Film Review: Paris, Texas (1984)

Also known as: Motel Chronicles (working title)
Release Date: May 19th, 1984 (Cannes)
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: L. M. Kit Carson, Sam Shepard
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clement, Hunter Carson

Road Movies, Filmproduktion GmbH, Argos Films S.A., 20th Century Fox, 147 Minutes

Review:

“I wanted to see him so bad that I didn’t even dare imagine him anymore.” – Jane Henderson

I haven’t seen much of Wim Wenders work but going into this, I had his film The American Friend on my mind, being that I had just revisited it the night before. This was also partially penned by Sam Shepard and stars underappreciated character actors Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell, as well as Klaus Kinski’s daughter, the very talented and beautiful Nastassja Kinski.

At its core, this is a story about redemption and about owning your problems and doing what needs to be done to set things straight. This film is dark yet it is very sweet. It deals with some serious issues from the characters’ pasts but pulls itself out of that muck, throws itself forward, pulls you through a lot of emotion and sadness but ultimately arrives at a satisfying and mostly happy ending.

This is an extraordinary and uncommon film. It almost works as a romance story in reverse. In fact, I guess this could be called an anti-romance. It shows you that even if two people really love each other but the damage is irreparable, they can still come together, non-romantically, to do what’s right for all parties involved.

As great as the legendary Harry Dean Stanton was, I don’t know if he ever put in a better performance than he did here. He was perfection, a real actor of the highest caliber and most of the time he didn’t have to say anything, his emotion and his words were conveyed on his face. In fact, he spends the first third of the movie completely mute. When he finally does start talking, it’s soft and very short. But once we get to the big scene where he has to finally open up and right his wrongs, he does so in such a genuine and beautiful way that you are drawn into his words and transported into his memories. Stanton’s performance in this movie is one of the best acting performances I have ever seen, period.

I also have to mention Nastassja Kinski’s performance, as she played opposite of Stanton in the film’s most pivotal moment. She held her own and helped to enhance Stanton’s performance by her reaction to his words and her response.

Dean Stockwell did a fine job in the first two-thirds of the film as Stanton’s brother but more in the role of being the eyes and ears of the audience, as he didn’t understand what the heck was going on with his brother and he wanted answers to the mystery of his brother’s four-year disappearance.

The look of this film is incredible and it boasts the cinematography of Wenders’ regular cinematographer, Robby Müller. The films uses that bright, electric, neon green that Müller is synonymous for, especially when used in contrast to dark backgrounds with accents of red and sometimes other colors subtly dropped in. The look here is very similar to Wender’s and Müller’s The American Friend, as well as another 1984 film Müller worked on, which also starred Harry Dean Stanton, Repo Man.

Paris, Texas is a really emotional film and I don’t know how anyone could watch it and leave the experience untouched. Very few films have the ability to actually touch the soul and transform the viewer or to give them at least a new perspective on things. This film, at least for me, opened my eyes to some things and really sort of changed how I have viewed some of my own life experiences. Wenders, through the profound performance of Stanton, was able to create something here that speaks directly to the human core. It’s soothing in it’s sadness and it’s loving finale. And ultimately, it drums up hope where there isn’t any.

Film Review: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Release Date: July 1st, 1959
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Wendell Mayes
Based on: Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver
Music by: Duke Ellington
Cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott, Duke Ellington (cameo)

Carlyle Productions, Columbia Pictures, 160 Minutes

Review:

“Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind – unanimous. It’s one of the miracles of Man’s disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.” – Parnell Emmett McCarthy

If you ever told me that I’d watch a courtroom drama that’s nearly three hours long and that I’d love it, I’d call you a liar. Nothing is more boring to me than court movies. They’re overly talkie, use an abundance of legal jargon I don’t care to know and they just sit there, in one room, seemingly forever. Hell, I hate when television shows I love go into some multi episode courtroom story. I hate courtrooms, I hate jury duty and I thought Court TV was something that old people watched, hoping it would kill them sooner.

Yet, Anatomy of a Murder is to courtrooms what 12 Angry Men is to jury duty. It took something that I have less interest in than dusting sand and made it compelling, engaging, entertaining and hooked me emotionally. In short, it’s a spectacular film that I was glued to from start to finish.

