santa, Santa is just like, “Screw this Devil bro, I got presents to get to the little hijos!”

While this film is terrible. It does have some cool visuals. The sets are hokey and cheap but at least they are somewhat imaginative even if they look like they were pieced together from stolen department store holiday displays. But you can’t accuse this film of not at east feeling and looking festive. For 1959, the atmosphere isn’t any worse than any of the bigger budget American holiday specials from the time. It looks like a stage show but that’s fine, all things considered.

However, the plot, the acting and just about everything else is pretty awful. This isn’t a good movie but the visual aesthetic is still interesting and I can’t completely dismiss this. Still, as a total package, it is probably the worst holiday film I’ve seen in a really long time. Although, it probably isn’t as bad as Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, which I have yet to see. Maybe next year.

So does Santa Claus deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes! The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Film Review: Gremlins Recall (2017)

Release Date: December 5th, 2017
Directed by: Ryan Patrick
Written by: Ryan Patrick
Based on: the Gremlins films series by Chris Columbus
Music by: Russ Howard, Grand Soleil
Cast: Katherine Rodriguez, Randy Irwin, Sarah Lilly, Robert Wood

10 Minutes

Review:

I don’t often times talk about fan films here. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed one, actually. However, I like to give recognition to fan films that are really well done. And this one is pretty friggin’ cool. Mainly, because I love the Gremlins films and we haven’t had one in nearly three decades.

This little ten minute short was written and directed by a guy named Ryan Patrick, who did a superb job with this and really captured the tone of holiday dread like the original film did.

The story picks up thirty or so years after the events of the original 1984 film and sees Mogwai being sold as domesticated pets. How is that safe? Well, Mogwai need to be given an injection that keeps them from having the negative effects that turn them into terrors. With the injection, the rules for owning a Mogwai no longer apply. However, there is obviously a curveball waiting to be thrown.

The film is well shot, decently acted and the Mogwai and Gremlin puppets are really well constructed. They were made by Eric Fox, who was, at one point, a competitor on the special effects Syfy reality show Face Off. The film was also shot in just three days and all of it takes place at a diner, which works well for this just being a ten minute picture. But, it does leave things open for a sequel.

And like the original film, this takes place around Christmas, which was a nice added bonus. I have also always loved Gremlins 2: The New Batch but I wished that it took place around the holidays like its predecessor.

For a fan film, this is stupendously done. Kudos to Patrick, Fox and everyone else that put this together.

Film Review: Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Release Date: July 17th, 1987
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
Written by: Michael de Guzman
Based on: characters by Peter Benchley
Music by: Michael Small
Cast: Lorraine Gary, Lance Guest, Mario Van Peebles, Karen Young, Michael Caine, Melvin Van Peebles

Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Roar!” – Shark

Jaws: The Revenge isn’t just considered the worst Jaws film by fans, it is also considered one of the worst films ever made. Well, I guess I stray from the pack because I think that Jaws 3-D is much worse. Not to say that this isn’t also a hefty pillowcase full of donkey dung.

The premise for this film is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, I don’t know how the script was written with a straight face.

In this chapter, the final one for the series, the killer shark apparently has psychic powers and the ability to teleport. Apparently, Ellen Brody also shares a psychic link with the shark. I’m being totally serious.

Even though it isn’t explicitly stated, the shark is on a revenge quest where it can travel literally anywhere in an effort to specifically hunt down and kill members of the Brody family. How does it know who they are and where they are? Why does it want revenge? Is it just assumed that it is the offspring of one of the three sharks killed in the previous movies? How does it travel from New England to the Bahamas in a day? How does Ellen Brody have memories of events she never personally witnessed and how does she sense when the shark is around? Why is she so sure it is picking off the family on a personal revenge quest? Apparently, before this movie, Sheriff Brody died of a heart attack due to fear of the shark. Yet he stood up to two sharks like a total bad ass in previous movies. Was he psychically killed by the shark?

Jaws: The Revenge is a weird friggin’ movie when you start to analyze the crap out of it. That alone makes it infinitely more interesting than Jaws 3-D. Also, this is a Christmas movie, at least the first act, so it gets an edge there.

You also have the Last Starfighter himself, Lance Guest. Unfortunately, Mario Van Peebles gives a horrible performance as a Jamaican with a bad Jamaican accent. But props to him, as he did this two decades before Kofi Kingston showed up in the WWE. Anyway, the badness that is Van Peebles is at least offset by the awesomeness that is Michael Caine’s Hoagie, a pilot named after a fantastic sandwich.