I have become a fan of Otto Preminger’s work, especially his film-noir stuff. While this isn’t noir, it has that distinct Preminger touch and visual allure. It’s clean, crisp, warm and has a strange magnetism that pulls you in. Preminger really was a master of the silver screen, as his films always looked immaculate yet lived in with a sort of grandiose aura about them.

The absolute highlight of this film is seeing two legendary actors: James Stewart and George C. Scott, go head to head as rival lawyers during the trial that is the focus of the story. And really, I think that it is the incredible performances by these two that lured me in, even more so than this being a Preminger film. James Stewart just owns this role and his mere presence prevented this film from having a dull moment. George C. Scott was a great accent to Stewart, giving him a powerful foil to play off of. Stewart was like a 24 oz. bone-in tomahawk ribeye while Scott was the best Béarnaise sauce you could ever hope to taste.

The film also dealt with very controversial subject matter for the time. The trial involved a murder that was committed in defense of the killer’s wife being raped. This was taboo stuff for the 1950s and there’s even a scene in the film where the judge has to explain to the people in the court that he won’t permit any giggles or snickering at the mention of the word “panties”.

Anatomy of a Murder is a long film but it doesn’t feel like it. The set up and investigative stuff before the trial is probably the slowest part of the movie but that doesn’t take too long and once you are in the courtroom, this picture just takes off and doesn’t come back down until the credits roll.

This is a pretty perfect film for its time and its subject matter. It goes to show what kind of magic Hollywood can produce when you have a premier director and two paragons of pure acting talent.

Film Review: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)

Release Date: January 12th, 2018 (Newseum premiere)
Directed by: Sam Liu
Written by: Jim Krieg
Based on: Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn, Mike Mignola
Music by: Frederik Wiedmann
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, Anthony Head, Tara Strong, Bruce Timm, Kari Wuhrer

DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., 78 Minutes

Review:

“[faces the Ripper] Well, I won’t beg. And I won’t get hysterical. I won’t give you the satisfaction. Know this: I forgive you.” – Sister Leslie

I was a big fan of the old Gotham by Gaslight story, which came out when I was just really getting into Batman circa 1989. It was also the first Elseworlds Tale, which has become a big imprint under the DC Comics banner. Strangely, although this shares the title, the time frame and the villain, it is it’s own story and not an animated adaptation of the famous comic.

At first, I was caught off guard by the alterations and didn’t think I’d like the film but by the time it got to the end, I was digging it.

Reinventions aren’t necessarily a bad thing, sometimes they work quite well and with this film version of Gotham by Gaslight, it was cool going into familiar but really under explored territory in the DC mythos and seeing someone else give their own take on it. Had that take been bad, I’m sure I wouldn’t feel the same but the end result and the story were really good.

The one things that really stuck out for me was the animation. I wasn’t super keen on the character designs but when we got to those high octane action parts, this film really came alive. The big finale, which features a vacant World’s Fair setting and a massive burning Ferris wheel was spectacular. Also, the scenes where Batman was riding through the streets of Gotham on a steam powered motorcycle, looked fantastic.

Ultimately, this film didn’t blow my socks off but it was worth a watch. The animated DC stuff has been really good the last few years, especially the Batman movies. This one is a bit better than their recent average and it was a welcome change to just having another straight up, modern Batman adaptation.

Film Review: Flesh Feast (1970)

Also known as: Time Is Terror
Release Date: May 20th, 1970 (Bridgeport, Connecticut)
Directed by: Brad F. Grinter
Written by: Thomas Casey, Brad F. Grinter
Cast: Veronica Lake

Viking International Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“Creeping, crawling, flesh-eating maggots!” – film tagline

Veronica Lake was incredible in the era of film-noir. She was one of the top actresses in the genre and found good work in the 1940s, always being at the forefront of that time’s cinematic and stylistic shifts. So it is really tragic that this pile of absolute shit was her final film.

Lake was a producer on this and somehow I feel like she was aging, maybe a bit out of sorts and was taken advantage of by some young but talentless filmmakers needing a few bucks to get this shit sandwich served in grindhouses and drive-ins across America.

The plot sees Lake play a mad scientist who is developing maggots that prefer human flesh. During the process, she is used to male a clone of Hitler. She cooperates with this evil and goofy plan. However, her mother was executed as a Nazi political prisoner and Lake wants revenge. She convinces everyone privy to her research that the maggots are to be used for regeneration purposes. However, she just wants to resurrect Hitler so that she can throw the maggots on him and watch him be devoured alive. She succeeds in her plot and the audience succeeds in sitting through one of the worst and dumbest films ever made.

With the title and with the style of film you’d assume this is, one would expect more gore than what this picture actually offers. Had it been a senseless gore festival, it may have had some redeeming quality about it. It has a similar title to Blood Feast, which was synonymous with gore and was also filmed in and around Miami Beach, as this movie was. However, this would disappoint gore hounds just as it would disappoint decent normal people. This actually makes the awful Blood Feast look good by comparison.

Flesh Feast is really one of the worst things I have ever seen. It fails in what it sets out to do in every way. You’d have to try really hard to make something this terrible.

All that being said, this needs to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Film Review: The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

Release Date: February 4th, 2018
Directed by: Julius Onah
Written by: Oren Uziel, Doug Jung
Music by: Bear McCreary
Cast: Daniel Brühl, Elizabeth Debicki, Aksel Hennie, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, John Ortiz, David Oyelowo, Zhang Ziyi, Donal Logue, Simon Pegg (voice), Greg Grunberg (voice)

Bad Robot Productions, Paramount Pictures, Netflix, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Logic doesn’t apply to any of this.” – Tam

I’m not really sure what this jumbled mess was that I just watched but it’s presumably connected to those two previous films with “Cloverfield” in their title. Additionally, it’s supposed to explain how the stories in those films came to be. Yet, this film didn’t even do an effective job at explaining itself, so putting three films and what’s probably going to be an ongoing franchise on it’s back is one hell of a production misfire.

To be brutally blunt, his is a pretty idiotic and pointless film. It has a pretty amazing cast, in all honesty, but everything feels dull and emotionless and it is mindbogglingly stupid.

From a scientific standpoint, this picture has the acumen of a loaf of Wonder bread. It’s got an alluring crust but has nothing inside but flavorless, soft, weightless, bleached material and empty carbohydrates. It’s the basic white bitch of science movies. Granted, so many “science” films are basic white bitches these days. However, The Cloverfield Paradox is the type of movie that will seem profound to people who just fill their news feed on Facebook and Twitter with science articles featuring clickbait headlines yet when you try to talk to them about the article, it’s immediately apparent that they just read the headline and clicked “share”. It’s also apparent that they think science “isn’t settled”, crystals have magic powers, the Earth is flat and gravity is poison created by demonic energy to spoil avocados.

From start to finish, this film is hard to follow. I was never really clear what the hell they were doing in space in the first place. Some crazy insane experiment with a laser beam that fucks up space and time because the Earth has some sort of energy crisis. All the while, this laser is incredibly un-fucking-stable. But yeah, let’s keep firing this thing up right above Earth. Then you have Donal Logue’s character, an author who is on television warning people that this experiment will rip everything apart and fill every Earth in every dimension with monsters and demons. And then “BOOM!” that’s what actually happens because “science, y’all!!!”

A bunch of other weird shit happens and this becomes a movie of WTFs where each one is more baffling and stupid than the one before it. At one point, Chris O’Dowd’s character loses his arm when it is eaten by the ship’s wall. He’s not in pain, it’s just gone. Then it comes crawling back from around the corner and starts giving the crew clues on what to do. Yes, this is really something that happens in this movie.

This film hurt my head. I mean, I felt like a drunk person that was also tripping but not a cool trip. No, it was one of those trips that isn’t horrible but it’s like your whole body feels fussy and irritated and your brain gets all heavy like cement and and just kind of makes you sit, motionless, accepting your fate until the trip finally passes in what seems like days but was actually less than two hours.

Also, this film’s script felt like it was written as something else and then it was retrofitted to “explain” the Cloverfield universe. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t written as a Cloverfield movie when it started, it reminded me of those later Hellraiser films where the studio just altered failed horror scripts into pointless sequels to make a quick buck. The thing is, the Cloverfield universe doesn’t need to be explained. I don’t need the movies to connect or even exist in the same space. They could have all been separate films that just followed a sort of connected theme or style.

As we’ve seen so far, a Cloverfield movie can’t be complete without a monster. We do get one in this film but it is literally just for the last two seconds of the movie, before the credits role. It’s also not a very creative beast, at least to the standard established by the previous two films, which both had interesting creatures.