One big positive, is that this film became the premise of the Jaws video game on Nintendo. In retrospect, it isn’t a fantastic game but when I was about ten years-old, I played the shit out of it. Who didn’t want to jump in a tiny yellow submarine and try to kill the giant shark while collecting crabs dropped from Hoagie’s plane? Frankly, I don’t know why Hoagie just didn’t give me the crabs before I went out to sea. I also don’t remember why collecting crabs was important. Anyway, back to this awful movie and not the awesome game.

Jaws: The Revenge is just about as bad as everyone says it is but at least it isn’t littered with horribly dated 3D effects like Jaws 3-D. Also, some of the action bits are better than those from the previous movies. I thought that the scene in the sunken ship was well done and certainly better than anything in the third movie.

The finale is also much better than the third film, even if thirty years later, I don’t understand the whole point about the strobe light causing the shark pain. Maybe it was a psychic strobe light or imbued with the power of a Bahamian warlock. I’m not really sure.

And even though everyone bitches about it, I don’t mind the shark having a roar. That’s way more plausible than psychic powers and teleportation.

Film Review: The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966)

Release Date: November 3rd, 1966
Directed by: Rossano Brazzi
Written by: Paul Tripp
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Rossano Brazzi, Paul Tripp

Childhood Productions Inc., 93 Minutes, 89 Minutes (US)

Review:

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t is a movie I could have gone my entire life not knowing about and I would have been just fine. So thanks for bringing it to my attention Mystery Science Theater 3000.

In this Christmas picture, the story is at least fairly unique. Santa Claus is about to be evicted from the North Pole because he can’t pay his rent. Somehow he just doesn’t have a good agent, I guess. Anyway, the Scrooge McDuck landlord tells him that he can stay, rent free. The catch is that he can no longer give toys to children. And that is basically the whole movie. What will Santa do? Spoiler alert: he isn’t real.

This is an Italian production so I guess it’s a spaghetti Christmas picture. The dubbing isn’t awful but it has a grainy and dirty spaghetti western look to it while being set in a snowy European town. The cinematography isn’t pretty but it is passable, as this is an Italian thing made on what one would assume is a pretty tight budget.

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t isn’t a Christmas classic by any means. You shouldn’t add it to your holiday film lineup. Even when it comes to bad and cheesy flicks about the Holidays, there are still so many better options. Although this does have to be lightyears ahead of Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas and Santa’s Slay with 90s wrestler and former WCW world champion Bill Goldberg.

Film Review: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Release Date: November 9th, 1984
Directed by: Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Written by: Michael Hickey, Paul Caimi
Music by: Perry Botkin
Cast: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Robert Brian Wilson, Linnea Quigley

Slayride, TriStar Pictures, 79 Minutes (Theatrical), 85 Minutes (Unrated Cut)

silentnightdeadlynightReview:

Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t the first slasher film to take place on Christmas. It also isn’t the first to have a killer with the name Billy. Black Christmas had all of that before this movie. Black Christmas is also a better film. But that doesn’t mean that Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t a waste of time. It is actually pretty damn enjoyable.

As a young boy, Billy is told by his crazy grandfather that Santa Claus will punish those who are naughty. Later that night, his family is killed by a robber dressed as Santa. He then goes through the rest of his childhood in an orphanage where the Mother Superior punishes those who are naughty. Billy also has developed a great fear of Santa Claus. As an adult, he overcomes his fear when he becomes the Santa in a toy store. After witnessing some coworkers being “naughty” he decides to “punish” them. The rest of the film sees Billy, dressed as Santa, killing everyone he deems as “naughty”. He also just yells out “Punish!” and “Naughty!” as he kills his victims.

The film isn’t a classic but it is decent as a mid-80s slasher movie. None of the kills are all that fantastic and some of them are completely nonsensical. Also, his ability to separate the naughty from the nice is horrible and he pretty much kills those that make things more convenient for his reign of terror.

The acting is bad, the cinematography is inconsistent, the picture quality drastically changes from shot to shot and the special effects aren’t good at all. Furthermore, the filmmakers didn’t understand the basics of physics. There is a scene where Billy strangles a coworker with Christmas lights by holding him in the air with just one arm. Billy is not a hulking beast like Jason Voorhees, he is just some scrawny white dude. There are a few other physics faux pas but that one stood out the most.

Plus, there are scenes that just don’t make sense. For instance, a cop shoots a priest multiple times in the back because he’s dressed like Santa Claus. Then the cop, as well as the nuns and kids who witnessed it, just brush it off as the cop goes off to keep doing his job.

Silent Night, Deadly Night is strange. The main reason is because it isn’t a good movie but for some reason, I really like it. Maybe it is due to how flawed it is or maybe it is because I’d just like to see more horror Christmas films. Don’t watch the sequels though, they are complete shit with no redeeming qualities. And somehow, there are five of these movies.