Despite this film being a total pile of shit, I’m sure everyone watched it on Netflix this week and it will justify a sequel. But that’s Netflix’s formula, they translate views to quality and that’s why their productions aren’t what they used to be. Netflix movies are this generation’s version of “straight to video”.

In the end, this must be put through the unforgiving but always accurate Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Film Review: The Ward (2010)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s The Ward
Release Date: September 13th, 2010 (TIFF)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Music by: Mark Kilian
Cast: Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mika Boorem, Jared Harris

Echo Lake Entertainment, A Bigger Boat, ARC Entertainment, XLrator Media, 99 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the first thing you remember?” – Dr. Stringer, “Fire.” – Kristen

*written in 2014.

The Ward was John Carpenter’s first film in nearly a decade when it came out in 2010. I think the decade off did good for Carpenter after the poor efforts of Ghosts of Mars, Vampires, Escape From L.A. and Village of the Damned had me thinking that his days as a good director were over. Sure, all those films had some good takeaways but ultimately, they were nowhere near the level of his great films like The Thing, Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness, the original Halloween, They Live, Big Trouble In Little China, Escape From New York and Starman.

This film was a return to form for Carpenter. It was a straight up ghost story and it captured that real dread that his last several films were missing. He built a good narrative, kept things mysterious and told a solid story. Granted, the end result wasn’t something all that original but the concept of this film worked and I liked it. I can’t go more into the concept without spoiling the plot, so I’ll leave it at that.

This film stars Amber Heard, who I have never had a problem looking at. In fact, I’ve been enamored with her since The Rum Diary and apparently Johnny Depp is too as they are now engaged. The film also stars Jared Harris, who played the awesome Lane Pryce on Mad Men.

The acting was better than decent in comparison to the overabundance of horrible horror films that have come out over the last decade. And truthfully, maybe it is the slew of horrible horror films that have made me appreciate this film and the return of John Carpenter. Regardless of the reason, The Ward is better than the cookie cutter crap that Hollywood has been pushing out.

It is far from a perfect film and it isn’t a classic or even in Carpenter’s upper echelon of work but it is still better than what has become the norm.

Film Review: Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951)

Release Date: August 8th, 1951 (New York premiere)
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Art Cohn, Felix E. Feist, Guy Endore
Music by: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Ruth Roman, Steve Cochran, Lurene Tuttle, Ray Teal, Bobby Hyatt

Warner Bros., 90 Minutes

Review:

“I came to New York from up state. I was gonna be a dancer. I was a brunette. Started on my toes and wound up on my heels.” – Catherine “Cay” Higgins

Tomorrow Is Another Day isn’t a film-noir that is highly regarded or even all that remembered. Like its director Felix E. Feist, it flies under the radar of historical significance but probably needs a bit more light shown on it.

It stars Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran, two actors that also probably deserve more recognition than they’ve gotten. They both had pretty good careers and had the chops to carry any picture. This film works so well because of their abilities, their chemistry and all of that being enhanced by the very capable Feist, behind the camera.

This could have actually been a better film than what it ended up being, had it followed the traditional film-noir framework and had a tragic ending. Instead, we get a soft and sweet ending where the two lovers on the lam come out unscathed. This was probably a last minute change due to the darker ending not testing well with audiences. In a way, this film sort of had the same fate as Douglas Sirk’s 1949 film-noir Shockproof. Actually, there are a lot of similarities between the two films in the happy ending and overall narrative.

Sappy, sweet ending aside, I liked this picture a great deal. Sure, it is mostly a cookie cutter noir and you’ll watch it feeling like you’ve seen this movie a dozen times over but Roman and Cochran are just so good on screen that you’re still lured in.

The sweet family that lives down the street also add a lot to the film. The husband is played by Ray Teal, who usually just had bit parts. Teal got to show his talents here. Teal’s wife is played by Lurene Tuttle, an accomplished actress and very likable here. The couple’s son comes to life through child actor Bobby Hyatt, who was the kid actor featured in more film-noir pictures than any other child in Hollywood.

Tomorrow Is Another Day is certainly better than average but not a classic. It works for what it is, even if it falls flat in the final moments. Still, the building of suspense and the paranoia of the characters was interesting to watch and experience.